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Kay Trinkle and Robert Day
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC) began as a technical institute in the early 1960s and was designated a comprehensive community college in 1988. Also in that year, the college received its second "Keeping America Working" award from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) for exemplary business/industry partnerships. The college serves the residents of Rowan and Cabarrus Counties along the I-85 corridor in the rapidly growing Piedmont region of south-central North Carolina. Located halfway between Charlotte and Greensboro, the main (North) campus is located in Salisbury. Twenty minutes away is the new South Campus in Kannapolis (opened in 1990) which serves the residents of a rapidly growing part of the service area in close proximity to Charlotte. The entire region is known for its pro-business, non-union work environment and has received national recognition for its economic development achievements. An unemployment rate of 3% is an indicator of the strong economy.
Evident at the college is a strong commitment in both philosophy and practice to the precepts of accessible and low-cost occupational-technical education to support economic development. This is consistent with the philosophy and goals of the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges. Whereas community colleges in most states evolved as liberal arts/transfer-oriented institutions and subsequently added vocational-technical programs, the North Carolina community colleges evolved in the reverse order. The system places a high premium on well-developed occupational-technical programs serving business and industry through 58 community colleges in the North Carolina system.
An open door college, RCCC offers over thirty occupational programs that lead to a one-year diploma or a two-year Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree. The college also offers a liberal arts program for transfer with an Associate in Arts (AA) degree. During 1992-1993, 10% of the population of RCCC's service area was enrolled in some form of instructional program. Consistent with the mission to provide education for entry into the workplace as well as increase lifelong learning practices, RCCC has a large adult population with the median age of students approaching thirty years. From survey data collected prior to the visit and RCCC's Fact Book (1994), the unduplicated head count for FY93 was 16,873. Fifty-five percent of students were enrolled in occupational-technical programs (by FTE), which is consistent with RCCC's tradition. More recently, enrollments have shifted toward transfer students. Curriculum enrollments of FTEs between FY89 and FY93 showed decreases in most program areas while college transfers increased from 3% to 17%. The female student population is the largest identified group (66% cited in FY93), and the minority population represented 13% for that same year. Other identified student populations of a significant number were single parents; students requiring some remediation; and working students seeking job skills for entry, promotion, or re-employment.
The college reflects a progressive and stable administration and faculty, with the current President having held that position for the past 18 years. Several senior administrators reflect long-standing experience with the college, while others are new, but experienced within the North Carolina system. One of the newest administrators, the Vice President for Academic Programs, has been in her position for 19 months. A strong believer in work-based learning, she had a major role in obtaining a new federal cooperative education grant that is expanding work-based learning into more curriculum areas. Both the Vice President for Academic Programs and the Vice President for the South Campus and External Programs talked of the college's goals to increase work-based learning. They stated that current Tech Prep initiatives with area public school districts and a recent cooperative education grant will stimulate more work-based learning in other programs.
Program Overview and Goals
In the early 1970s, area superintendents of schools, members of the local board of trustees, and other leaders approached RCCC about beginning a program to prepare paraprofessionals to work with young children in area schools. They observed an increasing number of women entering or returning to the workforce and a related growth in child-care needs. These trends were affirmed by the college's counselors who were working with an increasingly nontraditional female student body. Area superintendents at that time were also interested in specialized training for paraprofessional teacher assistants in the public schools and worked closely with the college to set up formal affiliations for potential students. Area Head Start programs demonstrated an interest in such a program to support the training requirements of the federal government for Head Start day-care centers.
To address these needs, the Early Childhood Education Program began at RCCC in 1972 as a one-year diploma program. Subsequently, an evening program was added and later a two-year AAS major in Early Childhood Associate (ECA) was begun. Even later, the college offered the Child Development Associate (CDA) and the North Carolina Child Care credential, both of which have been integrated into the curriculum, creating a career ladder for students. Currently, there are three programs: (1) a 33-quarter hour certificate for the promotion of a Child Care Worker, (2) a 68-quarter hour or one-year diploma for Child Care Worker, and (3) an ECA two-year AAS degree, most commonly resulting in a Teaching Assistant position and qualifying degree holders for the CDA credential and the NC Child Care credential. The program is approved by the National Association of Educators of Young Children (NAEYC), and follows guidelines prepared by that group for two-year colleges.
