Achieving Associate Degrees: Working with Community Colleges and Head Start Staff

Community colleges offer excellent partnership opportunities. Intended for Head Start program managers, this brief article includes questions to ask to assess a community college degree program; information to collect and steps to take to assess Head Start program staff professional development needs; and, suggestions for encouraging staff and also directing their expectations.

The following is an excerpt from...
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by Bruce R. Stam

Working with the Community College

  • Identify a college that offers the degree that would most benefit your agency. (It might not be the closest one, and some agencies have little choice.) Community colleges offer three types of associate degrees. The A.A. degree tends to be a transfer degree and may have very few early childhood classes. The A.S. and the A.A.S. degrees normally will have a higher percentage of early childhood classes. All these degrees could transfer to a baccalaureate institution.
  • Ask if the associate degree that your employees will earn can be transferred to a baccalaureate institution, and which one(s). I suggest that you only contract with a community college that has a viable transfer agreement with a four-year institution. Then find out exactly how it transfers. My caution here is to be very careful.
  • Contract for credit classes, not simply "training." Too often there is no way for the college to give credit for "training," and therefore it does not help the employee earn a degree.
  • Ask if there is a way to incorporate the CDA into the degree; there should be a way, so persist. Normally the college should award eight to twelve credits for the CDA.
  • Even if half of your staff members already have associate degrees, start working on the rest.
  • The community college may be able to provide you with two types of contracts. One, the agency pays the full cost of instruction, or two, the agency pays individual tuition per student. The number of students taking the class determines which method is the least expensive for the agency.
  • Early childhood education programs often have limited staff and resources. Please keep this in mind when working with these programs. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to ask for classes to be scheduled at the Head Start agency office in the evenings, weekly during in-service time, or in an intensive format.

Assessing Your Staff

  • Many of your staff members have never taken college classes, and they will have some fear and anxiety. Until they have taken a few classes and achieved success, they will need someone to assist them with registration, textbooks, reading a class schedule, etc.
  • Find out what classes or credits your staff members already have; include general education classes such as math and English.
  • Have each staff member take the college placement test.
  • Some staff members may have to take remedial reading, writing, and math. Most degrees are offered only in the English language, and some employees may have to take English language classes before college classes.
  • Develop a plan for each employee and a system to track each employee’s progress.
  • Many of your staff members will be taking two classes per term to achieve the goal. This is very strenuous. Find ways to lessen their workload so they can concentrate on earning their degree.

Expectations of Your Staff

  • Develop clear expectations in terms of class attendance and final grades, and communicate them to the staff.
  • Some students will receive an Incomplete as the final grade, which means that they are missing an assignment. Develop a policy as to how long they have to rectify this situation. I suggest two weeks, but it could be longer if there are health problems or other personal concerns.
  • Colleges cannot give out attendance and grade information to anyone other than the student, unless the student signs a waiver. Let the staff know that since the agency is paying for the class, the student must sign this waiver. (Also, work with the community college on this.)
  • Many of your employees will be the first in their families to earn a college degree and may face criticism or resentment from family members. Develop ways to support all your employees who are working towards college degrees.

Bruce R. Stam was the ECE Program Chair and President of ACCESS, Chemeketa Community College, Salem, Oregon. E:

"Achieving Associate Degrees: Working with Community Colleges and Head Start Staff." Stam, Bruce R. Professional Development: The Cornerstone for Trust and Empowerment. Head Start Bulletin #72. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2002. English.


Last Reviewed: June 2014

Last Updated: March 23, 2016