Originally published in the Times Argus on December 18, 2021 as part of their “Vermont by Degrees” series.

Vermont’s child care system is in crisis: The demand for high-quality care far exceeds supply. On average, workers bring home less than a livable wage. At the same time, families are paying more than they can afford. The brunt of the crisis is borne by families and providers, but it has ripple effects throughout the economy. Early childhood educators are leaving the industry in search of better pay and benefits, and parents who can’t find care are opting to stay home, exacerbating the shortage of workers across sectors. The issue of child care is an issue of economic development, and ensuring universal, high-quality care is critical to our collective well-being.

As a nimble, responsive institution with a statewide presence, access has been at the core of CCV’s mission since 1970. We continue to improve access to education and professional development for the child care workforce, and we aren’t doing this alone. Across Vermont, a network of committed individuals and organizations is working diligently to fix our broken child care system. Building on their efforts, and through robust partnerships with both public and private entities, CCV is creating innovative solutions to one of Vermont’s most pressing workforce challenges.

CCV’s academic programs prepare students to enter the workforce or continue their education, giving them a foundation for success in Vermont’s high-demand careers. The childcare certificate and early childhood education associate degree offer two pathways to a valuable credential. In 2019, we introduced an accelerated online version of the childcare certificate, giving students an option to complete the program in a condensed timeframe, and we have continued to diversify course delivery models to provide greater flexibility.

Both the certificate and associate degree are integrated into Vermont’s Early Childhood Career Ladder, a tool for organizing, planning, and tracking professional development. Associate degree coursework can be applied to the Program Director for Early Childhood and Afterschool Programs credential as well as the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children’s (VTAEYC) apprenticeship program.

We work closely with VTAEYC to support the apprenticeship program and to provide access to the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood scholarship. Our partnership with the State also includes the Northern Lights at CCV program, funded by the Agency of Human Services and hosted by CCV for the past 15 years. Through Northern Lights at CCV, we provide professional development services to 9,000 early childhood and afterschool professionals across Vermont.

The State relies on CCV and the Vermont State Colleges for workforce solutions, and this year a generous allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds established scholarship and free tuition programs for students enrolled in certain high-demand programs. Through the Critical Occupations scholarship, CCV students can pursue both the childcare certificate and the early childhood education associate degree at no cost.

Our mission and efforts are closely aligned with those of other statewide organizations like Building Bright Futures, which includes members of the Northern Lights at CCV leadership team, and Let’s Grow Kids. Locally, CCV students benefit from networks within the communities surrounding our twelve academic centers. For example, CCV-Brattleboro works closely with the Winston Prouty Center, the Windham Regional Career Center, and the Child Care Counts Coalition. For the past two years, the Brattleboro Rotary Club has awarded generous scholarships to early childhood education students.

Partnerships with the philanthropic community have also enabled us to increase access. In 2020, an anonymous donor began supporting scholarships for early childhood educators to take coursework in CCV’s Prior Learning Assessment program, which allows students to earn credit for knowledge they’ve gained in the workplace. These scholarships are an ideal opportunity for early childhood educators, who often have years of experience but no college education, to get a head start on a valuable credential.

CCV will continue to expand access and support for this essential workforce. We will rely not only on our strength as an institution, but also on the strength of our partnerships. More than ever, it is clear that we can accomplish far more by working together than any of us can on our own.

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