Early Childhood Access
Consortium for Equity

Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions

Updated as of Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) have received many questions about the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE) and the work of this initiative. This document is designed to address those questions. This should be considered a working document, which will be revised as the initiative progresses. This is not intended as a policy manual or general overview of the work.

Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity

The Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity was created through IL Public Act 102-0174 , which charges the IBHE and the ICCB with creating and establishing the ECACE. Per the law, the purpose of the Consortium is “...to serve the needs of the incumbent early childhood work force and the employers of early childhood educators and to advance racial equity while meeting the needs of employers by streamlining, coordinating, and improving the accessibility of degree completion pathways for upskilling and the sustained expansion of educational pipelines at Illinois institutions of higher education.”

The Consortium was initially proposed through the IBHE strategic planning process. It is an agreement between all public universities and community colleges, as well as any private institutions that choose to participate, to cooperatively improve access to associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s degrees, Illinois Gateways to Opportunity® (Gateways) credentials, and other licensure endorsements. Consortium efforts prioritize those working in early childhood congregate care settings such as child care, preschool, Head Start, family child care, and other such settings. The work of the consortium includes efforts to upskill the early childhood workforce through scholarships and other supports, work to remove barriers to credential and degree completion, efforts to align and smooth pathways across and among institutions, and work to recognize the prior learning, skills, and abilities of the current workforce to increase enrollment, persistence, and completion of higher education programs.

The Act defines the incumbent early childhood workforce as “an individual or a group of individuals working or having worked in the early childhood industry, including family child care and center-based care settings, Preschool for All school-based settings, and Head Start, that serves children from birth to age 5 and includes teachers, assistant teachers, directors, family child care providers, and assistants. Individuals who have previously worked in these settings are included, as long as they return to employment in one of these settings.”

According to the law, “Membership in the Consortium shall include all public universities and community colleges in this state that offer early childhood programs. Membership by private, not-for-profit universities is optional and conditional on the acceptance of the terms adopted by the public members, the related administrative rules, and the provisions of this Act. For-profit institutions of higher education are not eligible for membership in the consortium. Participating institutions must be accredited by the higher learning commission and entitled to offer gateways credentials.”

Current members can be found on the ECACE website.

The Public Act defines this in the following way: "Credit for prior learning" means the evaluation and assessment of a student's life learning through employment, training, and experiences outside an academic environment from which skills that comprise terminal objectives are mastered to an acceptable degree of proficiency for college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education or training.

Consortium Goals

The goal is to have an additional 4933 students enroll and/or complete a credential or degree by June 2024. There are not separate goals for enrollment and completion at this time.

If the students are pursuing early childhood as their major and are earning the endorsement in elementary education as a secondary endorsement, this may count towards your goals.

However, at this time, post-BA credentials and additional endorsements achieved later do not count.

Gateways to Opportunity® Credentials serve a common set of courses and competencies across institutions. Gateways Credentials are included in both administrative rule and are required by ISBE for licensure. This means Gateways Credentials can be recognized and utilized by other state agencies, entities, and employers to understand the shared competencies of those with the credential. The alignment and commonality of the Gateways Credentials is what has allowed them to be placed in state licensing regulations and used as educational requirements for programs to meet ExceleRate Illinois® Quality Ratings and Standards, and they provide a foundation of equity for students in the state. Many community colleges have worked to ensure that Gateways credentials are embedded in certificate and degree programs.

Consortium Work

Much of the work of the consortium is mapped out in legislation. Among other things, the Consortium work includes determining how to offer coursework across the consortium, developing and agreeing upon common and standard methods to provide credit for prior learning, and ensuring the full transferability of the AAS degree into the university consistent with the requirements of the law. Other work may include but is not limited to developing a bank of open educational resources, supporting the work of the navigators and coaches, and supporting a state registry to track competencies.

The Public Act establishing the consortium requires the creation of standard methods to provide credit for prior learning. While institutions may have additional pathways for defining and awarding PLA credit, using a common set of approaches will be instrumental in establishing standard practice in the field.

The Gateways competencies, behaviors and skills are intentionally aligned with Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, the InTASC standards, the former NAEYC standards and now the current/new NAEYC competencies. This alignment allows institutions using Gateways assessments to provide program evaluation data to accreditation and oversite agencies such as ISBE and NAEYC as required without duplicative work. The most recent crosswalk of Gateways and NAEYC competencies can be found here.

