When you look at the numbers, Vermont’s child care challenge seems impossible.

According to Let’s Grow Kids, more than 21,000 Vermont kids under age five are likely to need care, but there are only 12,300 spaces in full-time programs (only about two-thirds of which are considered high-quality). Families are spending up to 40% of their earnings on child care, while the annual income for a child care worker hovers around $27,000.

And while COVID-19 exacerbated the problem, it’s a problem that existed long before the pandemic. “In a way, [COVID] just brought into high relief a crisis that was already going on. In my experience we have never had enough slots for all of the children and families who needed them.” For one Vermonter—who asked to remain anonymous, so let’s call her Liz—our child care system may be broken, but there are ample opportunities to fix it. 

Liz knows that one crucial piece of the puzzle is the early childhood education workforce. That’s why, in 2020, she decided to establish the Early Childhood Education Portfolio Scholarship at CCV. Her generous gift covered the full cost for ten early educators to enroll in one of CCV’s Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) portfolio courses, in which students can earn credit for college-level learning they’ve gained outside of a classroom setting.

By supporting educators through scholarships, she intended to honor their expertise in the field while launching them on the fast track to earning a college degree.

Liz has a keen interest in seeing that child care providers are better compensated and are regarded with greater respect and appreciation, and ultimately that families can secure more reliable access to affordable, high-quality care. By supporting educators through scholarships, she intended to honor their experience in the field while launching them on the fast track to earning a college degree, which can simultaneously accelerate their career trajectory and increase the availability of high-quality care.

Working with CCV staff, Liz identified Prior Learning Assessment as having high potential for impact because it “seemed like a great way for people who are currently in [the early childhood education] workforce to get credit for their expertise and get moving toward the degree that they would need to be part of a recognized profession.” PLA is a Vermont State Colleges program housed at CCV, and by giving working adults the chance to realize college credits for their experience, it also gives them a chance to save huge amounts of time and money on a valuable credential. 

Ten students enrolled in the scholarship program for the spring 2021 semester. Vickie Gratton has been a child care provider for close to twenty years, and has been a registered provider from her home in Franklin since 2013. She used the scholarship to take Assessment of Prior Learning (APL), and came away from the one-semester course with an impressive 43 credits.

“It’s really good self-reflection,” she says of the APL process, in which students prepare a portfolio that describes their learning in a variety of subjects. “It helps you realize ‘oh, I know a lot more than I thought I knew,’ and it helps a lot with the professionalism piece.” And she says the scholarship helped her succeed. “It took the financial burden off of having to worry about the money piece and I could just focus on writing [the portfolio].” 

In total, scholarship recipients in the spring 2021 Focused Portfolio Development class earned 46 credits and saved $12,880 in tuition, and those who completed Assessment of Prior Learning earned 182 credits and saved $50,960 in tuition. 

To incentivize continuation and degree completion, additional scholarships were provided for any of the ten students to continue their studies into subsequent semesters. What’s more, those who complete their early childhood education associate degree by the end of fall 2022 will receive an additional “bonus” scholarship of $1,000 for their final semester. Motivated by her success in the APL course, Gratton decided to continue with part-time classes during the summer and fall 2021 semesters. By the end of the year, she’ll be just six credits shy of an associate degree. “If I’m doing well, why stop?” she said. Gratton plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree, which she says will only expand her employment opportunities. It’s also an affirmation. “It adds more credibility,” she says of her formal education.

“CCV has allowed for pipelines, allowed for flexibility, basically allowed for incredible access for professional development in this field.”

Aly Richards, CEO, Let’s Grow Kids

In addition to its academic programs, CCV plays a key role in serving the child care workforce as the host of Northern Lights, the professional development system for the 9,000 early childhood and afterschool professionals in Vermont.

Aly Richards is CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, which is leading the state’s effort to secure affordable, high-quality child care for all families. She says at its most basic, her work focuses on two key elements: affordability for families and support for the workforce—that means better compensation, as well as benefits, but it also means access to ongoing education for educators. “CCV has allowed for pipelines, allowed for flexibility, basically allowed for incredible access for professional development for this field.” And she says that while Let’s Grow Kids functions as a kind of “one-time catalyst” with the goal of locking in public funding for child care by mid-decade, “at the same time, we need sustainable organizations to keep everything going well past 2025 into the future. One of those organizations is CCV.” She says CCV programs are efficient, nimble, and collaborative—and as Liz recognized, provide a huge return on investment. “Not $1 is wasted when you’re doing something like building the pipeline and supporting the umbrella institution like CCV at the same time,” Richards says. “That’s a really great use of funds.”

Indeed, the Early Childhood Education Portfolio Scholarships will have an impact for years to come—and not just for CCV students, but for the young students they go on to teach. As Liz put it, “When you support education, it has such ripple effects. It’s not just supporting a one-time event, but it sort of propels people into doing greater things with their lives.” 

Now that this cohort is well underway, Liz is ready to fund 10 more scholarships. If you are an early childhood educator interested in pursuing your associate degree at CCV, please sign up to attend a PLA informational webinar at www.ccv.edu/priorlearning.

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