The Early Childhood Educators Scholarship Program is getting a makeover. The program’s scholarships help early childhood and after-school educators earn college degrees – either an associate or a bachelor’s.
The scholarship launched 10 years ago. It was added to the Massachusetts state budget thanks to the efforts of legislative leaders and advocates, including Strategies for Children. At the time, data showed that only 30 percent of center-based early educators held a BA or higher degree.
The scholarship is greatly appreciated by teachers. As Jennie Antunes, an early educator and scholarship recipient from New Bedford, told us:
“Even though I had been doing this work for so long, there was so much more I wanted to learn to strengthen my teaching. I take great pride in my accomplishments, proving to myself that I could work full time as well as attend school full time.”
Since its creation, the program has received annual state appropriations of roughly $3 million that have funded scholarships for thousands of early educators. Despite this progress, however, most early educators still do not hold bachelor’s degrees.
A 2013 analysis by the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children found 35 percent of center-based early educators held a bachelor’s degree or higher. Another 28 percent had completed “some college,” but not yet attained an associate degree.
One well-known barrier for early educators who want to go to college? Low salaries. Many early educators simply can’t afford to pay college tuition. The scholarship program helps bridge this financial gap.
Over the past two years, officials at the Departments of Higher Education and Early Education and Care have been reviewing the scholarship program, and now they’re ready to update it.
The goal is to “meet the needs of the field,” according to Winifred Hagan, the associate commissioner for Academic Affairs and Student Success at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.
The final plans, which will be released in the spring, will have several changes, including:
• A tighter focus on early childhood.
Originally, scholarships were granted to students pursuing degrees in early childhood education or a “related field,” including child development, elementary education, human services, psychology, physical education, psychology, and sociology.
“We learned from our institutions that that was not helping early educators get to the goal of degree completion,” Hagan explains. “It was also not serving the field, because people with related degrees could leave the field – which isn’t a bad thing, to have more people know about child development. But the intent of the scholarship is to have a more highly qualified workforce.”
Now the scholarship will be for students seeking early childhood education, child development, family studies, child care administration, “or fields that directly name early child development and its specific areas of inquiry.”
Anybody who is already enrolled in other programs will be able to finish their programs. “They’ll be grandmothered in,” Hagan say. This new rule only applies to new scholarship recipients.
• An increase in the number of people who complete their degrees and certificates.
Early educators, colleges, and the “Educator and Provider Support” networks (regional workforce support hubs), will work together more closely to ensure that scholarship recipients know what classes and experiences they need to earn their degrees.
• A new requirement that institutions provide academic advising for students.
“Advising wasn’t built in to the original scholarship program,” Hagan says. “And what we learned from the field is that it really has to be if you want to have a pathway that goes directly to completion.”
One example is North Shore Community College, which has posted an early childhood “education pathway” on its website.
• Scholarships will be limited to colleges that can provide evidence that their early childhood programs are strong and that students are completing the programs.
This provision ensure that schools have key resources including qualified faculty teaching early childhood classes so that early educators are enrolling in high-quality programs.
To learn more about these plans, read the “Early Childhood Educator Scholarships Guideline Improvements.”
Tom Weber, commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care, says the guidelines will “help Early Childhood Educator scholarship recipients more quickly achieve their goal of degree attainment, thereby increasing the number of educators working in our field who have completed an Associate’s or Bachelor’s level program. Building the knowledge, competencies and career pathways of our workforce is necessary for the Commonwealth to provide high-quality early education and care programs that support children’s learning and development.”
Carlos Santiago, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, adds, “Commissioner Weber and I are committed to helping the MA early educator workforce become more qualified and the Board of Higher Education’s approval of our recent Early Educator Scholarships joint recommendations will certainly help Massachusetts realize that important goal.”
And early educator Susan LaCroix says:
“…I want you to know what a huge impact going back to school has had on my personal life. I am the first in my family to graduate from college.
“Years ago I would have never thought it was possible since I dropped out of high school. But with the help of the ECE Scholarship and region 3 EPS grant funds I have grown so much.”
It’s growth that will pay off for the early education workforce and for children across the state.