The Gateways Competencies will be cross walked with the DRAFT Professional Educator Competencies, which are almost finalized. When formally recognized as complete by ISBE, that crosswalk will be finalized and released.

Illinois faculty, institutions, and state agencies support student/workforce diversity and equitable learning opportunities in alignment with the NAEYC Recommendations for those Facilitating Educator Preparation and Professional Development (Advancing Equity Position Statement (pdf) - naeyc.org) .

We can see this throughout the work that’s been happening in the state for many years; additionally, the focus on equity is the foundation for the Consortium.

ECACE Advisory Committee

IL Public Act 102-0174 outlines the membership of the ECACE Advisory Committee and who appoints each of the members. Members are appointed by a combination of state agencies, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development (GOECD), and the General Assembly. Members include state agency representatives, legislators, providers and employers, schools and districts, and non-government organizations, among others. Members of the ECACE Advisory Committee can be viewed here.

Yes. The legislation refers to providers as employers. These members are appointed to the Advisory by GOECD.

Cross-Institutional Access to Coursework

Home institution is defined in legislation as the community college or university at which the student has been admitted.

Many students across our state lack access to the courses they want at a time and place, and in a format that meets their needs. At some institutions, courses are only offered once a year or every two years, or courses may be cancelled due to small numbers of students. Courses may only be taught during the day/week or only in person. These may not be convenient and accessible to the incumbent workforce. Allowing students to access courses taught at another institution (through their home institution) can allow students to stay on track and complete their credential or degree.

Specific details of the Consortium infrastructure are still being determined. As the ECACE is currently envisioned, students will be admitted to and enrolled in their “home” institution (only) but will be able to access courses at another “teaching” institution without having to be admitted to that institution.

Students at community colleges should work with their academic advisors and/or mentors or coaches to determine when this may be appropriate.

Community colleges students may be able to access courses through ILCCO if courses are available and recommended by their academic advisor or mentor.

For University students, a goal of the Consortium is to determine a way to provide course sharing across institutions, under the guidance of their academic advisor or coach.

Institutional Resources

Institutions are provided with funding to hire coaches, to put towards participating students’ financial holds, and to support the work of the consortium. Funding is provided to engage in activities such as program redesign and/or curriculum development, the provision of student supports, creating collaborations and partnerships, etc. Some of the funding is for specific purposes, and some funding can be used to meet the needs and plans of individual institutions.

Grants and funding to institutions are supported through one-time federal stimulus funding that is anticipated to end as of June 2024. IDHS is working to see whether an extension may be possible.

June 30, 2024 is the date by which these federal stimulus funds must be obligated. We do not get funds directly from the federal government, but through the Illinois Department of Human Services. These are Child Care Development Block Grant funds appropriated to stabilize child care and support the child care workforce. Unless the federal government decides to extend timelines around federal stimulus dollars (generally), this cannot be extended.

ECACE Scholarship and Student Supports

The most up-to-date information about the scholarship is posted on the ISAC website . The site will continue to be updated to provide more information about eligibility, applications, and to respond to frequently asked questions. Additionally, ISAC provides updates to institutional Financial Aid Administrators, and they are a great on-campus source of information.

In order to be eligible for the scholarship, a person must be working in certain positions in an early childhood congregate care setting, such as a child care center, family childcare, preschool, Head Start, public school preschool, etc. or have recently working in one of these settings.

Eligible positions may include teachers, teacher assistants, teacher aides, directors, preschool classroom-based paraprofessionals, and others. Eligible position codes are listed on the ISAC website .

Students must attend eligible Consortium programs that are Gateways Entitled. Eligible applicants may receive scholarships to work towards Gateways Credentials (ECE, Infant Toddler, and/or Director), an associate degree in early childhood, and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood, with an optional Professional Educator License and endorsement. At this time, post-baccalaureate coursework or coursework taken after acquiring an initial bachelor’s degree is not covered by the scholarship.

We know from prior research that the early childhood workforce has a range of credits and may or may not have a degree. With so many variables, it’s difficult to say at this point the number of scholarships available. However, up to 5400 scholarships may be available.