In recent years, there has been state-level impetus through the Office of the Governor of North Carolina to ensure greater access to and support for child care throughout the State of North Carolina. North Carolina currently has one of the highest percentages of females in the workplace of any state in the nation, particularly females with pre-kindergarten children. The North Carolina Department of Human Resources, Child Development Division, has established broad new standards and minimum requirements to ensure that education and training will hold a prominent place in the preparation of child-care workers. For example, a new birth-to-kindergarten certification has been established that is now part of educational programs throughout the state. The faculty in Early Childhood at RCCC, through the statewide association, has helped influence state policymakers on such matters.
In FY93, the ECA Programs had an unduplicated student head count of 339, showing 83 FTEs (see Table A-1). Ninety-five percent of the students were female. Sixteen percent were minority, predominantly African-American. A significant number were single parents. The average age of students in the ECA Program was 35 years which was considerably higher than the average age for the college as a whole. Only 11% of the students in the program received Pell grants. The graduation rate recorded was 33%. (Faculty and members of the employment community acknowledged the issue of low graduate rates by explaining that many students already have jobs in the field or were hired before they were able to complete their degree program.)
|Enrollment and Student Demographics||Incidence|
|Total number of students enrolled in the program||339|
|Average age of students||35|
|Percent of students receiving Pell grants||11%|
|Graduation rate for students||33%|
|Job placement rate for students||100%|
|Transfer rate for students||UK|
Although the graduation rate of students in the ECA Programs is low, the faculty take pride in a 100% placement rate which is attributed to students' practicum experiences where potential employers witness on-the-job performance. Other student outcomes attributed to the program are increased self-esteem, increased aspirations, and better goal-setting abilities. A 1993 survey of graduates indicated that 55% to 60% of employers rated students' employability skills (e.g., work attitudes, reliability, initiative, getting along with others) in the "excellent" range. Preferential hiring by area employers and somewhat higher earnings were evident for ECA completers who entered the local workforce.
RCCC receives more than 80% of its budget allocation from the state of North Carolina; approximately 10% each comes from the local and federal levels. In FY93, the tuition rate for North Carolina residents was $13.25 per credit hour. The ECA Programs received $233,682 in state funding and $7,805 in federal funding through the Head Start program. Besides Pell grant aid to ECA students, scholarship funds are available through the College's Foundation and other sources. Future opportunities for expanded funding include plans to obtain "Smart Start" grant programs through the State of North Carolina.
The ECA programs, according to the RCCC President, are designed as high-quality programs to prepare a trained and skilled workforce to serve business and industry within the college's service area. One administrator described the ECA Programs as "totally institutionalized" within the college's spectrum of programs. Again, according to RCCC's President, the ECA Programs are consistent with the mission of the college and typical of other programs offered there. To some extent, the President views the program no differently than any other program at the institution, but he did acknowledge that the leadership, motivation, and hard work of the faculty and especially the Program Head have contributed significantly to the success of the program over the years.
Faculty at RCCC are highly qualified, motivated professionals holding degrees and additional certifications appropriate to their disciplines. The Vice President for the South Campus and External Programs explained that the majority of all RCCC faculty have industry experience. The three full-time ECA faculty are no exception. Demographically, the faculty are all female and they all hold the master's degree with advanced graduate study beyond that level along with other specialized certifications. Collectively, they have many years of experience in the early childhood/child-care development field as practitioners, consultants, and local and statewide leaders in professional associations.
The Program Head for the ECA and Child Care Worker Programs holds a master's degree; a CAS advanced certificate (6-year program); and is certified as a North Carolina Graduate Level Teacher, Counselor, and Curriculum Specialist/Supervisor. She has 21 years experience and is a founding faculty member of the program. She is also an acclaimed teacher having received RCCC's Teacher of the Year award in 1992-1993. Besides teaching, she directs the certificate, diploma, and degree ECA Programs as well as RCCC's Early Childhood Center which serves as a day care for preschool-aged children and an on-campus laboratory for ECA students. Beyond her on-campus responsibilities, she has worked as a consultant to businesses interested in developing day-care facilities. Her knowledge of early childhood education policy is important to the program's success; her ability to facilitate partnerships is impressive.
