Nicolet College's early childhood education program has enjoyed an enrollment boom in recent years thanks, in part, to greater opportunity for students to earn a bachelor's degree and a desire by child care providers to have a more highly skilled workforce.
That's according to Diana Rickert, early childhood education instructor at Nicolet, who recently gave a presentation to the Nicolet College Board of Trustees about program developments.
"Students like what Nicolet has to offer," Rickert said. "They see the benefits of attending Nicolet on a number of fronts and that's what's driving the enrollment increase."
Currently, 52 students are in the program and that number is expected to nudge higher in coming weeks as new applicants work their way through the enrollment process in order to begin classes at the start of the spring semester in January.
One of the biggest drivers of this trend is the close partnership Nicolet has developed with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Thanks to a credit transfer agreement between the two institutions, students can complete roughly the first two years of their bachelor's degree at Nicolet and then transfer to UW-Stevens Point to complete the degree.
"Students are realizing that they can save thousands of dollars by starting at Nicolet," she said. "That's because of Nicolet's affordable tuition and because they can live at home, which means they don't have to pay room and board. Combined, this results in a very significant cost savings."
With bachelor's degree in hand, graduates are then eligible to receive their Wisconsin teaching license and teach pre-kindergarten through third grade in a public school system.
An added advantage is the increased level of hands-on, practical experience students get in the associate degree program. Nicolet's early childhood education program has an advisory committee made up of teaching professionals that offers guidance for program development.
"When they look at rèsumès to fill teaching positions, I've heard time and again that applicants who first earn an associate degree rise to the top of the pile," Rickert said. "The added level of hands-on teaching experience they get with an associate degree on top of what they get with a bachelor's degree is highly valued by school districts."
Another factor contributing to the enrollment increase is the state of Wisconsin's YoungStar program. Launched in 2011, YoungStar ranks licensed child care providers on a scale of one to five, with five being the best rating. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families then make the ratings public to help parents make child care decisions.
"More than a third of the possible points a program can earn are based upon the educational qualifications of the staff," Rickert said. "Because of this, we are seeing more people who are currently working in child care enrolling in Nicolet classes. They are learning additional skills that ultimately benefit the children they teach and care for, and also help their employer receive a higher YoungStar rating."
In recent years, Nicolet has also added a high degree of flexibility to the program, offering classes in the evening, on weekends, over an interactive television network, in an accelerated format, and on-site in the Lac du Flambeau tribal community.
"Everybody's life situation is different," Rickert explained. "By expanding the options students have to take classes, we're making it easier for students to fit college into what are already busy lives."
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