Early childhood education offers a niche

Katie Jauch of Western Hills has always had a passion for working with young children. That passion has led her to a job as a preschool director at St. Boniface School in Northside. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more job seekers like Jauch may find opportunities in the next decade as early childhood education programs expand.

To get to her dream job, Jauch studied early childhood education at Mount St. Joseph University in Delhi. She is one of many students who pursue this course of study, which is offered at more than 100 colleges and universities in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be above-average job growth of roughly 17 percent in the specialty of preschool teachers over the next eight to 10 years. Elementary school teaching positions will see growth as well, about 12 percent over the same time period. Early childhood specialists are qualified to teach students from pre-K to grade 3.

University faculty agree there will be more jobs, but caution that the popularity of the field turns out thousands of graduates each year, so new grads need to be prepared to compete for spots and possibly re-locate to find work.

Laura Saylor, assistant professor in the Division of Education at Mount St. Joseph University, says an increased focus on the importance of educating children from an early age is part of the driving force behind the increase in jobs.

The federal government and President Barrack Obama have proposed federal-state partnerships that would provide low- and moderate-income children with access to preschool. The program would also incentivize full-day kindergarten in the hopes that more intervention from an early age would help close school-readiness gaps across socio-economic lines.

“We are hearing a lot now about how important early childhood education is and that it needs to be more readily available,” says Saylor.

“This new generation of parents now also is likely to have experienced preschool, so they want it for their children. That’s unique from previous generations.”

New guidelines for teachers have also meant that early childhood has become a specialty niche in the training for becoming an educator, says Saylor. Until recently, teachers were trained broadly for kindergarten through eighth grade. Now teacher training is broken into two specialties, one for early childhood, pre-K through third grade, and another for middle childhood, fourth grade through ninth grade.

“Most people who choose this field have a strong love for young children and want to make an impact at a young age,” she says. “More men are choosing this profession, too, and we are seeing a demand for men in classrooms for this age group.”

While job growth is on the horizon, a large number of college graduates with early childhood degrees means there will be competition for open spots.

Colleen Finegan, associate dean of partnerships and field experience in the College of Education and Human Services at Wright State University in Dayton, says the large number of universities offering education programs and the popularity of the early childhood degree make it difficult for all the graduates to find jobs easily.

“This is a very popular choice in education programs,” she says of the early childhood track. “Graduates may not be able to find jobs in the town where they want to work. If they are flexible and willing to move out of state it helps.”

Anna Lyon, co-director of the Early Childhood Program at Wright State, says students should distinguish themselves by volunteering in schools and gaining experience before they start applying for jobs. “Get yourself known as someone who wants to be involved,” she says. “Those who are willing to give back have an advantage. It adds to what they can bring to the job.”