Human Resources

Strategies for Building Partnerships with Academic Institutions

Building partnerships within the Head Start community has been a cornerstone of improving the quality of Head Start services. Program directors and education coordinators can use this resource to assist them with strategies for building partnerships with academic institutions. These partnerships will help develop programs for teaching staffs adjusting to the demands of obtaining a college degree, which will impact the quality of services.

A challenge lies before Head Start directors and academic institutions. The challenge is to build a partnership that will serve both the academic institutions and the Head Start agency staff who want to complete a degree in early childhood by the year 2003.

A sense of pride will develop within Head Start staff members as they work toward the goal of earning an academic degree as mandated by the reauthorization of the Head Start Act in 1998. As staff members work towards a degree, they will benefit from the support of all those with whom they interact, including family members, colleagues, parents, the director and supervisors at the Head Start agency, and the institutions of higher learning where staff members enroll for classes.

Structure of an Academic Institution

To form a partnership with an academic institution, it helps to understand something about its structure. The mission of most, if not all, two-year colleges and four-year colleges and universities is to serve the students and the community in which they are located. Two-year colleges can be flexible with programming and are more than willing to go into the community with courses. Partnerships between a Head Start agency and a local two-year college are natural. Both are community-based and both are concerned with quality. The Head Start Program has a Policy Council, whereas the two-year college has a Board of Regents who approve courses and faculty hiring. Academic officers in the two-year colleges have policies to follow according to a national accrediting body.

Many early childhood programs in two-year colleges are small, with only one full-time and several part-time faculty members. Instructors are required by State Boards of Regents to meet class size ratios and their institution's policies and procedures. Program procedures must conform to standards that protect the student, faculty, and children against liability in laboratory settings. Since application of theory learned in class is important to learning how to effectively interact with children, laboratory experiences may be required of students. Sometimes, instructors travel to observe students working at their place of employment, but many may find it difficult due to the cost of travel and time away from campus. Instructors in higher education institutions are challenged to use a variety of teaching and instructional strategies to meet the variety of learning styles of students.

Early childhood programs in four-year universities have the same structure but have tighter schedules due to the number of students who live on or close to the campus. Early childhood teacher education programs must also meet the guidelines of national and state teacher education entities.

Strategies to Enable Building Partnerships

Clearly, academic institutions provide important training for Head Start programs, but Head Start programs can also offer valuable services to the academic institution.

If, for example, a Head Start education coordinator meets the academic requirements for teaching at the two-year college level, the coordinator may be able to teach a class at the community college. If so, the salary can be negotiated between the college and agency.

Since observation of children in a campus laboratory setting is usually required by the two-year colleges and four-year colleges and universities, another way to build connections is by offering an internship for college students at the Head Start program while Head Start staff members work at the laboratory on campus. This gives everyone an opportunity to work in different settings. The opportunity to observe other early care and education settings is a valuable aspect of growth as a professional. Observing other teachers and seeing other environments stretches teachers to grow in their teacher/child interactions and helps them learn about the breadth of the field. Head Start staff will also have an opportunity to be role models for fellow students, and other students will learn about Head Start.

Set up a meeting with an advocate at your local college or university and ask him or her to invite a coordinator, dean, or provost to meet with you to discuss your agency's needs for academic training. Invite them to serve on your Head Start Policy Council and offer to serve on the College's Advisory Board. Discuss the policies and procedures of the college regarding funding, billing processes, and requirements for faculty. Listen and share issues and perceptions to enable both entities to gain an understanding of the needs of the Head Start staff. Tradition can inhibit change; therefore, keep asking, be patient, and remember that the mission of colleges and universities is to serve the students and community.

Head Start Supervisors and Directors Support

Once partnerships with academic institutions are formed, Head Start directors and supervisors can support staff in other ways, such as:

  • Providing career counseling to help staff members evaluate their career aspirations.
  • Contacting the institution of higher learning to learn about enrollment procedures, financial aid availability, and class schedules.
  • Helping staff members find substitutes if classes are at times when children are in their care.
  • Providing resources to help pay for tuition, books, and fees.
  • Supporting group study time.
  • Building the literacy of the whole staff by providing opportunities to write reports, anecdotal observation records, and IEPs for the children.
  • Giving time off (paid or unpaid) when school assignments are due.
  • Providing literacy training as a part of staff in-service meetings. Literacy training is a critical aspect of achieving success as you work toward an academic degree. A tenth-grade reading level is expected when a student enters college; therefore, additional classes and tutoring may be necessary for some.
  • Identifying staff members who are near completion of a degree and helping them complete the process. Staff can serve as role models for other staff.
  • Celebrating the completion of courses, credentials, and degrees.

Other Support

ACCESS, the national professional organization for early childhood teacher education at two-year colleges, is eager to support the effort of Head Start staff all across the country to achieve the goal of completing an academic degree by 2003. For information, contact Ruth Ann Ball, Senior Program Development Specialist, at (405) 799-6383 or, or visit the website at or

Head Start staff who want to complete a public school teaching credential may contact the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE)

Family and consumer science programs in four-year land grant universities are also available to share information regarding family and child development programs.