Shippensburg University is the lead institution for an $11.8 million statewide initiative that will increase student learning outcomes by standardizing and improving professional development in the early childhood education workforce.

Dr. Jennifer Pyles, assistant professor of teacher education with SU’s College of Education and Human Services, is spearheading the grant that combines the services and expertise of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning with Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). The goal is to enhance the preparedness of educators working with students from birth to 5 years old.

The grant, which provides $5.9 million annually for two years, will fund six Early Care and Education Professional Development Organizations. The goal is to standardize certification for early care and education workers in Pennsylvania that will lead to a Child Development Associate certification, with opportunities and support to further their educations for associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.

Shippensburg will partner with Lock Haven, East Stroudsburg and Edinboro universities to design, deliver and coordinate credentials for childcare professionals across the state.

“This is a significant achievement for the State System. It unites us in a new and holistic approach to meeting the early childhood education needs of communities throughout the state,” said Dr. Tom Ormond, Shippensburg University’s provost. “I applaud the vision of Dr. Pyles in creating a statewide, collaborative approach to the field of early childhood education in service to this vital and oftentimes overlooked student population. We are proud to play a leadership role in preparing the next generation of students by assessing and improving their foundational experiences through enhanced preparedness of early childhood educators.”

The universities will customize the delivery of coursework to meet the needs of working students in each region. Courses will be offered face-to-face and online, as well as through convenient venues like community colleges and community organizations. Other plans include apprenticeships and tuition packages. All courses will meet requirements through the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

In a field that experiences high turnover, this initiative invests in and supports early care and education professionals, Pyles said. This includes a potential 13 percent return on investment for comprehensive, high-quality birth-to-five early childhood education.

“Early childhood is a crucial period of life during which children learn so much about themselves, their world, and others. Early care and education can provide one of the most effective economic development tools for states and Pennsylvania is leading the way in major funding streams for the professionalization of the field through apprenticeship and the Professional Development Organizations that will give the ECE workforce the skills and knowledge they need to offer high quality early childhood programs for PA’s children and families,” Pyles said.