One other full-time instructor in the program also has 21 years experience at the college, and holds a master's degree and additional study. She is certified as a North Carolina Graduate Level Teacher and an American Red Cross First Aid and CPR Instructor. She is also a founding faculty member of this program. The other full-time instructor in the program and head of the Early Childhood Center has a master's degree and advanced study. This is her sixth year with the program. Both of these faculty members are highly experienced and dedicated professionals who are keenly aware of the needs of the workplace, having worked over many years to cultivate strong partnerships with area public schools, private child-care centers, and Head Start day-care centers. They are enthusiastic about teaching students to enter careers in child care and enjoy working with young children themselves. They appear to have high expectations for students and establish a close working relationship with them.
Together, these three full-time faculty members can best be described as highly energized, extremely motivated, and very well-organized. They work together as a team to design and implement curriculum. Each works to cultivate partnerships with day-care and other educational institutions. All three were mentioned by students as helpful advisors. The ECA faculty demonstrate pride in their program and its students and graduates. Their networks in the community and within the state are far-reaching and influential. They have helped influence state-level legislation and policymaking through their professional affiliations, participation in local initiatives to support child-care and early childhood education and training within both the private and public sectors, acquisition of grant resources to support the programs, and consultation with local businesses on private child-care programs. They have been highly engaged in professional development activity, having held elected offices in the statewide community college professional association for early childhood instructors. For these accomplishments, the ECA faculty have been appropriately recognized for their expertise by other community college early childhood faculty members across North Carolina.
Besides the full-time faculty, the ECA Programs also have 20 part-time instructors who support the courses and clinical lab experiences and the Early Childhood Center. These part-time faculty are working professionals who provide essential support to the program as classroom and lab site instructors. Many have served or currently serve on the curriculum advisory committee which has helped guide the program for many years. These part-time faculty are unusually dedicated advocates of the program in the community; they also assume a major role in the employment of program graduates.
A typical student in this program is female and in her early 30s, who is a first-generation college student. Many are single parents or nontraditional students, and many already hold part-time jobs in the child-development field. Most have a desire to work with children prior to entering the program. Some learned of the ECA Programs through their work, some through word-of-mouth from a friend or family member, and others through counselors at RCCC or their high school. In addition, referrals are made through both the Head Start program and the JOBS and JTPA (Job Training Partnership Act) programs in the community.
Students enrolled in the program are highly interested in child-care providing services and in working with young children, including infants, pre-kindergarten, and special needs children. Several students interviewed began their program at a four-year college but transferred to this program because of its reputation for providing practical and relevant work experience. Many students interviewed have plans to teach and wish to transfer to baccalaureate programs. Often, however, students are uncertain about the age groups they prefer to work with. As students rotate through practicum experiences with children of different ages, they often change their career plans for working with specific age groups, providing an important lesson about the need for job rotation during work-based learning internships. Interestingly, the students recognized they were entering a career characterized by low wages and high turnover. However, they indicated they enjoy working with children and have the support from their families to enter this field. Based on our interviews, students were highly satisfied with the program, the faculty, the opportunities for work-based learning, and the ability to obtain formal training that area employers require for entry into the field.
Employers are strongly supportive of the ECA Programs. Those interviewed spoke highly of the program; many had a direct hand in the program's initiation and development in the early 1970s. As a group, many types of child-care oriented businesses were represented, ranging from public elementary schools to a hospital child-care center to a Head Start day-care center on a nearby four-year college campus. The jobs provided by these employers include Child Care Assistant, Teaching Assistant, and Lead Teacher/ Director.
Among the mix of employers, the area public schools in Rowan County/Salisbury and Cabarrus Counties have been particularly staunch supporters, having established a formal career track for Teaching Assistants at the preschool and elementary levels. Area schools rely extensively on the ECA Programs for providing them with a trained workforce. In addition, the Head Start program, begun in the 1960s, has upgraded its training requirements for skilled child-care workers and teachers. Effective in the fall, the CDA credential or the AAS degree are mandated by all Head Start centers, providing another valuable employment outlet for graduates. In addition, private child-care centers such as the Rowan Medical Center Child Care Center and other regional corporations seek trained child-care workers and teachers.
