New and Improved Early Childhood Program Will Create Easy Pathways for Students

Early Childhood Education Course
Early Childhood Education Course

Northwest Technical College recently refreshed its Early Childhood Program, formerly known as Child Care, and will be home to an official Minnesota State system of colleges and universities Transfer Pathway starting in Fall 2022.

Heather Sutherland
Heather Sutherland

Minnesota State’s Transfer Pathways make it easy to complete a specific associate degree at a Minnesota State college and transfer to a Minnesota State university to earn a bachelor’s degree. Over the past year, NTC early childhood instructor Heather Sutherland has been working diligently to rearrange the college’s stackable early childhood credentials into a modern curriculum.

Northwest Tech’s initial Child Care Program was launched by former instructor Pam Stowe who worked at NTC for 20 years before retiring in 2018. Sutherland said the strong child care curriculum and foundation developed by Stowe paved the way for it to evolve to what it is today, specifically an early childhood Transfer Pathway.

When it comes to naming conventions, early childhood has become increasingly adopted as a formal title for this type of curriculum. Northwest Tech, under the advisement of Sutherland, chose to rename the program to be consistent with four-year colleges and universities and create easier access to transfer programs for NTC graduates. Sutherland also pursued the name change to accommodate for increased positive attention on the field.

“My focus in revamping the curriculum and program title was to modernize this absolutely amazing foundation because there have been a lot of changes in how early childhood education is being viewed by the public,” Sutherland said. “It’s really starting to gain the attention and respect it deserves and so I wanted to make sure that our students not only live up to our reputation, but are able seamlessly transfer to a four-year university if they choose.”

Early Childhood Education Course
Early Childhood Education Course

Noticing the trends in the field and motivated to best support her students, Sutherland started looking into the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities Transfer Pathway programs, reviewed legislative guidelines and assessed community needs to best configure the future of NTC’s program. She then remodeled the program following Transfer Pathway legislation requirements and began her journey to become Transfer Pathway qualified by earning her master’s degree in early childhood special education.

“Early education is such an important foundation for all children that we recognize we need to help our graduates be prepared to fully support young learners,” Darrin Strosahl, NTC vice president of academic affairs, said. “Graduates of our program are truly sincere and caring folks who can help children find joy in learning. The changes to our curriculum are intentional in continuing our strong program with evolving improvements.“

The changes to NTC early childhood curriculum are minimal, Sutherland said, and are primarily focused on course sequence because the Transfer Pathway degree follows a very specific outline.

“The ten courses that are included in the early childhood Transfer Pathway degree are common courses throughout Minnesota State,” Sutherland said. “If there was a student who lives in Grand Rapids and they start their transfer pathway degree at Itasca Community College but they get halfway through and life moves them to Bemidji, they can pick up right where they left off at Northwest Tech. We’ve worked together to align our courses so that they’re all interchangeable within the system.”

Play dough making, Early Childhood Education Course
Play dough making, Early Childhood Education Course

Currently, Northwest Tech offers three early childhood degrees. The first is an 18-credit certificate which prepares professionals to provide family child care, work as an aide in a center-based child care program or advance to another degree.

The 60-credit associate of applied science degree is for students interested in becoming assistant teachers in a center-based setting such as a child care center, early childhood family education program or a Head Start program. With additional experience hours, graduates may also meet qualifications to work as center-based child care teachers, child care resource and referral agents or food program representatives.

Finally, NTC’s 60-credit associate of science in childhood development prepares graduates to transfer to a four-year college or university for a non-teaching degree in early childhood or an education degree in early childhood, which is required for licensure to teach from birth through third grade. This associates degree will become a confirmed transfer pathway in Fall 2022.

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MN State logoNorthwest Technical College, located in northern Minnesota’s lake district, has prepared students for fulfilling careers in high-demand fields for more than 50 years. The college’s accessible, affordable, hands-on programs also help the region’s employers meet their ever-growing need for a highly skilled workforce. NTC serves more than 1,000 students with an excellent education, an open-enrollment policy and affordable tuition. Students may pursue nearly 40 degree, diploma and certificate programs in six distinct career paths. Classes are offered on campus, online, or as a combination of both. NTC is a member of the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities. For more, visit ntcmn.edu.