Are Early Childhood Training and Skill-building Accessible in Rural Communities? – Digital Promise

Are Early Childhood Training and Skill-building Accessible in Rural Communities?

Educator reading to four students

May 18, 2023 | By

In 2021, Digital Promise shared exciting news surrounding our partnership with the Ascendium Education Group on research that centered the experiences of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous rural learners, and the use of micro-credentials to promote social mobility of these learners. We are honored to have been chosen again to join a select group of researchers and practitioners focused on a continued pursuit to better understand the experiences and aspirations of learners and postsecondary providers in rural places. This new project builds on findings from our 2022 report, Micro-credentials for Social Mobility in Rural Postsecondary Communities: A Landscape Report (funded by Ascendium Education Group), and expands to examine the impact of upskilling and wage increasing initiatives on rural Early Childhood Education (ECE) providers across the state of Tennessee.

Consistent with Digital Promise’s efforts to lead and promote equity-centered research and development projects, this endeavor addresses the growing demand for ECE providers, a workforce population predominantly composed of ethnically and racially diverse females (Whitebook et al., 2018, p. 2). Research shows that poor compensation and benefits disproportionately impact women of color, especially Black, Latina/x, Indigenous, and immigrant women in rural communities (Bailey and Spletzer, 2021). This is exemplified in the field of ECE where, on average, full-time ECE providers in the United States earn about $14 per hour—less than a living wage for many Americans (Iacurci, 2020). However, in rural communities, the median wage for an early childhood teacher is even lower at $11.42 per hour or about $23,000 annually.

While childcare is an immediate benefit, early childhood interventions lead to both significant short- and long-term benefits for children, from healthy brain development to a greater likelihood of high school graduation (Center for American Progress, 2017), further substantiating the roles and impact of these workers. In recent years, significant efforts have been made to increase high quality early childhood education programs across the United States. These include state-level efforts related to compensation, work environments, and qualifications, some of which were already underway prior to the pandemic, to improve policies and pathways for the ECE workforce. However, these efforts have fallen short in increasing ECE provider compensation, as significant disparities in pay and wage gaps remain.

In 2018, Tennessee was among the 33 states that the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) deemed as “edging forward” in their efforts to link workforce data and to expand scholarships to support educational pathways toward competency-based requirements and higher educational degree attainment for early child care workers. Tennessee State University (TSU) has been a leader in this work, and we are fortunate and excited to have TSU as a partner in this work.

Over the next several months, Digital Promise will collaborate with Tennessee State University to review collected data connected to the implementation of WAGE$, a program that promotes the continuity of care for preschool aged children through the supplementing of wages for ECE workers, as well as the Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance (TECTA), which supports professional development of birth to age 12 childcare workers across Tennessee. This process will allow us to compare outcomes for ECEs enrolled in their respective programs with those who were not. Additionally, we will facilitate conversations to garner insights about ECE worker experiences, as well as their desires and suggestions for improvement. Our goal is to inform the ECE field of best practices and methods to increase access to high quality skills training and higher wages for women—particularly Black, Indigenous, Latina/x, and immigrant women—who provide foundational education to children in rural communities.

Want to know more? Read our latest press release and keep up with our progress by subscribing to the Adult Learning bi-monthly Spotlight Newsletter! You can also reach out to the Digital Promise Adult Learning Team at to learn more about getting involved in the project.

Funding for this project is generously provided by Ascendium Education Group. Ascendium Education Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to helping people reach the education and career goals that matter to them. Ascendium invests in initiatives designed to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds who complete postsecondary degrees, certificates and workforce training programs, with an emphasis on first-generation students, incarcerated adults, rural community members, students of color and veterans. Ascendium’s work identifies, validates and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all. For more information, visit

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