All area employers who hire graduates of the ECA Programs pay a higher beginning wage than they would pay to employees who were hired without such training. The starting hourly wages range from approximately $5 to $9 per hour. All employers provide benefits to employees, although the range of benefits varies. Some employers prefer to hire students part-time so their performance can be evaluated before they are offered full-time employment. In turn, the ECA Programs were supported through employers' service as part-time instructors; participation on the curriculum advisory committee; and involvement in community, state, and national professional organizations.
Other stakeholders include the multitude of day-care providers and administrators, public school administrators, and teachers. One elementary teacher who also supervises ECA students described the increased role Teaching Assistants play as more special needs students enter the classroom. Through the interviews, each group of stakeholders believed the programs at RCCC provided the best match of employee and professional preparation. Advisory Committee members believed the most important element was the open channel of communication between the college, the schools, each faculty member, and the direct input the Committee had in addressing important local issues affecting early childhood education.
School-Based Learning Component
In the ECA AAS degree program, each student must participate in three practicums, consisting of three semesters of a one-hour seminar and ten practicum hours each week. These three practicums reflect the developmental stages of the child and include the areas of (l) the preschool environment, (2) the school-age environment, and (3) special needs. The practicums focus on child development of specific age groups and are structured to follow theory-related lectures. The first-year classroom starts with theory-related coursework on infancy and toddlers, and the practicum follows the same developmental period in a variety of settings. In the "Education Foundations" course, lectures and discussions involving first-year students focus on such topics as Piaget's stages of development, Rosseau's study of Emile, and Locke's environmentalist theory.
Throughout the program, students are required to conduct outside library research using the extensive resources of a special collection of early childhood volumes, periodicals, media, and other resources in the college's modern, functional library. Students use index cards maintained in files to document their assignments. Brief abstracts of each assignment are entered on the index card, and students make oral and written reports from these cards in class. In one class, the topic discussed was recurring themes in early childhood education. Many of the library citations were drawn from the works of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and others. Recitation by students of the research findings were followed by brief discussions among the faculty member and other students to reinforce the applications of the theory discussed in the literature to real-life child development situations. This approach to integration of vocational and academic skills seemed highly effective, and student interest and active participation was evident.
Strong support was expressed for the integration of vocational and academic education by several college personnel. As a technical institute, RCCC has historically developed curriculum in occupational-technical areas. Now, as a comprehensive college, RCCC has increased liberal arts and articulated programs. The early childhood curriculum was one of the earliest program areas to offer these developments in combination with career options. Content is formally integrated with such courses as "Creative Activities in Early Childhood," a course spanning art, movement, music, and dramatics with educational methods. Although English, math, and science coursework required by the AAS degree is not fully integrated with the occupational subject matter, students and faculty agree that some teachers encourage such integrated activities as using journals in an English Composition course. Future developments with Tech Prep are expected to stimulate integration of vocational and academic education pertaining to the ECA Programs.
The curriculum is structured to introduce the textbooks and classroom lecture backed by a practical experience in each area of specialty. As the coursework moves into school-aged development and the second practicum, students work in a public school setting, working on age-appropriate activities for school-aged children. Classroom lecture classes are delivered through both traditional teaching methods and informal seminar formats in which students are seated at tables in small numbers and participate in extensive interchange with each other and the instructor. Lecture classes involve a blend of theory and practice as well as audiovisual aids.
The third practicum is chosen by the student and becomes an advanced work experience in whichever age group they choose. Upon completion of the three unpaid practicums, students have gained significant experience in the classroom, are experienced in age-appropriate instruction, and can plan their own career paths. Finally, an internship consisting of three courses is undertaken, with two hours a week of lecture/seminar and ten hours per week of practicum experience. Reflecting upon the full spectrum of work-based learning in the program, one supervising teacher compared the ECA practicum very favorably to the single internship of a four-year program. She stated that the difference between ECA and other programs is the students' readiness for the classroom as well as the opportunity to work with children of the age group they plan to teach.
