Editor’s Note: This post is one in an ongoing series of posts dedicated to early education policy in Mississippi.
By Micayla Tatum I Director of Early Childhood Policy
The educator pipeline crisis, which Mississippi First has researched extensively, also affects childcare centers, Head Start, and public school pre-K programs. In short, finding early childhood teachers is as difficult for the early childhood community as finding K-12 teachers is for public school districts.
In the early childhood sector, the educator crisis is multifaceted and in some ways more entrenched than in K-12. Early childhood teachers are leaving the classroom in high numbers not only because of low wages, but also a lack of benefits, exhaustion, and burnout. These are systemic issues that have plagued the early childhood system for years that were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The same issues that created the crisis make entering early childhood unattractive to students. It does not help that the early childhood educator pipeline is organized separately from its K-12 counterpart and is difficult to navigate, often requiring prospective early childhood educators to complete additional steps.
This article will present information about the various pathways that early childhood teachers can take to gain credentials. Gathering and verifying this information was no small feat. The research began with college and university websites. Then, we verified information through email or via phone, as necessary. If there was no response, we used course catalogs to verify information. Additionally, we referred to Mississippi Department of Education’s Approved Program List to verify four-year institutions’ information.
This post focuses on thirty institutions of higher learning. For-profit institutions, non-accredited institutions, or institutions that do not offer education degrees were not included. We excluded for-profit institutions because of their well-documented predatory nature and because they are not approved for licensure by the Mississippi Department of Education. We excluded non-accredited institutions because students cannot transfer credits or gain licensure from these institutions.
Early Childhood Career Credentials
Career and technical certificates are inexpensive ways for students to gain college credit and knowledge about early childhood without having to complete a degree. Seven community colleges offer this pathway. Career and technical certificates require a certain number of courses and this differs from institution to institution.
The most common and widely recognized technical certificate is the nationally recognized Child Development Associate (CDA), which requires less time than an associate’s degree but is not interchangeable with one. Six community colleges–Tougaloo College, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jones Community College, Meridian Community College, Hinds Community College, and Northwest Mississippi Community College–offer options. These options are either independent of associates’ degrees or embedded within them, which allows students to count their CDA training as part of their degree coursework. CDA training is also available through vendors such as ProSolutions Training – Mississippi, Successful Solutions Professional Development, Care Courses, and Mississippi State University’s Extension Center.
The Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning offers 150 placements in a Teachstone CDA scholarship program, but they currently have a long waitlist of teachers. Midtown Partners Inc. is partnering with Accelerate Mississippi and the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi to help 75 teachers earn a CDA. The Department of Human Services also announced at the Mississippi Senate Study Group on Women, Children, and Families on October 25, 2022, that it would provide $3 million in funding for 2,000 teachers to complete a CDA.
Two-Year Degrees and 2+2 Options
The next step beyond a career certificate is to earn an associate’s degree in early childhood education. To do this, an early childhood teacher can attend thirteen of fifteen community colleges in the state.1 Students can also earn an associate’s degree at Rust College or Tougaloo College. Alternatively, prospective teachers can earn an associate’s degree in elementary education at fourteen of the state’s two-year institutions2, but this major only provides training that is specific to children who are Kindergarten age or older. Students attending a two-year institution that does not offer an elementary education major can still complete their general education requirements and then transfer to a four-year institution to major in elementary education.
Once students earn an associate’s degree in early childhood education, elementary education, or other related degree, they may be eligible to transfer credits to earn a bachelor’s degree. The jump from community college is where the road becomes difficult. Students encounter a patchwork system of access and must frequently take redundant coursework. If they want to earn a state teaching license, they must not only pay for state licensure exams, but they must also be careful to transfer into a licensure-bearing degree program.
Transferring credits from a community college to a four-year institution is a confusing process. Four-year institutions can accept or reject credits at their discretion. There is also variation in which community colleges have an articulation agreement with four-year institutions in the state to accept any transfer credits at all. Depending on the two-year institution a teacher chooses to attend, they may have plenty of options or hardly any. A student at Hinds Community College who majors in Early Childhood Education Technology, for example, has the option of attending every public four-year institution in the state except the University of Mississippi and may also attend Rust College or Tougaloo College. A student at Itawamba Community College who majors in Early Childhood Education Technology only has the option to attend Mississippi State University or the Mississippi University for Women.3
To demystify the process, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), the Mississippi Department of Education, the Mississippi Community College Board, and the Woodward Hinds Education Foundation partnered to create the Mississippi Articulation and Transfer Tool. This tool lists common courses accepted by major by all public institutions as well as courses accepted by specific universities. The tool is particularly useful to students who are transferring to public universities, but it is not applicable to private colleges and universities.
The way the system currently exists is problematic for students. Once a student successfully transfers, they will most likely have to repeat coursework related to early childhood education if they majored in the subject at community college. This is because universities typically only accept general education requirements–such as English and math–rather than major-specific courses for transfer credit. Ironically, students who do not major in early childhood at the community college level, but only take basic courses may actually end up with more transferable credits. This is a problem for creating a pipeline since it disincentivizes students who have already shown an interest in early childhood education. These students are essentially penalized with additional coursework and costs to gain a four-year degree in early childhood.
