The University of Washington will offer a new, low-cost, online bachelor's degree completion program in Early Childhood and Family Studies. Pending final approval, the program will start in the fall.
"This is a very exciting development in the use of technology to meet critical educational needs that otherwise might be difficult to do in a more traditional educational setting," said UW President Michael K. Young. "The country is moving towards better education, training – and certification – for the teachers of our youngest students. This is an optimal way to ensure they have access to high quality education in a place and at a cost that makes sense for them. We will be doing more of this."
The Early Childhood and Family Studies degree, which is the first online-only bachelor's completion program to be offered by the UW, will prepare individuals to work in child care, preschools, social and mental health services, parent and family support, and arts organizations.
"This work will train the next generation of professionals who are closing the achievement gap," said Tom Stritikus, dean of the UW College of Education. "There is a national crisis in early childhood education and this program will help solve that problem by being responsive through curriculum based on equity and justice."
Traditional degree programs can be obstacles for early care and education workers who work long hours and must commute to on-campus classes.
The UW online degree costs $160 per credit – which is about equivalent to $7,000 for a year of full-time study – regardless of where students live.
"Offering the Early Childhood and Family Studies degree online addresses these barriers, and the low cost will allow the program to be affordable to early learning providers," said Gail Joseph, an associate professor of educational psychology and early childhood and family studies in the UW College of Education.
"There's a substantial need for affordable, flexible degree completion programs in the early education field," said Joseph, who helped design the new online degree.
The UW program is intended to provide a convenient way for practicing professionals to fulfill federal and state requirements for bachelor's degrees, and is expected to help fill a national growing demand for preschool teachers.
The program will be administered by UW Educational Outreach, which received a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant partially funded by the Gates Foundation, to help offset costs of developing the degree. The grant includes offering several core classes in early childhood education free to the public, as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 25 percent growth from 2010 to 2020 in the employment of preschool teachers, due to a continued focus on the importance of early childhood education and the growing population of children between the ages of 3 and 5.
Head Start requires 50 percent of its teachers to earn bachelor's degrees, while other national and state programs use teachers' degrees to gauge the quality of their early education services.
The program is designed for students who have completed a two-year associate's degree, or started college and then discontinued their studies. Eligible students will have earned 70 eligible transfer credits at the UW or elsewhere.
Admission preference will be given to Washington state residents and to students with previous credits from the UW. The university will start accepting applications in early May. UW administrators expect that many of the students will be working full-time in an early childhood setting and will pursue the online program part-time.
Transfer credit will also be offered to students who have attended community college but have not earned an associate's degree. This option may be available through special arrangements with several community colleges, including Shoreline Community College and the Seattle Community Colleges - North, South and Seattle Central.
“We applaud the university for taking this bold new step in online education,” said Seattle Community Colleges Chancellor Jill Wakefield. “It clearly is designed to meet a growing need and to offer a pathway for community college students with an interest in early childhood education to fulfill their goals through an affordable online program. It’s terrific."
"In Washington state, there are over 900,000 adults with some college and no degree," said Rep. Reuven Carlyle."If we're going to meet the needs of our state's economy and provide upward mobility for our citizens, we have to provide affordable, accessible, and high-quality educational opportunities to this critical population. This affordable, online degree option demonstrates the UW is willing to step up to this challenge. This is a great first step, and I hope they develop more."
The program is self-sustaining and does not use state funds.
All courses will be taught by the university's regular faculty with support from the UW’s Online Learning staff, who have been providing online courses, certificates and degrees for more than a decade. Also, mentors will help students complete the program by providing assistance with course selections, academic progress, tech support and other concerns.