Motivation for Attending Higher Education From the Perspective of Early Care and Education Professionals

May. 15, 2013

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 34, No. 2, p. 121–139, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of early care and education professionals working in community-based child care and Head Start centers as to their educational goals; hindrances, motivations, and benefits to taking coursework/degree completion; and the impact of the early childhood coursework on his or her everyday work with children and families.

The participants were 90 early care and education professionals attending early childhood community college classes and/or pursuing an associate degree in early childhood education.
Twenty three participants were directors and 67 were teachers.
A researcher-constructed questionnaire, Early Childhood Professional Development Survey, was used to collect the participant data.


The majority of the participants were not attending college for the first time and previously attempted to return to school to complete a certificate or an associate degree.
Motivational factors and perceived benefits, which varied by teachers and directors, were influenced by the number of years that the practitioners worked in the field.
Additional motivation through encouragement from their director, coworker or family member allowed the “push” toward college.
The majority of teachers in for profit and non-profit centers viewed the degree as a personal goal.
The possibility therefore of increasing their future income and becoming more knowledgeable and marketable in their career was attractive to these teachers as motivators to go on for higher education.
The teachers as a whole were younger, had a higher level of education and had their professional careers ahead of them as compared to many of the directors.
The degree for them could also provide them with professional development and progression in the field.

The directors, by contrast were career professionals in the field.
They were older and the majority had 5 years or more experience.
The main motivator of obtaining the degree was overwhelmingly a personal goal, no matter in which type of center they worked, which is consistent with the literature on older students in general.
They saw their coursework as enhancing their self-confidence and self-esteem, which in their opinion could make them a more effective director.
The directors’ comments also showed their desire to obtain the professional knowledge needed to remain credible to their staffs and to become more effective leaders and role models in their centers.
Directors played a pivotal role in motivating teachers to enroll in college.
Directors who have a degree in or are enrolled in early childhood education coursework may be more likely to promote higher education among their staff.
The more educated director may better understand the demands of working and going to school and may be more flexible in the teachers’ scheduling so they can go to school.

Implications for Practice and Research

The authors argue that teacher education programs need to have an understanding of the potential differences in motivation between teachers and directors and target our marketing efforts to the needs of each group as was evidenced by the results of this study.
The marketing for teachers needs to focus on the value of the degree for their present and future careers including what knowledge they can obtain to make them a better teacher in their current situation and how it can help them advance their careers.
Marketing to directors, in contrast, needs to focus on how the degree will help them be more knowledgeable in early childhood education which they can then share with their staff and improve their program.
Furthermore, child care and Head Start teachers need programs such as the Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Early Childhood degree, which includes a range of appropriate bachelor’s level early childhood and related coursework focused primarily on children birth through age 5.

Given the findings, it is also very important that scholarship funding be continually available to early care and education professionals so they can complete their degree program in a timely manner.
In recruiting, it is also important that university admissions personnel and faculty be familiar with the unique needs and characteristics of persons working in child care and Head Start outside the public school as compared with those students in traditional teacher education programs.

In summary, it is only in having a greater understanding of the factors that motivate early care and education professionals, both teachers and directors, to return to higher education for their associate and bachelor’s degrees and more fully understand the influence higher education has on their practice that higher education institutions can provide those pathways and supports that are needed for them to complete their degrees in quality higher education early childhood programs.

Updated: Oct. 07, 2015