Early Childhood Learning a Great Investment

Last week, we held the President’s Summit on Early Learning at the Talaris Institute in Seattle. The idea for this summit was spawned a couple of years ago when President Floyd was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Foundation for Early Learning’s Annual Leadership Luncheon. During his talk, President Floyd announced his commitment to early learning and that WSU would be sponsoring the summit at a future date.

I owe my interest in early learning to Jeanne Anderson, the former executive director of the Foundation for Early Learning. When I arrived at WSU, Jeanne was serving on the CAHNRS Advisory Council and asked me to serve on her board. As I began to learn more about the topic, I became more and more convinced that improving children’s readiness for school was one of the most critical issues facing our society. The statistics are compelling – perhaps staggering – as to the percentage of students who are not school ready and the impact of school readiness on lifelong success. Unfortunately, over 50 percent of our children are entering kindergarten at risk of failure, and the percentages are much higher for children of color or from lower income families. As an economist, I was most compelled by the arguments put forth by Nobel Laureate economist Dr. James Heckman, who has shown that programs targeting school readiness for children from disadvantaged families have the highest economic and social returns. More specifically, investing $1 in a child’s success early on saves $17 down the road, with tangible results measured in lower crime, fewer single parents, and higher individual earnings and education levels.

The President’s Summit was an outstanding event and showcased much of the work done at WSU in the early learning space. CAHNRS’s Department of Human Development was front and center, and the work of faculty from both Pullman and Vancouver was showcased throughout the day. Perhaps the highlight of the day was an address by Governor Gregoire, who praised WSU as “leading the way in advancing early learning at four year institutions.” She was particularly laudatory of HD’s recently introduced Certificate in Early Childhood Development and Care. Credentialing of childcare providers is a critical issue, and this visionary and proactive response by HD places them with a unique and targeted program with large and ever-growing demand. The Governor also acknowledged WSU’s excellence in its Child Development Lab, which is operated by HD, as well as its highly successful distance degree programs which provides four-year degree access for place-bound students.

So, kudos to our Department of Human Development and everyone involved in advancing early learning in our state. If you have not read about this topic, I would encourage you to invest the time.