The Haves and Have Nots: How Do We Achieve Higher Education for Our Workforce?

higher educationThere is a chasm in our early childhood education workforce in South Dakota. We have professionals who have achieved higher degrees on one side, and at the other end we have child care providers in the classroom with little to no education, and sometimes even limited experience working with children.

Right now the standard is supposed to be the CDA credential.  According to the CDA Council, “The Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential™ is the most widely recognized credential in early childhood education (ECE) and is a key stepping stone on the path of career advancement in ECE.”  You can find out more about the CDA program by clicking here, or by revisiting my podcast with Kim Booth.  In the state of South Dakota, the CDA credential is only required for the program director, and anyone who oversees curriculum planning.


For those with little to no experience, we have a good action plan.  The CDA coursework is offered in a variety of ways, either through your local Early Childhood Enrichment office or there are several online courses available.  One of the main reasons the CDA program was created was to be able to offer higher education opportunities for a huge workforce that very frequently needs flexibility in coursework.  The CDA credential however, receives very little credibility in the academic environment in South Dakota, even though it is recognized nationally as a standard for educating the early childhood education workforce.

I believe in the importance of the CDA program.  In providing further education opportunities for my own staff, I wanted to examine the options available for those with the CDA credential in our state. I focused on those who want their primary area of study to remain early childhood education.

When you enter the CDA  program, you are told that there is an opportunity to translate a portion of your CDA into college credits, which can then be applied to a higher degree.  In South Dakota, this involves more coursework through Sanford Health.  These additional courses can be completed online (good news for everyone in South Dakota).  For more information about that program you can contact Rhonda Swanson with Sanford Health or visit their website here.

Things start to get tricky if you want to translate your CDA into college credits.  While there are articulation agreements with BHSU, SDSU, South East Tech, and Oglala Lakota College there are technicalities.

  1.  SDSU is the only university that offers an Early Childhood Education Undergraduate Degree in our state. SDSU also requires attendance on campus in Brookings, not possible for many to achieve.
  2. South East Tech offers an Early Childhood Specialist Associates Degree. This also requires on site attendance in Sioux Falls. Students can apply credits to the University of Sioux Falls, again not for early childhood education, but for elementary education. They can also opt to apply credits at Bellevue University in Nebraska for a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Program Management (what a great course, why isn’t this being offered ANYWHERE in South Dakota?)  Something else to note, is that NOT ALL South Dakota universities will translate credits earned through an associates degree at South East Tech.  You may end up spending a lot of time and thousands of dollars on something that wouldn’t count if you pursue a bachelor’s, so you must double check with the individual university.
  3. BHSU and Oglala Lakota College only offer K-8 or K-12 degrees.
  4. USD, though not part of the articulation program at all, only offers a Graduate Degree in Early Childhood Education.

So where does the early childhood educator go from here?  They can apply CDA credits to a K-8 or K-12 teaching degree, although for those in rural areas may still require travel to Rapid City, Spearfish, Kyle, Sioux Falls or Brookings for a portion of coursework.  Something that seems to be overlooked, if your focus is working with children prior to entering kindergarten, a K-8 or K-12 teaching degree seems inappropriate. The area of study is for children who are older than pre-k.  Additionally, few teachers who have elementary teaching degrees are willing to take the pay cut to work with preschoolers.  We’re talking a difference of $20,000 annually in our state.

It’s 2016, so we do have more options than ever for online learning.  Some progressive centers in Rapid City have encouraged their staff to pursue an Early Childhood Education Associate Degrees through an online course such as Penn Foster or a Bachelor’s Degree for Early Childhood Education through University of Phoenix.  These programs are flexible and provide higher education opportunities in our field of study however there is a stigma attached to online universities and colleges in our state.  The University of Phoenix Bachelor degree program is only approved for teaching certificates in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.  South Dakota is not on this list, even though our education opportunities for early childhood educators are so limited.

There are clear issues here.  We want an experienced and educated workforce but our state does not provide the environment for growth.  A supportive academic atmosphere needs to be created, attainable and fair standards need to be developed, and opportunities need to be provided.  We have a tremendous possibility to strengthen and stabilize an entire workforce, thousands of men and women in our population, and it is being completely ignored.

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation.  Curious how you can establish change?  Remember the ABCs

Advocate for early childhood education and educators.  Talk to friends, family, business owners and government officials.

Be aware of what is going on and how it affects educators, the community, and the children in our child care system.

Change only happens because someone started it.  If no one tries to change the way things are, then things will never change.  To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, “An object at rest stays at rest.  An object in motion stays in motion!”


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