Universal Pre-K: What is it and Why Does it Affect Me?

young female preschool teacher playing with young girl and boy

“Education has to start at the earliest possible age. Studies say the earlier a child starts learning, the better he or she does down the road, but we are not doing enough to give all of our kids that change. Fewer than three in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.”

- President Barack Obama in his 2013 State of the Union address.

The recent statements President Obama made in favor of universal access to preschool were bold, poignant and timely. They tugged at our heartstrings and were written to inspire us to get up and do something for the children of today and generations of the future.

But many people fail to understand or become confused by the complexities of the initiative and what it really means. So let’s look at the facts and answer this question: What exactly is universal pre-kindergarten (pre-K)?

Universal Pre-K is a movement within the American education system to make access to preschool education available to all families, similar to the way kindergarten is available to all 5- and 6-year-olds. Like kindergarten, the pre-K idea is to provide voluntary education programs that include homeschooling and alternative education.

The term universal pre-K means that these programs are available for any child in any state, regardless of the child’s abilities and family income, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

How is pre-K different from what is already in place for early childhood education (ECE)?

One of the biggest differences between pre-K and ECE is that pre-K makes preschool available to all children within the preschool age bracket – typically 3- and 4-year-olds. ECE, on the other hand, refers to the overarching umbrella of education that includes children from birth through 8-years old.

As of 2012, only four percent of 3-year-olds in the U.S. were enrolled in a state-run or head start pre-K program. This is in large part due to the additional cost of sending children to preschool programs. The average cost for a 4-year-old in full-time child care is almost $12,000, according to Child Care Aware of America.

Making publicly-funded pre-K programs available to all children would also allow thousands of mothers to join the workforce. This means a universal pre-K program could potentially help families spend less on education and also add a second income to the family.

But financial stability isn’t the only benefit of universal pre-K.

Researchers agree that brain development in children in the years leading up to kindergarten lays the foundation for their future success. Pre-K programs promote age appropriate educational experiences for children, including the development of language, early literacy skills, and cognitive, physical and social skills.

Ultimately, the benefits of pre-K programs follow students beyond their school years and into adult life.

Why should college students care?

Currently, 38 out of 50 states (and the District of Columbia) offer some type of universal pre-K program, according to the State of Preschool Yearbook. Therefore, education students need to understand the intricacies of these programs and what they mean for state licensure and potential career opportunities.

“Our graduates [of Rasmussen College] are qualified to teach pre-K, however, individual states have their own requirements,” says Cecilia Westby, dean of the School of Education at Rasmussen College. “Some states may require only state-licensed teachers to teach in pre-K. So students must identify the requirements to teach in a pre-K program in their state.”

In addition, students looking to teach pre-K are generally required to hold a Bachelor’s degree in education as well as an early childhood education certification.

The takeaway

It’s clear that universal pre-K is a hot topic and will continue to be so in the future. Because it’s a relatively new initiative, things like state licensure, job opportunities and education requirements are fluid. So it’s a good idea to stay on top of any new developments.

If you’re interested in early childhood education in general, check out these compelling reasons why you should earn a Bachelor’s degree in ECE.

Finally, if you’re looking for ways to make a positive change for your future by earning a degree, take a look at our 2013 Education Career Outlook Guide.

Kendall Bird

Kendall is a Social Media Strategist at Collegis Education who is focused on bringing awareness and engagement to Rasmussen College's social media properties. She is passionate about helping others, the power of education and building strategies that put the needs of students first. 


Related Content

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen College to support its educational programs. Rasmussen College may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college.

Add your comment


Please enter your name.


Please enter your email.


Please enter your comment.


chart-credential-laddering-healthcare-management 0 Credits 90 Credits 180 Credits 48 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE’S DEGREE Start Here MASTER’S DEGREE PURSUERS End Here BACHELOR’S DEGREE End Here MASTER’S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-rsb 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 90 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 180 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-rsd 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 91 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 181 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-rsjs 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 91 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 180 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-rsn 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 91 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 181 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE logo-accreditation-acen logo-accreditation-ccne ras-logo-flame ras-logo-horizontal ras-logo-stacked icon-bank icon-general-connect icon-general-degree icon-general-discuss icon-general-email icon-general-find icon-general-laptop icon-general-leader icon-general-map icon-general-paperwork icon-general-phone icon-general-speak-out icon-head-heart icon-mglass icon-scales icon-camera icon-filter icon-info-circle icon-mail-forward icon-play-solid icon-quote-mark-left icon-quote-mark-right icon-share-square-o icon-spinner icon-tag icon-simple-chat icon-simple-desktop icon-simple-find icon-simple-hamburger icon-simple-phone icon-testimonial-quotes icon-colored-advance icon-colored-arrows-cross-curve icon-colored-build icon-colored-bulb-analytics icon-colored-certificate icon-colored-continual-developement icon-colored-folder-mortarboard icon-colored-globe-pen icon-colored-growth icon-colored-hand-bubble icon-colored-head-blocks icon-colored-head-cog icon-colored-laptop-cbe-skyscraper icon-colored-laptop-webpage icon-colored-monitor-paper-scan icon-colored-national icon-colored-police-light icon-colored-prep icon-colored-presenter icon-colored-regional icon-colored-skyscraper icon-colored-save-time icon-colored-state icon-colored-student-centered icon-colored-support icon-colored-world-experience icon-social-facebook-square-colored icon-social-facebook-square icon-social-facebook icon-social-google-plus-square icon-social-google-plus icon-social-instagram icon-social-linkedin-square-colored icon-social-linkedin-square icon-social-linkedin icon-social-pinterest-p icon-social-twitter-square icon-social-twitter icon-social-youtube-play-colored icon-social-youtube-play icon-util-checkbox-white icon-util-checkbox icon-util-checked-white icon-util-checked icon-util-chevron-down icon-util-chevron-left icon-util-chevron-right icon-util-chevron-up icon-util-language-switch icon-util-loading icon-util-open-window-button icon-util-open-window-link icon-util-pdf-button icon-util-pdf-link icon-util-refresh icon-util-x