Yes. The ECACE Scholarship is considered a “last dollar” scholarship and pays for cost of attendance after other grants, such as the Pell and MAP grants, are applied. Students must apply for the FAFSA first in order to be eligible.

Yes, those currently enrolled and those interested in enrolling in approved programs are eligible for the scholarship, as long as they are part of the incumbent early childhood workforce as defined above.

There is no defined length of time a person must have worked in an early childhood program to be eligible for the scholarship. A person will be eligible for the scholarship when they begin their employment. They will remain eligible for the scholarship as long as they remain enrolled in the approved college.

Scholarships are awarded on an annual basis, and students must reapply each year. We anticipate those maintaining adequate academic progress will be awarded the following year.

However, please note that – at present – this scholarship is funded only through June 20, 2024. At this time, we do not anticipate additional funding beyond that time, as scholarships are currently supported through one-time, non-renewable federal stimulus funding. We urge institutions to work with students on academic plans that lead to a degree or credential if at all possible by this time.

Yes. Part-time staff are eligible. There is no requirement that students work full-time in order to be eligible.

Information is currently on the ISAC website and is being disseminated through various listservs. The state will be developing a broader marketing campaign. This work has not yet begun.

A marketing campaign is still part of the plan; the timing is to be determined, with updates shared as they are available.

Unfortunately, there is limited funding for scholarships. While we anticipate most eligible students will receive funding, this cannot be guaranteed year to year. Scholarships are awarded on an annual basis, and students must reapply each year. We anticipate those maintaining adequate academic progress will be awarded the following year.

No. Students may only receive scholarships for those institutions that are members of the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and maintain Gateways entitlement. See above for more information about Consortium membership. Members of the ECACE Consortium and their representatives can be foundhere.

This is a separate and distinct scholarship from the Gateways to Opportunity© Scholarship. The financial aid office at individual institutions will determine how to distribute funds if a student applies and is eligible for both ECACE and the Gateways scholarship.

At this time, the students supports, including scholarships, navigators, and mentors, are “short-term” resources (through June 2024), supported by federal child care stimulus funding.

Recipients of the scholarship are expected to continue or return to teaching or direct services in the early childhood care and education field in Illinois after they complete their program of study.

Scholarships will provide funding for the ‘cost of attendance’, as defined by the federal Higher Education Act and used to determine allocations for some federal grants, such as Pell. Each institution determines the Cost of Attendance (COA) for their students, according to federal guidelines. COA may include things like tuition, fees, books, transportation, room and board, etc.

Here are some helpful links on Cost of Attendance:



**Note - for those attending private institutions, funding will be capped at the cost of attendance for the most expensive early childhood program at a public university. Private institutions may supplement this funding with institutional grants and scholarships if they so choose.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) determines eligibility and distributes scholarship funding to individual institutions.

No, not as the scholarship is currently contemplated. The priority is for those seeking Gateways Credentials Level 2 – 5 (including associate’s and bachelor’s degrees). Students are welcome to apply for other scholarships, including Gateways Scholarships, to support individuals with a BA who would like to earn a PEL.

Funding is provided to each institution to support students with financial holds on their accounts.

Yes. As long as they meet all the other eligibility criteria. They should list Assistant Teacher as their eligibility code.

We recognize that there are many people and roles providing services to young children and families. Unfortunately, those in early intervention and home visiting roles are not eligible, due to both the intention of the legislation and the source of the federal funding.

Yes, they may. Institutions will need to work on arrangements that outline which institution will receive funding and disperse to the other institution. (Financial aid administrators on your institutional teams will be familiar with this process.) Students attending multiple institutions should be made aware of any institutional process to inform the college that they will be attending more than one institution. Colleges should maintain all financial aid policy/agreements and be prepared to submit copies to IBHE of said agreements as needed.

After the priority date, ISAC begins working on prequalification of students. Prequalified students are notified via email, and ISAC provides a list of pre-qualified students to the insitutions through the GAP system. After that, the institution determines if students are enrolled in eligible programs, with satisfactory academic progress.

