Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Comparing the Costs of College and ECE

Approximately, twenty years ago I joined the Worthy Wage Campaign to help bring attention to the fact that Early Childhood Educators were among the lowest paid workers in the United States.  Unfortunately, while wages for Early Childhood Educators have increased several recent reports still show that Early Learning is one of the lowest paid fields in the US and this is despite parents often paying a significant portion of their income on tuition.

This leads many to compare the tuition costs of Early Education and the cost of a college education, but the differences between the two are difficult to compare as they have different structures.  One such difference is student to teacher (or faculty) ratio.  The ratios in Early Learning programs are often much lower than at a college or university.  For example, U.S. News found that "among the 1,311 institutions that provided data to U.S. News, the average student-faculty ratio is 14.8. "  However, these numbers may be misleading as the reported college ratios do not reflect actual class size which may be as high as 500.  The highest legal ratio for infants in Colorado is 5 to 1, 10 to 1 for preschool, and 12 to 1 for prekindergarten. Colleges have a choice of where to set their ratios, regulations (justifiably so) limit a Early Learning program's ability to do so and best practice demands even lower ratios in order to meet children's needs.  

The Cost, Quality, and Outcomes study (Suzanne Helburn, et al; 1995) found that Early Learning programs spend, on average, 70% of their operating budgets on salaries, whereas according to Trends in College Spending:  Where Does the Money Come From?  Where Does it Go? (Wellman et al, 2009) colleges spend between 53% and 64% on instruction. In general, the recommended percent a business should pay for labor is around 35 percent.  Again, the numbers are not comparing identical markers, but it does provide some insight into the cost of operating each type of program as both industries are labor intensive.  The highly labor intensive nature of a college education is one reason why colleges have been able raise capitol to cover expenses.

However, one of the biggest differences is that colleges are not asked (though there are exceptions to this) to pay their employees poverty level wages. Nor are they demanded to accept 30-50% of their tuition in order to receive a subsidy for low-income students.  They are subsidized at 100% of the cost of tuition, or they provide a scholarship from other funding sources.  Let us start to demand this for Early Education professionals as a start to paying Early Learning professionals a decent wage.

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