WMU News

New family studies major stresses child development

July 24, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University is unveiling a new family studies major with a child development emphasis just in time for new education requirements taking effect for many childcare professionals.

The new degree prepares graduates to work with infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers and school-age children in a variety of settings, such as Head Start, Michigan School Readiness and child development centers. The program meets state requirements for childcare center directors, while students also will be prepared to work in the growing field of parent education.

The new program, believed to be the first of its kind in Michigan, begins in the fall in cooperation with Kellogg, Lake Michigan and Southwestern community colleges. The "2+2" program allows students to complete two years of classes at the community college level then earn their bachelor's degrees at WMU's Southwest and Battle Creek regional centers.

The child development concentration is designed to provide a comprehensive, child-focused degree program taught from a family systems theory perspective. It blends early childhood classes with family studies classes, combining the best of what Michigan community colleges offer in the field with the expertise of faculty from the WMU Department of Family and Consumer Sciences in cooperation with the WMU Division of Continuing Education.

"Beginning in the year 2003, one-half of all Head Start employees must have a child development or related degree," says Linda Dannison, chairperson of the WMU Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. "So we're really responding to national trends here."

In addition, many programs are springing up across the state to support parents and their young children, Dannison adds. Education standards for childcare professionals working in these programs also are steadily increasing.

Another beauty of the new degree is its flexibility for non-traditional students, says Lori Farrer, a WMU clinical instructor in child development. Since many of these students have families, they face serious time and financial constraints. The new program lets them take two year's worth of classes at the community college level, then conveniently complete their degrees at WMU's participating regional centers. Scholarship money also is available for qualified applicants.

"Many of the students who will enter this program are working full or part time and have families of their own," Farrer says. "It's just not feasible for them to come to WMU's main campus to complete their degree."

The new program also offers specialization in working with young children that was not available before in a four-year program, Dannison says. Students interested in working with young children previously could obtain a child development associate's degree from a community college, but then would generally have to obtain an elementary education degree for their bachelor's degree. The new program offers more specialized coursework for working with infants, toddlers, pre-school children and their families.

Dannison says plans are in the works to expand the program to other community colleges. Judging from the response she has received so far, she expects it to steadily grow.

"Everybody is saying, 'We need this,'" Dannison says. "And working with community colleges helps make it happen. We can build on the unique programs that they have developed for their communities and use them as a resource for Western Michigan University."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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