Early Childhood Program Expands with Online Option: Flexible, Affordable, and Scholarship Opportunities.

Pre-k student instructor playing a game with children.

With an increasing demand for pre-kindergarten educators with additional degree qualifications, Miami University Regionals' Pre-K program has teamed up with the Office of E-Learning Initiatives to begin offering a convenient, affordable and flexible way for future educators to earn an associate degree.

Many potential Pre-K teachers are already working, full-time and part-time, out in the field, and many are non-traditional students. Sixty percent are in their mid-to-late 20s, working in a Head Start, preschool or daycare center. Many have children and aspire to earn a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education.

Many students are eligible for a TEACH scholarship through Ohio Coalition of Child Care Resource and Referral Association, a partnership with child care programs that makes it financially feasible for students to pursue their education by covering 90 percent of the tuition while the student remains working.

"We're getting a lot of interest," said Dr. Tracey Hoffman, Miami Regionals Pre-K Coordinator. "This semester, we are offering two of our core courses online. One is completely full and the other is close to full." The demand is getting greater due in part to a state-wide initiative known as Step Up to Quality, "a basic overhaul of the system to improve program standards," Hoffman said.

"There are new expectations that child care program educators will be required to have more education, such as their associate degrees. By 2020, programs receiving state funding will have to comply with the new Step Up to Quality requirements."

"It's a five-star system and the money they receive is dependent on how many stars the programs earn in four domains - Learning and Development, Administrative and Leadership Practices, Staff Qualifications and Professional Development, and Family and Community Partnerships. The new standards affects child care programs and public preschool programs." In order for the Pre-K industry to meet these program outcomes, the educational institutions have to up their game as well.

Pre-k student instructor using a stencil with a child.

Hoffman felt that partnering with Regional E-Learning would be key to her department's success in providing future well educated early childhood teachers. “This fits in with the overall strategic direction we’re going in to make Miami education accessible,” said Janet Hurn, Coordinator of Regional E-Learning Initiatives.

By "accessible" we mean offering individuals educational opportunities that are obtainable in a flexible online format and can be achieved while balancing personal and/or professional responsibilities. There should not be barriers to obtaining a high quality education if someone wants to pursue that dream. The overall strategic direction we're going is to make Miami Education accessible," said Janet Hurn, Coordinator of Regional E-Learning Initiatives.

"It's a nice option for individuals who are working," Hoffman said. "Now that they can continue to work and not have to physically come to campus, that's the kind of accessibility we're talking about."

The Pre-K program at Miami Regionals is an associate's degree program, if the student attends full-time it takes two years to complete. There are also options for students to continue on to a Bachelor's degree at the Regionals.

Hurn said that online education is not easier and does not take less time—in fact a lot of students report that it takes more time—but the flexibility makes it worth it to them, to be able to schedule education while balancing jobs and family.

The E-Learning Initiatives office successfully uses student-centered strategies to ensure students receive a Miami-quality experience rather than a stigmatized, isolated education. E-Learning collaborates with Miami faculty to design courses with interactive elements to enhance active learning, collaborative activities to build relationships with classmates, and learning experiences geared toward building an online learning community.

For more information on the Online Pre-K program, visit miamioh.edu/regionals/prek or call Dr. Tracey Hoffman at 513-727-3289.

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