A formal program of career awareness, orientation, and guidance is a recognized part of the ECA Programs. A beginning course required of students is "Early Childhood Overview" which is designed so that students can investigate educational careers. Students are assigned research projects that utilize the early childhood education area of the Learning Resource Center, approximately one-fifth of the center. Students become familiar with professional publications; build a file of reading references; and learn about positions, salaries, and requirements related to their specific degree goals and future career paths. A concerted effort is made by the Student Services personnel to work with the ECA faculty. RCCC's Director of Student Services cited the ECA Programs as offering high-quality advising of new students. Most career guidance for students in the AAS program is done by ECA faculty. Students are assigned to one of the three full-time faculty early in the program, but also have the option to seek out any of the full-time or part-time faculty when additional guidance is needed.
Like many students entering community colleges, a sizable proportion of students in the ECA Programs take developmental education. Specifically, 75% of the students take a developmental math course, 45% take developmental reading, and 50% take developmental English. Two strong support services within the college can aid Early Childhood students. Student Services is a team-organized department that houses recruiting, admissions, financial aid, counseling, and job placement. The department does pre-advising that explains registration, placement testing results, and an orientation on student habits. The ASSET test determines students' academic needs and, after assessing student skills and needs, the Student Services team provides follow-up.
A second area still in the pilot stage but believed to have a positive effect on retention is the Student Success Program that bridges academic advising and Student Services. Although testing and counseling are in place, no mandatory course placement exists at RCCC. The Student Success Program is a centralized advising service that supports and follows activities begun with ASSET. Early in the first quarter, advisors are assigned to at-risk students to set up individual educational plans, explain college policies (e.g., drop, add, and withdraw), assist with career goals, and provide counseling. They also respond to transportation, child care, and other personal difficulties. Another important aspect of the program is the Early Alert System that involves all faculty. At the first signs of academic or personal problems, faculty have a place to call to get students the assistance they need.
RCCC and the ECA Programs create individual student training plans in two parts. First, the Student Success Program develops individual career plans exploring all the resources of the college. Second, the ECA Program Head, through orientation, assigns advisors, develops a file, and initiates an individual plan. When students were asked if they were comfortable going to their advisor for both career or personal counseling, they gave an affirmative response.
Work-Based Learning Component
The Work-Based Learning Component occurs in several ways. First, integrated with school-based learning is the hands-on application of skills through RCCC's on-site Early Childhood Center. Employing nine persons, the center supports the academic work of the school-based curriculum. The center is a state-licensed facility, which is able to accommodate 60 children. The census count at the time of our visit was 59 with a short waiting list. The children served are representative of all socioeconomic groups, providing a diverse learning experience for RCCC students. The center offers child care on a first-come, first-serve basis. It is open to the community, including the employees and students of the college, and is a full-service, modern facility. An observation room with media support allows students to conduct observations. Microcomputer hardware and software are used extensively. Students work with mentors in the center and are allowed considerable latitude in planning activities.
In addition to the students' work experience at the Early Childhood Center, the ECA curriculum provides the three practicums and an internship, all mentioned previously. Often students are placed in the college's own laboratory, the Early Childhood Center, for preschool age children as well as with small and large day-care centers and a hospital development center. For the second practicum, students are usually placed with a number of area elementary schools. The third practicum setting is chosen by the student and is designed to promote advanced learning with either preschool or school-age children. In this practicum, more time is devoted to planning and implementing age-appropriate activities. Together, the three practicums and internship give students a variety of experiences to help them make career decisions. Experience in the work site also gives students essential job skills necessary for employment. In turn, employers support the ECA faculty in preparation, review, and revision of learning materials that are an integral part of students' practicum experiences.
All activity is documented by the student according to the Early Childhood Manual. The manual includes the related practicum packet as well as information on the objectives of the curriculum; student competencies; a code of ethical conduct; suggested sequence of required courses; and the responsibilities and roles of practicum students, college supervisors, and cooperating school/center teachers. The ECA faculty and work-based supervisors collaborate closely in the development, implementation, and evaluation of the manual. The practicum packet contained in the manual is a highly detailed instructional management system which includes the following:
Periodic evaluation of student progress is provided by supervising teachers at the workplace through weekly evaluations and written feedback. Program advisors met with workplace supervisors on a quarterly basis, and with students at the workplace throughout the quarter. Regular consultation between workplace mentors and the college happens in two ways. First, the program advisor makes regular quarterly visits to the workplace where students and particular situations are discussed. Second, a number of larger employers that provide placements are affiliates of the Advisory Committee which meets twice a year and discusses larger-scale issues.
