Moving from a Degree-Centric Postsecondary System to an Incremental Credentialing System: What Happens to Learners’ Financing Options?

Organization Case Study


Early Childhood Director Certificate

Red Rocks Community College


Early Childhood Director Certificate




Early Childhood Education


In Development - will launch August 2023


30 credits


6 months




  • Learn As You Go
  • Add On As You Go
  • Stack As You Go
  • Partner As You Go


  • Knowledge of:
    • Child growth, development, and learning
    • Child observation and assessment
    • Family and community partnerships
    • Social-emotional health and development promotion
    • Health, safety, and nutrition
    • Professional practice
    • Teaching practice


Why the Credential was Developed

  • The Child Care Development Specialist Apprenticeship has been in existence since 2000. With the state adoption of competencies for Early Childhood educators and professionals in Colorado, the creation of a state-level Department of Early Childhood, and the rollout of universal prekindergarten programming, the landscape is changing in Colorado
  • The apprenticeship program streamlines the ability of participants new to the EC workforce to learn and earn at the same time while acquiring the knowledge and skills to work as an early childhood teacher or early childhood program director
  • The degreed apprenticeship program has been developed as a means to offer college credit for ECE certificates leading to the AAS degree in ECE with RRCC based upon demonstrated competency in the workplace for the apprentices so they can earn college credit attached to their apprenticeship learning experiences through the competency-based education (CBE)
  • Holding college transcripts connected to this learning experience offers transportable learning that is recognized both inside and outside of Colorado beyond the current non-credit credentials offered through the Colorado Dept. of Early Childhood
  • The benefit of this program is significantly reducing the time and cost of earning a college degree for a workforce that does not currently experience equity in pay for their services
  • This program offers equity of access to higher education for underserved populations as well as this program supports individuals on finding the right path for themselves within the field of early childhood education

How the Credential was Developed

  • The original proposal to develop a degreed apprenticeship program came out of a grant proposal to support educational innovations
  • ECE faculty worked with Child Care Innovations Department staff to crosswalk the Colorado Competencies for EC Educators and Professionals with the current ECE course learning outcomes
  • From this crosswalk of competencies to outcomes, we have identified non-credit trainings and workshops to meet the knowledge acquisition requirements and the demonstrated skills aligned with the workforce competencies that can be offered as artifacts for evaluation to ECE faculty as part of the PLA process for faculty-evaluated workplace credit required within the Colorado Community College System
  • These artifacts are submitted by the apprentice in the form of an ePortfolio that is reviewed, evaluated with a portfolio rubric, and approved for PLA credit by the college
  • College transcripts that include this PLA credit for awarded certificates and degrees can be submitted to the state professional development information system as evidence of formal education and applied towards non-credit credentials, recognized by CDEC.
  • Upon completion of the apprenticeship program, participants receive a national apprenticeship credential from the U.S Dept. of Labor as this apprenticeship program is registered with the USDOL

The Targeted Learners

  • We are targeting individuals that are looking to receive their Early Childhood Teacher qualifications or EC Director qualifications from the Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC) via the Child Care Development Specialist Apprenticeship program
  • RRCC Staff are leading presentations with early childhood councils to ensure collaboration within communities and to connect with local early childhood programs
  • The RRCC AAS-ECE program currently serves a diverse population of students, predominantly female and first generation students

Lessons Learned

  • From the apprenticeship program, Child Care Innovations has experienced challenges learning how to move through the USDOL process with apprenticeship.
  • Recently Child Care Innovation moved the apprenticeship from a time-based apprenticeship to a competency-based apprenticeship. This has allowed us to make the move towards the Degreed Apprenticeship. The biggest challenges have been understanding how to meet the requirements of the college and not lose the uniqueness of the apprenticeship program.
  • From the RRCC ECE program perspectives, the time needed to work on this project with crosswalk alignments and created a process for evaluating demonstrated knowledge and skills has been substantial. Hindsight being 20/20, it would have been beneficial to have a small workgroup sharing the workload, but with tight funding and sticky requirements for work overload assignments in our faculty compensation and load process, this has limited the amount of time during the work week available to dedicate to this project.
  • A second primary area of concern has been navigating all the associated areas of the college impacted by this work including the creation of a process with the Assessment center for evaluating PLA credit requests, Student Records processes for applying PLA credit to official transcripts, the Academic Affairs processes to ensure rigor of evaluation to meet our Higher Learning Commissions standards for institutional accreditation. We have been using C-BEN guidelines and resources as we navigate these issues.
  • Another challenge this program has experienced is when individuals who start the program for Degreed Apprenticeship may already be affiliated with their local community college and have to make the change to Red Rocks Community College. They are not always willing or wanting to do this step. This will continue to be a challenge until this prototype is widely adopted by the other community colleges within the Colorado Community College System (CCCS).

Improving Education and Employment Outcomes