by Dianne Carter
Earlier this month, VSAC announced its new Scholarship Program for Prospective Early Childhood Educators that can help future early childhood educators get their Associate or Bachelor’s Degree at one of eight public or private Vermont colleges and universities.
As VTAEYC’s Special Projects Director, I help coordinate pipeline programs that connect prospective early childhood educators with opportunities to experience and pursue ECE as a career. I collaborate with colleagues at VSAC to implement this program, and it’s already had quite a response. That’s exciting to me.
Here’s why: This program is designed to recruit and retain more talented early childhood educators to train and teach in Vermont. It sets up early childhood education as a viable career for college students who are able to graduate without student debt.
And then it incents those graduates to work in Vermont. The scholarship is structured as an interest-free, forgivable loan. A year of tuition is forgiven for every year a graduate works in a private Vermont program.
With such a severe shortage of early childhood educators in our state, this scholarship fills a missing piece in the workforce development puzzle. Vermont colleges offer excellent training in early childhood education, and we need their graduates to work here in Vermont.
For those graduates, the effect of not having student loans is long-lasting. The reason so many early childhood educators leave the workforce is because compensation lags behind almost every other career. And many, many educators are paying off student loans. That’s a big piece of the equation when you calculate your wages and your cost of living.
So as graduates of this scholarship program put down roots in their programs, they may have the same questions about compensation–but paying off their student loans will not be the factor that tips the balance.
But we are going to need to retain these new educators, just as we need to keep working to retain the talented, experienced educators who make up our current early childhood education workforce. I see Vermont’s investment in early childhood education students and building our workforce as a signal that our state is serious about investing in early childhood educators’ compensation. It would make no sense to pay to train and retain people early in their careers, and not commit to keeping that talent for the long term.
Building a new early childhood education system that works for everyone is the aim of the Advancing Early Childhood Education as a Profession initiative. I am excited to see our state taking steps to solving our staffing crisis through building a highly skilled workforce, and I look forward to future initiatives developed with early childhood educators at the table.
Dianne Carter is VTAEYC’s Special Projects Director.