Northern State University introduces 2-year program, full tuition scholarships to address childcare workforce demand

ABERDEEN, S.D.(Press Release) – Northern State University is launching a 2-year degree program in early childhood education to help meet the demand for qualified childcare providers in South Dakota.

In partnership with the South Dakota Department of Social Services, Northern’s Early Childhood Education scholarship will provide full tuition, fees, and book scholarships to five students who start the program this fall. Scholarship recipients will commit to working in childcare in South Dakota for two years after earning their associate degree from Northern.

Dr. Anna Schwan, Interim Dean of the Millicent Atkins School of Education, explains that Northern’s associate degree in early childhood education serves two purposes, “Firstly, the program immediately prepares students to become qualified childcare providers. Secondly, it serves as a career ladder for students to become elementary or special education teachers.

“All 60 credits in Northern’s associate degree in early childhood education count toward a bachelor’s in elementary or special education,” notes Dr. Schwan.

Northern’s associate degree in early childhood education will contribute to improving childcare in the region.

Dr. Nicole Schutter, assistant professor of education and program coordinator, emphasizes the importance of the early years in developing the social and emotional skills needed for success in the K-12 classroom.

“Preparing more students to provide quality childcare in the state will have a positive ripple effect throughout all grades, from preschool to college,” explains Dr. Schutter.

Northern’s early childhood education program stands out as the only 2-year program among the state universities in South Dakota.

The demand for early childhood educators has reached critical levels. South Dakota alone has over 100 open positions in early childhood settings, with most employers listing an associate degree in early childhood education as a preferred qualification.

Aberdeen Family YMCA Youth Development Center Director Mike Quast expresses enthusiasm about Northern’s new program and the scholarship that will encourage more students to pursue the degree.

“Northern State University offering this new early learning program will encourage current and aspiring childcare providers in the community to pursue higher education,” he said. “This, in turn, promotes a culture of continuous professional development, leading to an overall improvement in the quality of childcare services offered in our community.”

“Head Start is thrilled that Northern State University will be offering an associate degree in early childhood education,” explains Juli Schultz, executive director of Northeast South Dakota Head Start. Northern’s 2-year degree in early childhood education “will be so beneficial to ensure preschools are offering programing with highly qualified individuals in the classrooms.”

Both Quast and Schultz see Northern’s program helping their current staff, as well those new to the profession.

“The degree is also a wonderful option for those already in the preschool world to continue their education,” Schultz added. “This benefits our Head Start Program as we require our teaching staff to be properly certified.”

For more information about Northern State University’s associate degree in early childhood education program, please contact Dr. Nicole Schutter at or to express interest in Northern’s Early Childhood Education Scholarship visit