Connecting ActivitiesConnecting activities for the ECA Programs include (1) the curriculum advisory committee, (2) written articulation agreements, (3) use of practicum notebooks, and (4) state and national trends in the setting of standards for early child-care education. First, the curriculum advisory committee is closely linked to the professional life of the ECA Programs. Advisory committee membership includes key child-development providers, including private-sector centers, Head Start centers, elementary schools, and other groups. The committee meets at least twice a year, and offers leadership and direction to the programs in an advisory capacity. Many of the curriculum advisory committee members serve as part-time faculty for the programs. Several of the employers represented on the advisory committee also represent practicum sites that support the programs. Advisory committee members are networked through a wide range of local, state, and national professional associations and affiliations. For example, a regional Head Start official and child-care owner who serves on the committee is the former President of the North Carolina Head Start Association.
A formal governing/advisory board composed of institutional partners is handled in an exemplary manner by the Program Head. The Early Childhood Advisory Committee is made up of professionals from the field. Each individual member carries a significant position and influence in the community. There is a spectrum of knowledge, support, and dedication to the Early Childhood Education and ECA Programs at RCCC. The committee also assists faculty with forecasting economic trends, professional issues, and promoting programs. In so doing, the Advisory Committee provides an invaluable service of "connecting" the college's educational programs to the business community.
Three forms of written articulation agreements at RCCC act as connecting components among educational institutions. First are the articulation agreements with the public school systems. Although not officially Tech Prep, the ECA Programs afford high school graduates an advanced placement articulation model whereby Levels I and II of high school home economics satisfies three-quarter credit hours in the major at the college. These agreements also provide practicum placements in elementary schools for ECA students. Such articulation agreements are expected to increase with the college's acquisition of new grants for Tech Prep and cooperative education. A second level of articulation is available with other two-year colleges that provide one-year ECA diploma programs but lack the two-year degree option. For these colleges, articulation agreements allow students to transfer to RCCC for their second-year to obtain the AAS degree. A third level of articulation is with four-year colleges, primarily private colleges in the area, providing ECA students the option to transfer as juniors to pursue the baccalaureate degree.
Another connecting activity is the practicum notebook kept by students. It is a key link between college-based instruction and practical work-based learning. It is used in class as well as by supervising teachers in the workplace. Evaluation forms and student feedback are recorded in the notebook. It includes time sheets, checklists, student-developed resource files, activity planning guides, and the daily practicum log.
A final connecting function of the ECA Programs at RCCC and throughout the state is the state/national credentialing standards and requirements established by one or more of the following organizations: the National Association of Educators of Young Children, the North Carolina Association of Educators of Young Children, the North Carolina Day Care Association, the North Carolina Head Start Association, the Governor's Office--State of North Carolina, the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Department of Human Resources, Child Development Division, the North Carolina Department of Social Services, and others. These credentialing standards or requirements have the effect of defining the relationships between the school-based and work-based locations, and influencing the curriculum in numerous beneficial ways.
The ECA Programs promote strong, formal partnerships between the college, the faculty, the work-based learning sites, the employers and their employees, the advisory committee, the external credentialing and standard-setting entities, and professional associations. Leadership for the program took hold over 20 years ago, allowing for strong relationships to form and solidify between the college's ECA Programs and the workplace. As workforce requirements for formal training became more pervasive, an attitude of professionalism entered the early childhood education field and concerns were translated into public policy. RCCC has taken full advantage of becoming the focal point for initiating and sustaining partnerships in support of early childhood education within the region, and its faculty are widely recognized in the community and at the state level for taking a leadership role.
Well-managed, diverse facilities in strategic locations throughout the service
area offer students highly meaningful work-based learning experiences.
High-quality, diverse training is available through the on-campus Early
Childhood Center in addition to the work-based learning sites. The practicum
rotation among sites ensures that students are exposed to learning
opportunities with children of different ages and backgrounds, including
pre-kindergarten, school age, and special needs. Replicating this type of breadth and depth in work-based learning is time-consuming, yet essential to the success of the ECA Programs, possibly to all occupational-technical programs.
