MOLINE, IL – – Western Illinois University is one of five Illinois colleges and universities, and the only four-year public university, to receive $1.3 million in grant funding from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) to strengthen and diversify the early childhood workforce.

Western received $225,516 for the coming year, which will be used to address the shortage and grow the qualified pool of early childhood educators for the rural McDonough County region. Boh Young Lee, project director and WIU associate professor, was able to recruit 14 participants who will begin courses Monday, Aug. 31. Upon the project completion in May 2021, the participants will receive their Gateways Infant Toddler Credential (level 2-5).

“It has become exceedingly tough to find highly qualified staff to hire, those who have earned higher levels of ECE and/or Infant Toddler Credentials, in light of the teacher shortage and because of there being relatively few ways to earn such credentials,” said Lee.

The funding provided by the grant will go toward student support expenses, including course fees and supplies, as well as to convert existing courses to an online format and create additional credentialing modules to more successfully assist early childhood educators with the credentialing process.

“There is the overwhelming need for access to education and training for those interested in the early childhood field,” said Lee. “This need has become particularly acute given the current pandemic context. This grant will provide us the means to assist in growing the qualified pool of early childhood educators or the local region, and WIU’s early childhood program can be an even more important entity in preparing high quality early childhood educators ready to implement the most current knowledge and skills for developmentally appropriate practices—a core goal of WIU’s general mission.”

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The grants, funded by the federal Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5) initiative, were awarded in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development (GOECD). The funds will support an estimated 150 students state-wide in the upcoming academic year, according to the IBHE.

“This is just another example of how IBHE is partnering with GOECD and the Pritzker administration to show its commitment to education and dedication to equity. These grants will move the ball forward by increasing the education levels of teachers and assistants, lead to more diversity in our early childhood classrooms where underrepresented students need it, and benefit the workforce in future years,” said Ginger Ostro, executive director of the IBHE.

For more information on Western’s early childhood education program, visit wiu.edu/education.

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Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.