Earning a college degree is promised to be the ticket to professional and economic advancement. However, the journey toward educational opportunities often involves obstacles. While traditional approaches focused on financial support have increased access to college, they have not necessarily addressed all the challenges students face to complete educational goals.
Recently, MDRC published How Congress Can Move the Needle on College Completion, a commentary advocating for evidence-based student success initiatives to broaden support. Although the federal government’s interest in implementing a multifaceted approach to student success may be new, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program (T.E.A.C.H.), an early care and education workforce initiative, has used many of these student success strategies over the past 30+ years to help the workforce complete formal education and college degrees.
Paying for college remains a primary challenge for students, and it is even more difficult for the early care and education workforce who are already undercompensated. T.E.A.C.H. alleviates that by offering both comprehensive and capped scholarships. Federal financial aid alone does not always fully cover the rising cost of college. Also, some students take student loans because they do not qualify for grants.
T.E.A.C.H. covers a large percentage of tuition, books and course access or pays a capped amount that is adequate to cover tuition and books. Scholarship recipients also earn raises or bonuses after completing a set number of credits each year. Thus, T.E.A.C.H. scholarship recipients can essentially earn a debt-free education through all the supports provided. Scholarship recipients are also encouraged to seek other sources of financial aid to wrap around the scholarship support they receive.
Even when the financial worry of paying for college is removed, time and motivation are other challenges, especially for those already in the workforce. From its inception, T.E.A.C.H. has recognized this barrier and designed scholarships to provide teachers with paid release time to balance work and school. Other program incentives, such as awarding bonuses to those who progress toward a degree and a more substantial bonus upon degree attainment, help stimulate motivation.
Scholarship recipients can enroll in a variety of course formats at participating colleges, including online coursework and accelerated programs. T.E.A.C.H.’s survey research also has been instrumental in helping higher education systems better respond to students’ needs. Since scholarships are aligned with existing pathways toward formal education, students can build on their education and reach milestones on their educational journeys.
Finally, another significant difficulty some college students face is navigating the higher education system, especially first-generation students who may have little to no experience with college. College advisors often carry large caseloads and cannot always provide hands-on support to all students or fully understand the needs of working students. The entire process from application to graduation and everything in between can be overwhelming and confusing and may deter some students from continuing.
T.E.A.C.H. understands the need for one-on-one support. Therefore, scholarship recipients are assigned a scholarship counselor who is there to guide them through the scholarship process, encourage them, cheer their successes, listen to any challenges and provide information and other resources as needed. Scholarship counselors also have relationships with the early childhood departments at participating colleges and work collaboratively with them to help students succeed.
As the focus shifts to more comprehensive student support to ensure success, T.E.A.C.H. will remain a vanguard for the early care and education workforce seeking to advance their education. Through its scholarship principles and design, T.E.A.C.H. is already actively tackling the many challenges that students face as identified by The College Completion Fund. The early care and education workforce is already very vulnerable, and advanced education is crucial to the field. In order to ensure prosperity and equity for all individuals, it is paramount that multifaceted strategies aimed at ensuring college completion remain the focus and are adequately funded.