Examining Early Childhood Teacher Preparation in North Carolina Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic


Community colleges are an integral component of the United States’ (U.S.) educational pipeline and play a critical role in developing early childhood educators. In fact, research suggests that most U.S. early childhood education degree programs are provided by community colleges (Maxwell, Lim, & Early, 2006). North Carolina is home to 58 community colleges, making it the third largest community college system in the nation enrolling more than 700,000 students (North Carolina Community College System, 2016). All 58 North Carolina community colleges provide courses that prepare early childhood educators for earning credentials, including a diploma, certificate and an associate’s degree (NC Institute for Child Development Professionals, n.d). 

This pilot study, funded by a Friday Institute and NC State College of Education Catalyst Grant, set out to examine how early childhood education (ECE) programs in North Carolina community colleges navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. Three research questions guided the work: 

  • RQ1a: To what extent did enrollment and completion outcomes change for community college students who were enrolled in face-to-face (F2F) early education courses that transitioned to a remote learning environment? 
  • RQ1b: How do overall enrollment and completion trends compare for Black, Latinx and American Indian students?
  • RQ2: What supports and barriers did community college faculty have to transition these F2F early education courses to a remote learning environment? 

The research team employed a sequential exploratory design in which the qualitative portion occurred first and then informed the quantitative portion (DeCuir-Gunby & Schutz, 2016). The qualitative analysis featured virtual interviews and focus groups with community college faculty members (n=8), a systems’ level administrator (n=1) and community college students (n=5), which were analyzed using a mix of priori and emergent coding schemes. The quantitative analysis featured descriptive statistical testing of the data provided by the North Carolina Community College System’s (NCCCS) Data Dashboard. 

This summative brief highlights the main findings from investigation, including details of how the pandemic impacted ECE programs generally, a data profile for students, a data profile for faculty and promising practices that emerged from the study. For a more detailed look at the landscape of ECE programs across North Carolina, readers are invited to read the companion piece to this brief, High-Quality Credentials for Childcare Workers. 

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