Establishing New Partnerships: Head Start and Community Colleges

September 13, 2023

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) and the National Head Start Association (NHSA) are excited to launch the Kids on Campus User Guide. This guide is a culmination of the collaboration between the two organizations that was funded by the ECMC Foundation and the Seldin Haring-Smith Foundation. Since March 2023, ACCT and NHSA have worked to curate materials to simplify partnership exploration and the contract process between community colleges and Head Start providers. Through the Kids on Campus Initiative, ACCT and NHSA plan to recruit interested Head Starts and community colleges to explore on-campus partnerships with the goal of launching 75 co-location sites.

To support the creation of the Kids on Campus User Guide, ACCT and NHSA facilitated six focus groups with various stakeholders and members. These focus groups allowed us to learn from current/active partnerships and share the lessons learned and what to prepare for while getting these new partnerships established. Additionally, we were aware that there are instances where potential collaborations were roadblocked and did not become an established partnership. These roadblocked partnerships helped inform us on key areas that made the relationship unfeasible at the time. To gather insights on other resources that would be needed to establish partnerships, we  facilitated focus groups with community colleges and Head Start providers that desired partnerships. Our final focus groups allowed us to learn directly from student parents and how these types of partnerships could or have supported them to obtain access to child care on their journey to completing their education. 

To make these partnerships a reality, we ask community colleges to offer free (or low cost) on-campus facilities to Head Start programs. The Head Start programs will use their expertise and federal funding to run the program, either independently or in partnership with another child care provider on campus.

Kids on Campus User Guide

We have designed this user guide to support community colleges and Head Start programs that want to work together in this type of partnership. Each organization  needs to be clear on its own capacity to collaborate and the value it brings to the table, as well as what it expects from its partner. Although each relationship is unique, the process for each on-campus Head Start and community college partnership follows the same primary steps. The resources in this user guide will help both organizations connect, negotiate, and launch a successful partnership.

Before You Begin

Prior to initially reaching out to your counterpart, it is important to understand what this partnership entails, how your future partner’s business operates, and what benefits you hope to create by working together. This section of our guide provides an overview of what these partnerships could look like, as well as an overview of how both organizations are structured. After all, Head Start programs and community colleges have very different leadership structures and different vocabularies! Finally, we have provided a customized resource for both community colleges and Head Start programs that will help you review what you want from this partnership, what you can bring to it, as well as a few best practice tips for connecting with your potential future partner.

Partnership Profiles

Every partnership is unique, and some may look and operate entirely differently from one just down the road. In this section, we have written up descriptions of several existing partnerships from across the nation to help you see what is possible and which might be a good starting point for yours. These profiles are intended to serve as a starting point to crafting your own ideal partnership.

Navigating Negotiations

Going through the negotiation process is the most detailed part of setting up these partnerships. You’ll need to build relationships, answer some difficult questions, and finalize the legal components of your partnership before you can officially get up and running. This section of our guide will help you run through a list of questions you’ll need to answer together—there’s no right or wrong way to set up these partnerships, but you’ll have to end up on the same page. We have also provided some sample contracts and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) checklist to help you work through these decisions. You may need to build or retrofit existing classrooms, so we have provided guidance around planning new construction or retrofitting existing space.

Launching Your Partnership

Once negotiations are complete and you’ve signed on the dotted line, your partnership has officially begun! However, there is still a lot that goes into a successful launch and ongoing partnership. In this final section of the user guide, we have provided resources around marketing materials that can support recruitment of children and families, as well as potential staff. There are also many college departments that could engage with Head Start in a way that supports both the program and the students, so we’ve provided a list of opportunities that could enhance your work together.

What's Next?

Interested in accessing the Kids on Campus User Guide? The full toolkit can be found on our website. In looking forward to Phase II of the Kids on Campus project, ACCT and NHSA plan to recruit interested Head Start providers and community colleges to explore on-campus partnerships with the goal of launching 75 co-location sites. Utilizing the Kids on Campus resource guide, we will be able to support student parents with the greatest needs to access child care on-campus, leading to completion of their education and onward to economic mobility.

Sean Robins is the Policy Associate at the Association of Community College Trustees leading the Kids on Campus Initiative to match Head Start providers with interested community colleges to explore on-campus partnerships.

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