The role of early childhood education professionals is changing, and Dr. Foram Bhukhanwala, associate professor of Education and director of early childhood/elementary education programs, is putting Arcadia on the forefront of providing undergraduate degrees for these incumbent professionals who already obtained an associate degree.
Through a grant provided by the William Penn Foundation to Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), Arcadia received $143,934 as part of this project. Dr. Bhukhanwala and Dr. Kathy Trainor, adjunct professor of Education, are working with Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) to create a seamless transfer path to Arcadia University. Included in the grant is support for development of a completely online program that enables full-time professionals to earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with a PreK-4 certification, without leaving their current employment positions.
“The role of higher education is to provide a robust program that meets the needs of professionals and to create a program-to-program articulation that allows for a seamless transfer from an associate to a bachelor’s degree program,” said Dr. Bhukhanwala. “Our program is designed to address the constraints of the early childhood working professional population in order to provide them access and opportunity.”
The program is designed to support students who are full-time employees. The first program cohort of eight students began in the Spring 2019 semester. Students take course work throughout the year including the summer semesters, in order to complete the program in 2.5 years. In addition to their coursework, students must complete two lab components, which use the students’ employment to take what they’ve learned in the online classroom into their place of work, as well as into an elementary school classroom for grades 1 to 4.
“Arcadia’s program is geared toward certifying teachers,” said Corrine Bale ’21, who started with the first cohort in January. For 16 years, she’s worked at Special People In Northeast (SPIN), Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides educational services for children of all ages with special needs. “You can definitely tell it’s for individuals who are working full-time and have families. They recognize that we’re already doing the work at our place of employment.”
Bale said she made the decision to attend Arcadia’s program after she was accepted elsewhere. However, with a plan already mapped out for students to graduate in two and a half years, she couldn’t pass it up– especially when the other program would have taken five years to complete.
“We need programs like this for people who are already in the field, who just need a little support to go for their degree,” said Bale. “It took me all this time to get my associate degree from CCP, and now I’m excited to be in this wonderful program.”
Dr. Bhukhanwala said that there are many obstacles for incumbent early childhood professionals to continue their higher education, such as program prerequisites, time constraints with student teaching, cost of education, and compensation. Statewide and national efforts are underway to address these obstacles using a systems approach, such as the Teacher Education And Compensation Helps (TEACH), a state-funded program run by the Pennsylvania Child Care Association that provides tuition support and funds books and transportation for students to ensure they graduate with little to no debt.
In addition to Arcadia, PHMC is working with Eastern and Holy Family Universities to develop similar program pathways in collaboration with CCP.