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HCC Early Childhood Education program hosts successful open house

Students stand at a Highland table talking to an Early Childhood Education instructor

The Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at Highland Community College recently partnered with the YWCA Northwestern Illinois to host roughly a hundred visitors during an April open house at the Children’s Hands-On Museum in the Lincoln Mall.

“The spotlight and resources Illinois is bringing to the early childhood profession provide excitement and wonderful opportunities to our early childhood community,” said Melissa Johnson, ECE instructor at Highland.

Highland’s ECE program is committed to shaping the future of the early childhood community in the district by providing education and opportunities for individuals seeking professional growth and investment in the future working with early childhood education.

At the open house, Highland brought together staff and a mentor to speak about the relevance of higher education, including representatives of advising and financial aid offices. About 95 prospective students looking to earn a certificate or degree and little ones stopped by the event.

The Highland Early Childhood Program is a member of the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE) and a Gateways to Opportunity Entitled Institution. The ECE program has designed a stackable pathway to help support students’ professional growth. With the passage of the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE) Act in July 2021, students who earn an Early Childhood Education – Applied Associate of Arts degree are now able to transfer the entire degree as a package to four-year institutions that are a part of ECACE.

Since the passing of the ECACE Act, childcare resource and referral agencies such as YWCA’s Child Care Solutions and institutions of higher education such as Highland Community College have been tasked with supporting the upskilling of providers to address the state’s shortage of qualified early childhood educators and caregivers.

Johnson adds: “This is an especially exciting time for our profession in Illinois as the state has placed early childhood in center stage. With the passage of the ECACE Act and unprecedented funding and resources provided, our ECE program at Highland has established the phrase ‘Now is the time.’ If an early childhood educator or provider has considered pursuing a college certificate or degree, they may be eligible for full coverage of their costs. The state is currently providing the ECACE Scholarship program and funding for institutions of higher education and additional support through child care resource and referral agencies, such as YWCA’s Child Care Solutions.”

Kristen Janssen, a Highland student, said, “I would say the ECE open house event was a blast. My kids were able to play and learn, while I was able to get registered for classes, finish my FASFA paperwork, and even won a T-shirt from the drawing. The Highland ECE program is doing a ton to help people get established in the field, and I appreciate all their time and dedication.”

For more on the Early Childhood Education program, visit or email

Photo: Highland Success Coach Rachel Stewart, left, speaks with prospective Early Childhood Education students at an April open house held at the Children’s Hands-On Museum at Lincoln Mall in Freeport.