Deborah Curtis: Developing workforce pipeline begins with children

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint

Rarely does a day go by that we do not hear of the economic development challenges facing our state because of a limited pool of skilled and educated workers. These workers meet the demands of the 21st century economic environment in which Indiana’s communities must compete with other states and countries for investment and economic growth.

The workforce issue remains a thorny problem for our great state, and while Indiana has an abundance of academic and workforce programs that address shorter-term goals, we must also keep our eyes on the longer term by building a stronger workforce pipeline that begins with our youngest Hoosiers, our children. That starts with early childhood education, developing young minds and putting children on a path to lifelong accomplishment.

Nationally, only 40% of children ages 3 and 4 were enrolled in early childhood education programs in 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Our nation must do better, and Indiana must lead the way by focusing on expanding access to early childhood development programs.

While child care is available in Indiana, high-quality, research-based programs are scarce. Indiana State University’s Bayh College of Education has long been among such high-quality programs that have attained the highest accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. ISU has committed to be the state’s leader in the important economic development area of early childhood education.

Growing the capacity of the center and providing a research-based model for other communities with partners courageous enough to tackle this challenge is our goal. In a recent round of state READI grants awarded to regions throughout Indiana, ISU received a commitment of $1 million to expand the capacity of our Early Childhood Education Center, which is licensed by the Indiana Department of Family and Children Services.

The READI grant dollars are merely a start. Involvement of higher education experts, state support and community support are required, and there must be a role for the federal government in this as well. ISU is working to bring all these entities together to give our youngest Hoosiers the start they deserve and need.

We can and must help parents as well. Directly related to our children’s access to self-realization and prosperity are the opportunities for Indiana parents and caregivers to reach their own professional and personal aspirations. ISU’s high-quality early childhood development programs will work with the entire family and caregiver units so that children and their families can take full advantage of their potential in our state’s burgeoning economic environment.

Affordability is also key. Providing needs-based financial assistance to families to assist with paying for this high-quality care will help reverse trends of generational poverty.

ISU is one of the largest employers in the Wabash Valley, and it serves the entire state as a magnet for talent and a great contributor of workers to the Indiana economy. To help build the state’s talent pipeline, we must leverage and build upon our faculty expertise in early childhood education. Providing this concentration of expertise is a critical piece to solving this workforce challenge in our home county, which is wrestling with a 20% poverty rate. But it will also help communities throughout the state that stand to gain from our early childhood education model.

Indiana is counting on all of us to work creatively and collaboratively to meet this economic development challenge. ISU is your partner in changing the trajectory of our youngest Hoosiers and building an even stronger and competitive workforce.•

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Curtis has been president of Indiana State University since January 2018.

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