Early Childhood Education Alternative Licensure Program celebrates first group of graduates

The program helps experienced early childhood education professionals in Chicago earn a teaching license

In December 2020, the College of Education celebrated its first cohort of students to complete the Alternative Licensure Program (ALP) for Early Childhood Education. Through a combination of UIC coursework and fieldwork, 21 students earned their Illinois Professional Educator License (PEL) in Early Childhood Education, which certifies them to teach children from birth to Grade 3.

This May, nine of the 21 students will graduate with a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from UIC: Sonia Barrientos, Madalynn Birus, Brittany Brown, Ilian Espinoza, Sharron Feagins, Claudia Gil, Angelica Hernandez, Rosalyn Jones, and Jennifer Lopez.

Created and led by Cathy Main, program coordinator of the Master’s in Early Childhood Education and faculty in Educational Psychology, the program draws from expertise across the College of Education as well as from UIC Psychology.

A new approach to alternative licensure programs

Originally developed to help alleviate teacher shortages, alternative licensure programs typically cater to people with a bachelor’s outside of the education field who are seeking a fast track to a license without a master’s degree. Main wanted to improve and transform this model at UIC to better serve the early childhood workforce in Chicago.

“One of the issues with typical alternative licensure programs like Teach for America is they are set up to give those with lots of access and opportunity more access and opportunity,” says Main.

“When I first started thinking about creating this program at UIC, I thought, ‘What if we turn this concept on its head and offer the program to people who can’t leave their jobs or take off time to student teach?’ The students in our program are already doing the work, but didn’t have access to higher education or a program that would support them through their coursework, teacher residency and other state requirements for teacher licensure.”

The UIC program builds upon students’ professional and personal experiences working with children in their communities. On average, UIC ALP students have 15 years of experience in the early childhood education field. They hail from communities all over Chicago and represent 64 community-based organizations and schools.

In contrast to most university-led alternative licensure programs, which tend to enroll around 65% White students, the UIC program is 97% women of color (55% Black, 38% Latinx, 3% White, 2% Asian, and 1% multiracial). Programs like the ALP can assist in helping create a teaching workforce in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that better reflects students’ background: currently, CPS students are 36% Black, 47% Latinx, 11% White, 4% Asian, and 1% multiracial.

Another goal is long-term retention of teachers. Keeping students in the teaching field is a well-known challenge for typical alternative licensure programs. UIC’s program offers many layers of support to keep retention levels high: UIC PhD students Tanginia Southall, David Banzer, and Luz Torres work with the ALP students as professional coaches who are trained and experienced in the field of early childhood education. Chicago community-based organizations provide students with on-site mentors to assist with their student teaching and fieldwork.

The program is also intended to help lift people who work with young children out of poverty. 70% of childcare workers in Illinois are eligible for SNAP benefits. The PEL is a major professional milestone that offers much greater opportunities in terms of salary and career options.

“Having an Illinois PEL in the early childhood education field can be the difference between earning low level wages and middle class life,” she says.

Program support and scholarships

Tuition and fees for the program, which takes about two years to complete, are covered by the City of Chicago Early Learning Workforce Scholarship. The US Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) program and Marjorie Pelino also provide essential support, including for those students who choose to pursue their master’s at UIC after earning a license through the ALP. Right now, funding is in place for five cohorts of the program. Cohorts 2 and 3 are in progress and comprise almost 100 students.

For information about eligibility, courses and application info, visit the Early Childhood Education Alternative Licensure Program page.