A new collaboration has been designed to strengthen collegiate early childhood education programs in Western Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts signed an articulation agreement with Berkshire Community College on Wednesday for students who earn an associate’s degree in early childhood education at BCC to continue their studies at MCLA.
BCC students who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree will be allowed to join MCLA’s two-year interdisciplinary degree program.
MCLA President James Birge says there is a focus on, but not limited to, unconventional students who may work full-time or who have more family obligations than typical college students. Students will attend classes in Pittsfield one night a week.
“You know, there is this commercial on television from this very large online institution that you have probably seen where the scene is the celebration of the faculty meeting their students for the first time at commencement, right? I am proud that our faculty meets our students for the first time at the first day of class,” Birge says. “That’s what I think our students need… I think that’s what our faculty needs now, frankly – that richness, that robust relationship between learner and teacher, teacher and learner is what makes the kind of education at BCC and MCLA even more and more distinct today, unfortunately, but certainly very powerful.”
Over the past decade, the two colleges have signed numerous articulation agreements to streamline higher education in the region. Birge says the program will address a significant need for early education teachers in western Massachusetts.
“So that they are educated here, they know the values and the culture of this place and so that they then stay here – they’re teaching in our schools,” Birge says. “And that helps to contribute to the population gain. That we want to be able to be contributors to the population and contributors to making the Berkshires even more vibrant than it is now.”
The region is losing population, and public school enrollment is decreasing, according to a recent report from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. Nearly half of the residents under 46 reported a willingness to move out of the region to find work and raise children in an affordable area with good schools.
BCC President Ellen Kennedy says childcare and early education can be difficult to find in the Berkshires. She says it’s an expensive necessity – and it should be taught by people who want to and are prepared to do so.
“I, too, had a child and he went into a child care center at nine weeks old and grew up in that environment, and I always thought about it as I was co-parenting with his teachers, with the people who work there. So I know the importance and value of having a high quality experience for children and equally a high quality experience for the professionals in that environment,” Kennedy says.
Local organizations including Pittsfield Promise, Berkshire United Way and the Berkshire Compact for Education have listed improving early childhood care as a top priority.