RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced that for the first time in the Commonwealth, early childhood educators will have access to a seamless pathway for earning marketable credentials in early childhood education. Now, due to regulatory changes made by the Board of Education and internal policy changes by participating community colleges and universities, early childhood educators can further their education efficiently through a streamlined pathway connecting credentials, associate’s degrees, and baccalaureate programs.
Through agreements between Virginia’s community colleges and its four-year institutions, people seeking degrees in early childhood education will be able to take courses at community colleges—earning certificates or an associate’s degree—and then seamlessly transfer to a four-year institution for a bachelor’s degree if they wish. That was not previously possible in Virginia’s higher education system.
“This new pathway will bolster our early childhood workforce in the short term by allowing students to acquire an associate’s degree in early childhood education that fully articulates into a bachelor’s degree,” said Governor Northam. “And by ensuring that early educators have the necessary skills to support the growth and learning of our youngest children, this effort will also have a positive impact on future generations of Virginians.”
At a symposium held today, the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Longwood University celebrated these efforts and continued discussions about improving the track to a career in early childhood education.
“Teachers truly hold the future in their hands, and there is no more critical time in a student’s life than these first five years when about 90 percent of brain development occurs,” said Virginia’s First Lady Pamela Northam, who attended the event. “We are excited to celebrate this remarkable achievement of a higher education pathway that provides early educators with the tools they need to be their best.”
With the support of Virginia’s School Readiness Committee and Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, and with leadership from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, a taskforce of key stakeholders and representatives of Virginia community colleges and universities has been working to overcome barriers to this career pathway.
The pathway gives early educators access to more affordable coursework and credentials that “stack” seamlessly from one certificate or degree to the next. Virginia’s higher education institutions have worked out an agreement to ensure that all credits transfer, and the timeline for graduating with a bachelor’s degree and teacher licensure is achievable within a 4-year period. Since many of these educators are working full time, this pathway makes it feasible for them to move along the continuum at their own pace and set credentialing goals that meet their needs, interests, and job responsibilities.
“Research shows that the benefits of high-quality early education last a lifetime,” said Dr. Megan Healy, Chief Workforce Development Advisor to Governor Northam, also in attendance. “This newly created career pathway will improve experiences and outcomes for both our teachers and the students they serve.”
“We commend the administration and elected officials who have demonstrated unwavering support in this landmark effort to create robust, career-building opportunities for teachers of very young children,” said Kathy Glazer, president of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. “Virginia early educators can now achieve credentials and mastery that reflect and support the teaching and learning excellence that all young children deserve.”
James Madison University is now enrolling the inaugural cohort of students in the new program for the spring 2019 semester. Several other state universities are planning to enroll students in the 2019–2020 academic year. All certificate and degree programs in the partnership have been redesigned to focus on building the distinctive skills needed to support the optimal development of children from infancy through third grade.
The symposium was attended by state leaders, regional early childhood representatives, funding organizations and teams of administrators, program developers, faculty, students, and early educators from Longwood, Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University, Old Dominion University and George Mason University, as well as Patrick Henry, John Tyler, Reynolds, Lord Fairfax, Tidewater, and Northern Virginia community colleges. Participants focused on improving ways to build competencies and enhance learning and working conditions for the early educator workforce in Virginia.