New SF Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education Fills Community Need

Santa Fe College will soon debut a new Bachelor of Science degree program in Early Childhood Education in direct response to federal and state mandates requiring Head Start and Voluntary Prekindergarten teachers to earn a bachelor’s degree by 2013.

“That gave us a good shove,” said Ed Bonahue, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “We always want to provide better training, but now we have a situation where people are in danger of losing jobs if they don’t hold a bachelor’s degree by the deadline.”

Head Start, a federally-funded program which offers childhood development services to the economically disadvantaged, expects all of its education coordinators and at least half of its teachers to hold a bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education by Sept. 30, 2013. Florida’s state government has followed suit, asking that by the same school year all prekindergarten teachers earn the same advanced degree. However, it’s not just public school teachers that will need a bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education.

“A lot of private preschools are accredited by the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children),” said Bonahue. “That agency now recommends that there be a certain number of bachelor’s degree-trained workers. This is a staffing goal that exists in the private sector as well.”

Since many prekindergarten and Head Start instructors currently teach with associate of science (AS) degrees, Santa Fe College will offer an AS-to-BS track to help AS-degree holders complete all their general education requirements while pursuing upper level coursework that counts towards the BS.

“A lot of research shows better educated teachers provide better education environments,” said Karen Bennett, director of Santa Fe’s Little School and a professor of Early Education who helped establish the new bachelor’s degree program. “A lot of early education difficulties are social and emotional in nature. Teachers trained to recognize these difficulties can access and address these difficulties more effectively.” 

Santa Fe’s program will represent the only Early Childhood Education BS degree in or around Alachua and Bradford Counties, making it an important resource for local preschool teachers needing to upgrade their degree. Classes are expected to begin in spring 2011. 

According to a survey done by the Early Learning Coalition, only five preschool education teachers in Alachua County possess a BS in Early Childhood Education, while none in Bradford County do. These figures are in contrast to the the 40 lead Head Start teachers, 141 Voluntary Prekindergarten teachers, and 43 lead teachers in private NAEYC-accredited schools who currently work locally.

“We primarily want to serve these people already teaching or who want to teach preschool. So for that reason, our classes are scheduled in late afternoon, evening, and online,” said Bonahue. “If you’re teaching, there’s no way you can come in for a 10 a.m. Monday-Wednesday-Friday class.”

Program details

The BS in Early Childhood Education will include classes covering preschool curriculum, social and emotional development, classroom management, and developmentally appropriate practices. For practical experience, students will utilize Santa Fe’s Little School, an on-campus preschool program for children ages 14 months to 5 years, including two prekindergarten classes.

Bachelor’s degree programs like Santa Fe’s will help elevate the status of early childhood education by raising the pay scale of preschool teachers and retaining more students hoping to earn higher degrees. In the past, teachers wanting to earn bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education often had to switch focuses because more advanced degrees simply were not offered in the field.

For enrollment in this degree track, Santa Fe students’ tuition will cost about $11,635, a total which is $8,450 less than that of similar programs at public universities across Florida.

Program’s outlook

Not only will the program be relatively cheap for students, it will be cost-efficient for the college as well. Tuition will likely cover the cost of instruction, and Santa Fe will not need  additional faculty, equipment, or facilities to start the program.

Already, about two dozen students are lining up to take the upper level Early Childhood Education classes starting in January, joining the ranks of 40 students currently enrolled in the associate degree track who are likely to pursue these same classes in the future. Ultimately, administrators hope the new program serves as many as 100 students each year.

“Adding a bachelor’s degree provides an extra level of professionalism that these teachers deserve,” said Bennett. “They need to be considered an important part of the education system. This program puts a focus on what early childhood educators have known for a long time: academic success starts with a strong foundation.”

For more information about this new degree program, please contact Doug Diekow, academic chair, Social and Behavioral Sciences, at 352-381-3655 or douglas.diekow@sfcollege.edu.

~ This press release was written by Allison Griner, Communicaiton Specialist, College Relations

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