Another strength of the ECA Programs is the highly structured and articulated curriculum that creates a career ladder of credentialing. RCCC has effectively linked student outcomes in the program and in each course whereby a career continuum has been established to satisfy the needs for the Head Start-mandated CDA credential; the NC Child Care credential; and the ECA certificate, diploma, and AAS programs. In addition, an increasing number of AAS degree graduates are planning to continue their education at a four-year university. Articulation with four-year baccalaureate degree programs has been pursued for several years, and more will be accomplished in the near future as a result of the new birth-to-kindergarten certification that will be delivered through universities and four-year colleges in North Carolina beginning this year. Future reforms in early childhood education at the state level should have the beneficial effect of fostering articulation efforts while ensuring the preeminence of early childhood paraprofessional programs offered through community colleges.
The enthusiasm, dedication, creativity, and just plain hard work of the entire ECA faculty cannot be underestimated. Collectively, the faculty has been instrumental in organizing and continuing to nurture a highly successful work-based learning program. Yet, even with an exceptional staff and as many strengths as this program has, concerns remain. One is the lack of mandatory placement of students in developmental courses based on ASSET test scores. Since this program enrolls an unusually high percentage of nontraditional, first-generation students--many in need of academic skills development--it is important that all students begin their academic studies at a level likely to make them successful. In many cases, developmental courses are needed to ensure success in the program. As more advanced academic competencies are integrated into courses in the major, students will be required to master high-level reading, English, and mathematics. As a result, the college should review its current policy of student assessment and remediation to make developmental studies mandatory when warranted.
A second, potentially more thorny issue surrounds the profession of early childhood education. The profession is recognized as a human services area designed to prepare child-care providers in both private- and public-sector child care. The importance of this field is recognized but, according to the faculty, not nearly enough. The faculty felt that the value of early childhood education, specifically in support of economic development, is not universally appreciated in spite of the fact that over 50% of women in America are in the workforce. Even though some local employers place a premium on this training and offer a pay differential for graduates with the AAS degree, the field of early childhood education suffers from the image of being low-pay, low-skill with high turnover (approximately 40% nationally, according to the faculty). In the RCCC area, day-care teaching assistants are in demand, although salaries are low, as they are nationally. Teaching assistants with AAS degrees find better salaries in company owned or operated day-care facilities and in K-3 public schools, although the average starting salary remains modest at $5-$9 hourly. Advisory Council members suggested that until local corporations add internal day-care centers, wages will remain low. Additional incentives are needed to increase WBL participation by businesses, trade organizations, unions, and community-based organizations.
More than half of the students interviewed were introduced to the program through JTPA, Job Core, or Head Start programs. They will be rewarded with pay increases at the completion of their programs. Yet, even with these incentives, retention figures for the program are low. Graduation rates are approximately 33% and no mandatory job placement policy exists. (RCCC's policy is to make all students aware of resources, but the college sees job placement as the responsibility of the student.) Early child-care workers with or without Associate degrees are needed in the community. Consequently, many students seek employment prior to graduation and many of these students do not finish. Although employers indicate that they prefer students to complete the program, it is also evident they readily employ students without the credential. When this happens, employers use the program, specifically the practicum, to make judgments about which students to hire. Both the employers at the practicum sites and college faculty believe this is an advantage of their close working relationship. In our view, this screening process--what some would call "creaming"--needs to be monitored to ensure decisions about employment are based on fair and equitable criteria. In addition, students, employers, and college faculty need to be fully aware of the short- and long-term benefits and drawbacks of how this screening practice inhibits program completion and precludes students from obtaining benefits associated with the formal credential.
Finally, a related issue is the problem that wages and/or stipends are not provided to students in the ECA Programs, further encouraging low-income students to seek employment and regular wages. Head Start employers do send employees for certification that includes partial tuition reimbursements or bonuses at program completion. However, a concern that no wages are provided is expressed by key stakeholders of the program (an issue discussed at the Advisory Council meeting held during our visit). Concerns about not providing wages are heightened given that the college's service area has a very high percentage of women in the workplace and in need of day-care services. However, as long as average family incomes remain low, local stakeholders speculate that the development of preschool professions will be slowed and these factors will continue to have a direct effect on the Early Childhood Education Programs of RCCC and other educational institutions.