Start Early. Start well.

October 01, 2015

Buffett Early Childhood Institute Conference Examines Critical Workforce Needs Across Nebraska

Omaha, Neb. — More than 120 higher education faculty and early childhood experts representing 40 higher education institutions and organizations across Nebraska will come together to discuss strategies for growing, supporting, and enhancing the state’s early childhood workforce on Oct. 5 – 6 in Lincoln. 

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska will host “Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce in Nebraska: A Conference for Higher Education Faculty,” at the Wick Alumni Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. 

The conference serves as a forum for statewide conversation about a critical need in Nebraska. Like most states, Nebraska faces a serious shortage of highly qualified early childhood educators. To meet current demand, First Five Nebraska estimates the state needs more than 7,900 highly qualified early childhood professionals to serve the growing population of vulnerable young children. More than 64,000 Nebraska children between birth and 5 years of age are considered at risk for failing in school.   

“Caregivers, teachers, and other early childhood professionals have a profound impact on young children—especially children who are at risk for lifelong struggles because of poverty, high-stress environments, development delays, and other risk factors,” said Samuel J. Meisels, Founding Executive Director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. “Our goal is to ensure that a skilled, informed, and diverse workforce is available to all of Nebraska’s young children.” 

Higher education institutions play a critical role in responding to the increasing demand for highly  qualified early childhood professionals across Nebraska, Meisels said. Twenty institutions of higher education in Nebraska offer a total of 42 early childhood degree programs.

The conference will introduce the results of two recent reports—one national and one statewide—that examine workforce preparation for early childhood professionals: 

  • “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation,” by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, offers guidance for systems change to improve professional learning and workforce development for early childhood professionals. Nebraska is one of the first states to begin developing statewide action plans in response to the IOM recommendations. 
  • The “Nebraska Higher Education Inventory,” conducted by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at University of California, Berkeley, in conjunction with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, provides the most complete picture to date of the state’s early childhood-related offerings and degree programs, focusing on variations in program content, age-group focus, student field-based learning, and faculty characteristics.  

In addition, conference attendees will participate in moderated workshops designed to develop action plans for Nebraska. 

“To truly address gaps in early childhood workforce preparation, Nebraska must develop a well-coordinated, comprehensive professional preparation and development system that includes all 2- year and 4-year universities and colleges,” said Susan Sarver, director of workforce development at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. 

Representatives from 22 colleges and universities—public and private, and 2-year and 4-year—will attend the conference in Lincoln, including University of Nebraska leadership and nine college deans or associate deans. Also participating are representatives of the Nebraska State Board of Education, Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska State Education Association, Nebraska Head Start Association, First Five Nebraska, Nebraska Association for the Education of Young Children, and other organizations that serve young children. 

Serving as featured speakers are national and Nebraska early childhood experts, including: Jacqueline Jones, President and CEO at the Foundation for Child Development; Marcy Whitebook, Director for the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley; Marjorie Kostelnik, Dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Susan Sarver, Director of Workforce Planning and Development at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, University of Nebraska; and Samuel J. Meisels, Founding Executive Director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute.

Conference session facilitators include Laura Bornfreund, Deputy Director at New America Foundation; Sherry M. Cleary, Executive Director at New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, City University of New York; and Diane M. Horm, Founding Director at the Early Childhood Education Institute, University of Oklahoma at Tulsa.

The conference is the latest initiative of the Buffett Institute’s Early Childhood Workforce Development Program. Initiated in fall 2014, its purpose is to better prepare and support professionals working with children, from birth – Grade 3. The goal is to ensure a skilled, informed workforce is available to all children.