UNK to help fill workforce gap in early childhood care

KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - The University of Nebraska at Kearney's new Early Childhood Education Center will help fill the need for quality childcare in Nebraska.

There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate UNK's new Early Childhood Education Center at 3 p.m. Tuesday. The building is located south of U.S. Highway 30 near the Village Flats. (Source: Kelsey Dickeson, KSNB)

The new $7.8 million facility will replace the university's old one. It's 19,000 square feet with 11 rooms. UNK faculty will provide early education for up to 180 kids from infants to six year old.

Programs are open to UNK students and faculty as well families in the community.

Students will work alongside professors to get hands on experience in areas such as education, nursing, physical therapy, communication disorders, social work and psychology.

"When a new facility like this comes together and we can give back to the state, and send our students out prepared, this does that," said Todd Gottula, senior director of marketing and communications at UNK. "It's a training ground for them. I think we're going to see it pay off in the state with some of those workforce needed in these areas."

There's currently a lack of quality early childcare workers throughout the state. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute reports there are nearly 80 percent of kids from birth to age five in some form of paid childcare in Nebraska, but there aren't enough workers to meet that need.

According to the Buffett Institute, there are currently a little more than 2,000 people serving at-risk children in that same age group: The need is almost five times that.

More quality childhood care, and more people to provide that care, all work together to fill the current workforce gap and boost the economy.

"Previously we only served the campus population. Now that this is opened up to the community, we're going to be taking more students and more children. We're going to hire a lot of people here, so we're filling some employment needs also with providing good jobs for people," Gottula said.

Gottula said teachers will use a Montessori style of learning. Professors will work with kids on reading, writing, music, art and the sciences. They'll also have lots of indoor and outdoor activities.

The university only has a few spots left for the program. If you're interested you can visit unk.edu/plambeckcenter for an application.

There will be a ribbon cutting at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the new Early Childhood Education Center. It's located South of U.S. Highway 30 near the Village Flats in the University Village.

The facility will officially open in November.