Graduate Certificate

The online graduate certificate in early childhood & family policy is sequenced in four 8-week courses that can be completed in two semesters. Experiential learning opportunities are embedded into each course to enhance the relevance and translation of coursework to your career.

Required Courses

Child development theory and research have had a profound influence on early childhood education and care (ECEC) policies, programs, and services in the United States and internationally. In eight weeks (three hours/week), this course provides an overview of the research on young children (birth to age five), demographics of this population, critical domains of development, significance of early brain development, and issues of inequality and disproportionality that deeply shape child outcomes. It attempts to explore what develops in the first years of life, why this period is so critical, what have been the central questions that have driven both research and policy, whether policies and research have helped to reduce inequality and advance equity, and what critical issues are still unanswered (or even unasked). The course familiarizes students with the cultural ideas, beliefs, values, and social purposes that have shaped and continue to influence children and families in the United States. Further, the course presents research from a range of disciplines (e.g., psychology, sociology, education, neuroscience, economics) to help students understand the complexity of developmental factors relevant to ECEC policy development and program design. The goals of the course are to help students understand the importance of early development, the critical need to develop ECEC policies grounded in research and practice, and the effectiveness and limitations of ECEC policies to address fundamental issues of inequality. Finally, the course is intended to enable students to place their own professional interests and concerns in a broader historical and educational context.
This course focuses on the practice of ECEC, as well as the role of families and policymakers in altering practices and policies. Beginning with sessions that are designed to provide rich background, the course offers an analysis of the critical forces that shaped contemporary ECEC. Following this, current services and policies are examined, as are inventive theories about how to organize such services to achieve optimal quality, equity, sustainability, and efficiency. With this background in mind, sessions turn to more detailed examination of the diverse challenges that characterize the field. Positioned to be both realistic and optimistic, the sessions confront the issues and unveil some of the thinking and efforts to redress them. In so doing, the course focuses on quality and diverse efforts to achieve it; the lack of equity; the need for more effective approaches to the workforce, funding, and governance; and the importance of parental voice. By its conclusion, you will have familiarity with policies governing and shaping ECEC, as well as challenges and potential solutions. You will be given diverse opportunities to apply your learnings through a series of individual and group projects.
Policy research and analysis are key components in each stage of the policy cycle (agenda setting, policy formulation, policy adoption, policy implementation, policy evaluation, policy termination and policy change). Theory takes a prominent role in this course, as it provides the lens through which to understand the central questions, logics, and values that underpin how policy is understood and supported by analysts and researchers. Throughout the course, theories and policy tools will be applied to real-world examples, providing concrete opportunities to examine different, sometimes competing, analytic approaches and the contexts in which they are applied. To anchor our ability to compare/contrast theories and approaches, we will use a simplified policy analysis framework throughout the course to guide class discussions and to organize ideas (see course assignments for additional detail). The framework may ultimately also be useful for you to develop and refine your own, personalized situatedness in the broad field of policy analysis. This framework is guided by six key questions: 1. What is the problem that begs for a solution? What are the underlying assumptions behind this problem? 2. What indicators demonstrate the problem exists? 3. What is the rationale for government/policy intervention to address the problem? 4. Who are the key stakeholders related to the problem and the solution? 5. Who are the primary opponents to solving the problem this way? What alternative rationales/solutions might they recommend? 6. What evidence or measures of success would “prove” that the problem has been affected in the way the policy designers planned?
Divided into four units, this course is designed to provide a foundational knowledge of the fundamentals of policy creation, design, and development, with an emphasis on those policies that impact ECEC. The course focuses on how policy is constructed and who and what influences that construction. Especially important, the course addresses the critical roles that communication, advocacy, and ethics play as policy evolves. More specifically, the course will address: (i) the multiple venues and processes for creating public policies; (ii) different types of public ECEC funding; (iii) federal, state, and local policy roles; (iv) considerations of ethics and leadership from public policy and ECEC perspectives; and (v) the development of policy advocacy communications skills. Throughout the course, you will recognize that the policy cycle depends on a network of complex interactions among people within government (i.e., elected officials and bureaucrats) and multiple outside influencers (e.g., advocates, foundations, think tanks, and voters).
Program Summary
Cost per credit hour:

2023-2024: $600
2024-2025: $610
Learn more about Tuition and Cost

12 Hours

University Contact
These campus coordinators can help you navigate Great Plains IDEA. Click on the university name to learn more about how Great Plains IDEA works at that campus. Iowa State Online
Meagan Rau
Ashlee Murden
Kenya Wolff
Janice Clawson
Mel Sedlacek
University Members
Members of the Great Plains IDEA are universities accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Member universities recruit, admit and graduate students, teach in an academic program and contribute to the leadership and maintenance of the alliance. Membership in the alliance is a selective process that engages institutional leadership at all levels.

Reuel Drilon is a student in the gerontology and aging studies program.As a non-traditional college student in my early 50s, living and working in the Pacific Island of Guam, choosing the right program for graduate studies was very important to me. The process of selecting the right program was intentional – it had to offer a diverse student population, professors with real-life experiences, a safe space to share cultural perspectives, and a curriculum that offered classes that were aligned with students’ educational and professional goals. The Great Plains IDEA program met and exceeded all my expectations. Concepts from every course have been applied in my profession to the extent that it has aided in the expansion of our services and the population we serve. As I reflect on these successes, I attribute much of it to the genuine care of the GP IDEA professors who were as passionate about the success of each student as they were in the subjects they taught. GP IDEA was definitely the right program for me!

– – Reuel C. Drilon, Gerontology and Aging Studies Graduate Student,
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