Making a Difference: The Early Care and Education Program Raises the Bar for Child Care

The program also provides students headed toward a bachelor’s degree with a convenient, affordable way to get started with the knowledge that their work at PTC will transfer seamlessly to some of South Carolina’s top education programs.

An Evolving Curriculum

Although the program focused predominantly on how to be an effective care-giver to children when it was launched many years ago, today, the Early Care and Education program at Piedmont Tech is about more than day care—it’s about teaching students how to effectively educate young children.

“We’re evolving as the requirements and needs of child care change,” says Ashley Hollingsworth, Program Coordinator for PTC’s Early Care and Education program.

Long term educational outcomes start with early childhood, so effective education during these formative periods is critical to a child’s success,” says Rhonda Pendergrass. “Our program is about teaching our students the strategies they’ll need to prepare the children under their care for success later in life.” 

The program now offers two associate degrees: a major in Early Care and Education and a major in Early Care and Education with a concentration in Infant and Toddler Care.  In addition there are two certificate programs designed for those who’d like to complete a credential more quickly.

While providing students with child care fundamentals is still a very important part of the curriculum, it has grown to encompass much more in response to the increasing emphasis on the quality of early childhood education across the United States—driven in part by No Child Left Behind.

“Children between the ages of birth through 5 years of age are at a critical stage in their development,” Hollingsworth says. “So it’s never too early to start building a child’s skills.”

Research shows that children with early language and literacy experiences are more likely to be effective readers and succeed in later years. In fact, most reading problems faced by adolescents and adults have been shown to be the result of problems that could have been prevented through good instruction in their early childhood years.

“Long term educational outcomes start with early childhood, so effective education during these formative periods is critical to a child’s success,” says Rhonda Pendergrass, Early Care and Education instructor. “Our program is about teaching our students the strategies they’ll need to prepare the children under their care for success later in life.”

As a result of this increased focus on educational outcomes for young children, the Early Care and Education program worked to receive accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), an organization dedicated to improving the well-being of all young children, with particular focus on the quality of educational and developmental services for all children from birth through age 8.

NAEYC has granted accreditation to only 51 associate degree programs nationwide since 2006.

 “Having this accreditation at the technical college level allows students to take more classes closer to home with the confidence that they’ll be able to move on to a four-year institution,” said Hollingsworth.

Bridge to a Bachelor’s Degree

Part of PTC’s push to increase access to higher education for students throughout its service region, the Early Care program’s focus on transferability makes it an excellent choice for students who are looking for a practical, cost-effective way to begin their college careers.

Because students are able to successfully complete such a large portion of their bachelor’s degree requirements at PTC, and because of PTC’s low tuition, the total cost of a four-year degree is greatly reduced.

PTC currently has Early Childhood Education bridge agreements with the widely respected education programs at the University of South Carolina, Columbia College and Newberry College. PTC is also actively working on an Early Childhood transfer agreement with Lander University that would allow Piedmont Tech graduates to transfer seamlessly to Lander in the Early Childhood Program after completing their associate degree coursework.

Over the last few years, Pendergrass says that the program has seen an unprecedented degree of collaboration with four-year institutions all over the state.  In the end, she says, it’s students who win.

 “I hope that as people realize the quality of the program that’s in their backyard here at PTC, and as they see how much they can save, we’ll see the number of people on the transfer track continue to grow,” says Pendergrass.

Flexibility and Affordability

Because the program offers a variety of flexible scheduling options, it’s also an excellent choice for students who have family or work obligations that would make starting a traditional bachelor’s degree program difficult to manage.

The associate degrees and certificates are offered in both day and night format, and courses are offered on a rotating basis in all seven counties via Piedmont Tech’s county centers. The program also uses technology to provide students with increased access.

A full third of the coursework is available through the Piedmont Education Network, a system that allows students to take part in live classes from any campus location, including all six county center locations. Several courses are available in a hybrid format that mixes online coursework with live classes. Hollingsworth and Pendergrass are actively working on adding more online versions of courses.

 “Ultimately, we’re about improving the quality of child care in our region,” says Hollingsworth. “And we want everyone involved in educating young children to enjoy the advantages that come along with a college education.”