When early education and higher education team up, great things can happen.

One example is the Career Pathways Grant program, funding that the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) awards to all of Massachusetts’ community colleges to create more educational and professional development opportunities for early educators.

For instance, at Quinsigamond Community College, “10 students are taking part in a pre-college course focusing on student-based skills and introducing them to early childhood education topics and terminology. After they complete the course in the fall these students will transition over to college level early childhood education courses, where they will receive financial and other support services designed to help them succeed.”

At Mount Wachusett Community College, the grant is being used to “to provide free classes for Early Childhood Education professionals and training to help local childcare facilities.”

“Childcare is essential to the businesses and residents in our communities and we are honored to have received this grant that allows us to provide training that will directly lead to expanded and improved childcare in the region,” Mount Wachusett President James Vander Hooven says. “This grant allows MWCC to provide education and training to childcare providers and those working in the field, but all of North Central Massachusetts will benefit.”

In addition: “North Shore Community College and Northern Essex Community College are collaborating to offer enhanced supports to the early childhood, out of school time, and family child care communities under the Career Pathways Grant.”

This program is offering a range of services including:

• ESL classes and bilingual workshops

• a comprehensive Teacher Training Program for those wanting to start a career in ECE

• courses and support to earn EEC certifications for teachers and directors, and

• advising and courses to build toward an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree

Springfield Technical Community College is using the grant to fund its Child Development Plus Program. The program will “help early childhood educators obtain certification and become better qualified to teach infants and toddlers as well as preschool-aged children,” according to a news release.

“A lot of early childhood educators have been teaching for a long time without having any college credit,” Richard Greco, dean of Liberal and Professional Studies at STCC, says in the news release. “What this program will allow is for people to get a nationally recognized credential. With the credential, they will earn college credit that they can apply toward an associate degree from STCC.”

“Greco noted that the program is not only affordable; it may be free for most of the students. He said 80 percent of the early childhood education students are eligible for federal Pell Grants, which do not have to be paid back. The maximum Pell Grant award will cover the cost of the program.”

Holyoke Community College – along with Berkshire Community College and Greenfield Community College — is also using the grant to fund a Child Development Plus program, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reports.

“Taking one course at a time will mean those educators won’t be overworked,” Kimm Quinlan, director of Early Childhood Grant Initiatives at Holyoke, tells the Gazette of her school’s approach. “Having classes on weekends means more full-time educators will be able to attend.”

“The grant covers tuition, fees and associated costs like textbooks, laptops and the $420 Childhood Development Associate Plus (CDA Plus) credentialing fee.”

Twenty students have enrolled in Holyoke’s program, and, “For the first few weeks, classes have discussed basic theories of development and how pre-natal behaviors affect child development. Soon they will be moving on to a ‘huge section’ covering social and emotional development,” the Gazette adds.

The Career Pathways grant — and the college coursework it provides — is part of EEC’s two-prong strategy to improve the knowledge and skills of early educators. As we highlighted last month, the state’s new Strong Start grant will expand workshops and trainings through regional Professional Development Centers.

The key ingredients in all these programs — accessibility, affordability, and support – are essential. They promise to help early educators grow into accomplished professionals who can have an even more influence on young children’s lives.

And as Katie Levesque, a student at Holyoke Community College, tells the Gazette, “All I can say is more of these grants would be awesome.”