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UM Establishes Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning

Studies show longterm investment into quality pre-K education provides improved academic performance and longterm public cost savings. Photo by Robert Jordan / Ole Miss Communications
Studies show longterm investment into quality pre-K education provides improved academic performance and longterm public cost savings. Photo by Robert Jordan / Ole Miss Communications

The University of Mississippi School of Education has established a new center to provide research and collaborative leadership to support the growth and development of quality early childhood education throughout the state.

Financed with more than $121,000 in external funding from The Phil Hardin Foundation, UM’s Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning was recently officially approved by the Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning.

“Our primary purpose is to raise visibility of the importance of early childhood education,” said Cathy Grace, the center’s co-director. “We hope to collaborate with all stakeholders and to share innovative ideas and collectively work toward a better education system for all Mississippi children.”

Above all, the new center is dedicated to providing pre-K stakeholders – including students, teachers, teacher educators, school administrators, policy makers, elected officials, parents, community members and more – with valuable data and research findings about early childhood education programs in Mississippi. The center will also provide research on methods to overcome challenges in the pre-K field, particularly in high-needs districts.

“We are extremely fortunate to have a pre-K leader as influential and talented as Dr. Grace to lead this new center,” said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education. “We have the opportunity to make a dramatic impact in the area of early childhood education. We must be willing to invest not only money but our time and effort in pre-K education because we know the critical impact it will have on the future achievement and advancement of our state and nation.”

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, several studies show quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement, including gains in reading and mathematics. Studies also show an estimated $7 return on every $1 invested in public pre-K education in the form of long-term cost savings.

Mississippi offers no statewide early childhood education in public schools.

“As a School of Education, our focus is on improving education for all children in Mississippi,” said Susan McClelland, chair of teacher education at UM. “We believe the center will enable our faculty to have a greater impact on providing educational opportunities and current research that extends beyond our students to our state and community leaders.

“Our hope is that early childhood education in Mississippi will be transformed to ensure every child receives a quality pre-K learning experience.”

The creation of the new center is a continuation of the university’s push to prioritize the training of quality pre-K educators in Mississippi. In 2014, the school launched a new undergraduate endorsement program for elementary education majors and unveiled an online Master of Education program in early childhood education just this August.

“I have no doubt that this center will have a dramatic impact on the future of Mississippi,” said Burhanettin Keskin, associate professor and coordinator of early childhood education at UM. “If we have the collaboration that we are aiming for, it is going to be a game-changer in this state.”

Grace, who has more than three decades of experience in early childhood education, served previously as a professor and the director of the Early Childhood Institute at Mississippi State University and has served as director of early childhood development policy for the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. She has also held multiple other leadership positions at the national, regional, state and local level.

Another major goal for the center will be to support the university’s new online master’s degree in early childhood education, which is the only graduate degree of its kind offered in Mississippi. Launched this fall, the online degree can be completed in two years and allows graduates to obtain pre-K teaching licensure from the Mississippi Department of Education.

“From an institutional standpoint, there is a rich history here in support of training quality early childhood educators,” Grace said. “I look forward to helping Ole Miss continue to offer valuable opportunities for educators and others.”

Courtesy of Andrew M Abernathy and the Ole Miss News Desk

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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