Over at the Quick & the Ed, Chad Aldeman does a great job of unpacking some of the reasons why it's incredibly difficult for college students who begin their education at community colleges to successfully transfer to 4-year institutions and earn a bachelor's degree (a model known as "2+2," because successful students would, in theory, spend two years in a community college, plus two more in a 4-year institution). In fact, shockingly few students who enroll at community colleges with the intention to earn a BA ever do so. This is a problem on a whole bunch of levels. But it's particularly likely to become an issue as states and now the federal Head Start program seek to increase the number of pre-k and early education teachers who have bachelor's degrees.
For many current pre-k and Head Start teachers who will seek to earn bachelor's degrees in order to meet new requirements, local community colleges are the logical place to start on their path to a BA. Community colleges are cheaper and more convenient than four-year institutions, and they're often much more targeted to the needs of older adults returning to college. Moreover, many community colleges already have relatively strong associate's degree programs for early childhood educators.
But making the jump from these programs to four-year institutions will be difficult for a lot of early educators. In addition to the many issues Chad discusses, universities are often unwilling to accept early childhood education credits that teachers earned at community colleges. Most universities prefer that teachers get their core general education credits from community colleges and then take their education coursework at the university. For many teachers who already earned associate's degrees in early childhood education to comply with requirements under the previous Head Start reauthorization, this could mean that they will in effect have to start all over again on their bachelor's degrees. That's a waste of time, money, and energy, and it's not a good way to build solid educational pipelines for early educators seeking to improve their credentials and skills.
Raising the educational qualifications of early childhood educators is a worthy goal, but policymakers, advocates, and higher education need to devote a lot more energy and attention to developing new models of high-quality, efficient, and effective routes to BA degrees and certification for current and prospective early childhood educators. If large numbers of current pre-k teachers return to school to earn a BA, demand for such programs will be far greater than existing programs can meet. Smart, enterprising universities that are committed to improving early childhood education have an opportunity to build new programs and models of early educator training. States also need to get serious about forcing their public universities and community colleges to work together, developing articulation agreements and sensible, efficient pathways that meet the needs of working pre-k teachers seeking a degree. And they should do more to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for their graduates' performance as teachers. The federal government can help by funding the development of new traditional and alternate routes to BA and certification for early childhood educators, and by supporting research to rigorously evaluate the quality and effectiveness of existing and new early childhood educator preparation programs.