At this time, we anticipate funding scholarships at the graduate level for those intending to become early childhood faculty at an Illinois college or university. We anticipate working with a small number of institutions to implement pathways designed for cohorts with these career goals. Funding will likely be provided via a competitive process. This work is forthcoming.

Navigators & Mentors/Coaches

There is no requirement that students work with a navigator. Navigators are connectors and a way to help students easily find programs to meet their needs and assist with the initial enrollment process. Institutions are encouraged to also recruit students and provide supports needed to enroll.

Navigators are located at the 16 regionally based Child Care Resource and Referral agencies (CCRRs) across the state. You may request the support of the navigator here.

Yes. The mentors/coaches are envisioned as a “guide on the side” once students get to the door of the institution and as an internal person to help them navigate the system, find the courses and supports they need to be successful and to ensure students stay on track, persist, and complete. The job may look somewhat different by institution. State Agencies have created a description and shared this with Consortium representatives.

Students can fill out this survey to be connected to a navigator.

AAS Transfer

Public Act 102-0174 requires universities to grant junior level status in an early childhood education program to any student who graduated from an Illinois community college with an Associate of Applied Science degree in early childhood education if the student meets the requirements of the AAS degree program, is transferring from a program entitled to offer the Gateways ECE Credential Level 4 and earns a minimum grade point average of a 2.0 on a 4.0 scale.

A public university may not require students who meet these requirements to repeat courses taken and completed successfully at the community college and applied toward the associate degree, and all courses completed successfully in the AAS degree program must count toward baccalaureate degree completion. Students entering with an AAS may not be required to take a total number credits greater than those students first starting in a baccalaureate degree program.

Additional coursework may be required if a student is seeking to add one or more endorsements to the student's Illinois Professional Educator License.

Universities may not require a total number of credit hours greater than that which a student who began their studies at the institution would have to complete. However, students may still be required to complete certain general education and early childhood courses.

The intention of this is that students with the AAS and Gateways Level 4 credential will have met some of the competencies and requirements needed to fulfill the bachelor’s degree pursued by students who began their work in the program, and that these courses and/or content need not be repeated. Students should be taking coursework that provides content still needed to reach the bachelor’s degree in early childhood and Gateways Level 5.

Institutions must agree to this as members of the consortium, and consortium representatives are charged with ensuring their institution is aware of the requirements. Additionally, this is included as part of the training of both the navigators and coaches who are working on behalf of the consortium.

The transfer of the AAS in early childhood is now in Illinois State Law , and there is no expiration date or sunset listed in the law. So, unless the law is repealed by the Illinois General Assembly, the law is in effect.

A grade of a “D” may be accepted toward graduation requirements. However, if the course in which the student received the “D” is specifically required for licensure or for Gateways Credentials, the student would need to retake the course.

Only coursework required for the AAS degree must count towards the maximum number of credit hours. However, if the coursework will fulfill additional university requirements, they should be considered for transfer.

If coursework is accepted at the community college towards the AAS degree, then it must be accepted by 4-year institutions as part of the AAS degree transfer.

Professional Educator License Questions

ISBE recently made rule changes to 23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 25.620 (d) which allows cooperating teachers in community-based programs to hold a Gateways Level 5 credential, which requires a bachelor’s degree and demonstrated early childhood competencies, in lieu of a Professional Educator License (PEL).

Yes. If the cooperating teacher meets ISBE and the site meets college or university requirements, a member of the incumbent workforce may be able to complete student teaching in their place of employment. To receive an Early Childhood Education endorsement, individuals must student teach in a setting with children in the range of birth through grade 2. However, it is also important for candidates to have an array of field experiences in multiple settings to learn about child development and learning across the age spectrum. Therefore, over the course of the program, students must have opportunities to complete field work in at least two of the three early childhood age groupings of birth through age 3, age 3 through 5 years, and age 5 through 8 years per Illinois Administrative Code Section 25.96 (c). Please note that multiple student teaching experiences are not required, just one student teaching experience and less intensive field experiences with at least one other early childhood age groups.

Yes. Per Illinois Administrative Code, Section 25.620 (f), student teachers may be compensated for their services.

A question-by-question response analysis of the early childhood content test was conducted, and several were flagged for potential bias. ISBE will be working with Pearson to convene a panel to review these items.

For information about ECACE contact ecace-info@ecace.org