The cost of additional courses can be burdensome and make early childhood degrees impractical for many teachers. If a student has to take additional courses, then the cost of their early childhood degree could increase by thousands. An early childhood credential should not cost more than an elementary education degree, especially because early education teachers are paid a fraction of K-12 teacher’s salaries.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in an early childhood field can be done at any of the public four-year institutions in the state, but not all programs will lead to teacher licensure. Notably, early childhood majors cannot earn licensure from any of the state’s public, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Licensure at Public Four-Year Institutions
|Licensure Pathway||Non-Licensure Pathway✝|
|Delta State University||Mississippi University for Women|
|Mississippi State University||Alcorn State University*|
|University of Mississippi||Jackson State University*|
|University of Southern Mississippi||Mississippi Valley State University*|
*Historically black institution
The state’s private, four-year institutions also offer a varied landscape for students. At Rust College, students have two options for early childhood degrees, but neither option will lead to licensure. Mississippi College also offers a non-licensure-bearing early childhood degree. Millsaps College, Belhaven University, William Carey University, and Blue Mountain Christian University do not offer early childhood degree programs at all. Tougaloo College has the most robust offerings with courses that span from a CDA to a Master’s Degree in Child Development.
Even though the early childhood offerings are sparse at private institutions, each of these institutions, except Millsaps College,4 offers a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education which would allow students to teach four-year-olds if they complete coursework for an additional endorsement or take a Praxis Subject Assessment to add the pre-K/K endorsement, similar to public HBCUs.
Increasing Equitable Access
We articulate many concerns above about the early childhood educator landscape, but the most pressing issue is ensuring that students have equitable access to licensure pathways regardless of the institution they choose to attend. Currently, fifty percent of the state’s public institutions do not have a straightforward route for students who seek early childhood licensure, yet the state is in the midst of a well-documented teacher shortage.
To address the teacher shortage, there must be programs to help guide these teachers into early education, and those programs must be accessible to all. In particular, students attending the state’s public HBCUs need access to early childhood-specific degrees that will lead to licensure.
Understanding the importance of a child’s early years is a relatively recent phenomenon, which partly explains the fragmentation of early childhood. But as the sector progresses there must be more alignment, especially in the expectations and qualifications for educators.
Currently, gaining a degree in early childhood involves navigating a patchwork of pathways. If a student wanted to teach elementary-aged students, they would pursue a degree in Elementary Education. This would not change if a student attended a community college or a public or private four-year institution. A student who wishes to pursue a career in teaching children ages 0-4, however, may get a two- or four-year degree, that may or may not lead to a license, in such diverse majors as
- Family Consumer Sciences,
- Human Development and Family Science,
- Early Childhood Development,
- Early Childhood Education,
- Child and Family Sciences,
- Child Care and Family Education,
- Early Childhood Education Technology,
- Early Childhood Development Technology,
- Child Development and Family Studies, or
- Child Development.
One step institutions of higher learning could take to make the process more straightforward for students is to come to a consensus around names for early childhood degrees that are licensure versus non-licensure bearing. This may seem insignificant, but it would make it more transparent to students whether their degree is the best choice for their career goals. Along with finding consensus on degree names, institutions could streamline access to early childhood degrees by aligning their curriculums, courses, and content. This would create a landscape that would make transferring credits between institutions simpler for students. The goal would be to create a landscape similar to elementary education so that students know what content to expect, and employers know what knowledge their employees bring to their classrooms.
Institutions could even go so far as to ensure all early childhood education degrees can result in a license. That would prevent students from pursuing an elementary education degree and then taking additional coursework or assessments to earn a pre-K/K endorsement. Such a major shift would accord early childhood educators the respect that is often missing from their work as it would demonstrate the specialized content knowledge that early childhood educators possess. This shift would also allow MDE, IHL, and the Department of Human Services to align their expectations for teachers which is a key step in creating an integrated early childhood landscape and advocating for pay parity with elementary educators.5
1 East Mississippi Community College and Mississippi Delta Community College do not have early childhood-specific offerings for students. Both institutions offer elementary education degrees that can be transferred to four-year institutions where they could presumably pursue early childhood education coursework in addition to elementary education coursework.
2 Coahoma Community College does not offer elementary education courses currently. However, students can still major in elementary education by completing their general education courses and transferring to a four-year institution.
3 Itawamba Community College states on the website that Early Childhood Education Technology courses cannot transfer, but the college confirmed through correspondence that students can transfer credit. If a student transfers to Mississippi State University, 100% of their credits will transfer, and they will receive a Bachelor in Applied Science but this degree is not licensure bearing. To attain a teaching license, these students must complete a Masters of Art in Teaching. If a student transfers to the Mississippi University for Women, 27 credit hours will be accepted for a major in Early Childhood Development, which is not a licensure program. If students wanted to gain a teaching license, they would need to pursue an elementary education degree which would increase their time for completion.
4 Millsaps College does not offer an Elementary Education degree but does offer a degree in Education Studies and students who would like to pursue licensure can do so through their partnerships with William Carey University or Rhodes College.
5The pay disparity between elementary educators and early childhood educators is well documented. The goal of this article is not to suggest that we should increase requirements for early childhood educators which would further squeeze an industry that is in financial distress and combating an educator shortage. The goal is to suggest aligning the credentialing process across two- and four-year institutions and between MDE and MDHS. The general fragmentation of the community must be addressed in conversation with these larger issues such as pay disparities and an early childhood educator shortage, topics for later blogs.