According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job growth projections for early childhood educators in Minnesota show that more than a 10 percent increase is expected by the end of year 2022. In order to help meet the needs for quality early childhood educators in both private and public childcare and preschool settings, as well as produce and retain skilled daycare providers, Minnesota West Community and Technical College has made some modifications to our program in order to attract additional students and provide a teaching and learning method to align with the needs of today’s students.

One of our most noted modifications is that we have changed our program name from Child Development to Early Childhood. This aligns more with the industry name, increases the professional perception of the program and career, and follows the name of the Transfer Pathways in the MinnState System that are forthcoming. That being said, we have also decided to change the teaching and learning method of our courses starting fall semester.

Beginning Fall Semester 2021, we will be offering the Early Childhood program utilizing a hybrid model. The only physical Early Childhood classroom space is located on the Granite Falls campus, so those students who are able travel to attend in-person classes will come to that campus location as they have in the past. However, we have found that the location of the on-site classroom has been a deterrent in the past to some students, as not all who are interested in our program are able to travel to the Granite Falls campus. In addition, many students who are interested in our program are working full-time and have other commitments that prevent them from attending college in a traditional manner.

In an effort to meet the needs of our current and prospective students, we will now also be offering the classes live online for those students who can attend another Minnesota West campus location. The classes will also be recorded for those students who are not able to attend the Granite Falls or live at another location. This will give our students the option to watch the lecture or class at a later time that works for the student. This is a brand new feature for our Early Childhood program, and we are very excited about the options it will provide for students.

Field experience and lab hours where students are out in the job field completing hours at a public or private childcare center, preschool setting or in a home daycare are a required part of the program, and we will also work to find placement sites wherever the students are located and in the setting that works best for them.

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The goal of the changes to our program is to be able to attract more students to this growing field in a way that is convenient for them, but also provide them with a positive education experience so they can deepen their understanding of child development and learning at an young age to make a significant impact on early learning.

Alyson Helgeson is the Early Childhood Program Director at Minnesota West Community & Technical College.