NIU, Elgin Community College partner for Special Education transfer pathway

Another bachelor’s degree pathway is now available for Elgin-area students who want to become NIU College of Education-graduated teachers without traveling to DeKalb.

NIU and Elgin Community College will launch a cohort this fall in Special Education, the second such collaboration and a new option in addition to the Elementary Education program that began in 2018.

Both are part of the NIU College of Education’s PLEDGE initiative – Partnering to Lead and Empower District-Grown Educators – that is supplying urban, suburban and rural school districts with a plentiful, well-prepared and diverse educational workforce at all levels.

Future teachers pursuing the B.S.Ed. in Learning Behavior Specialist I through this inaugural cohort will start their coursework at ECC with coordinated academic advising and, two years later, transfer seamlessly into NIU, which will deliver all classes either in-person at ECC, or virtually, toward a May 2025 graduation.

Many then will return as teachers to the hometown districts where they were raised and specially recruited from, which includes Elgin’s U-46 and Algonquin-based District 300.

  • Ready to register? Contact Brittany Wereminski, coordinator of Recruitment for the NIU College of Education, at to get started!
Laura Hedin
Laura Hedin

Laura Hedin, chair of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, calls the latest agreement “an extremely exciting development that will help to alleviate some of the teacher shortages in special education.”

“Special education is the most critical teacher shortage in the state of Illinois,” Hedin said, “so it’s imperative that we find ways for students to get that licensure in an efficient way that’s also affordable for them. What makes the most sense is for them to take a lot of their core content at ECC and then transfer to NIU with those foundations courses already done.”

Parul Raval, a professor in the Education department at ECC, said she and her colleagues are excited about the partnership that provides an opportunity for students who want bachelor’s degrees, professional educator licensure and work in special education.

“The ECC-NIU partnership is a game-changer as it provides an opportunity to pursue a meaningful career and offers an affordable college education,” Raval said. “A major goal of this partnership is to meet the labor market demand for educators, especially in the area of bilingual special education and K-12 special education.”

ECC’s “vision for the pre-service teachers is to ensure teacher preparation and development that is equity-focused, evidence-based and pedagogically sound,” she added.

“At its heart is to promote genuine care and dedication in serving the needs of diverse students, families and communities,” Raval said. “For me, it is an honor to be part of a team that could ‘grow our own educators’ and bring this dream to life for our students – the future educators!”

Parul Raval and Elizabeth Herrera
Parul Raval and Elizabeth Herrera

Elizabeth Herrera, an academic advisor at ECC, called the agreement “truly amazing news for our students.”

“As an academic advisor, I feel my role is to help students reach their goals. Having this special education partnership with NIU makes my job easier,” Herrera said. “Students who usually don’t have the option to commute or live on campus now have the opportunity to earn their Special Education degree through NIU but on our Elgin campus.”

Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development for the NIU College of Education, is confident of positive outcomes.

“The need for special education teachers is high in districts across the state and has been identified consistently as a need in U-46 and District 300,” Johnson said.

“The clinical experiences will take place in these spaces and will be supervised by faculty and instructors from the same district,” she added, “so the idea of community, and remaining in your community, and being part of that climate and culture, will be very similar to the model we’re currently implementing in our Elementary Education program.”

Once those ECC students become official Huskies in time for the Fall 2023 semester, they will:

Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson

Prospects for employment are almost guaranteed, Johnson said, whether near home or elsewhere.

“Our students are perceived as being well-prepared upon entry, and our students are consistently hired upon graduation. I receive requests all the time for graduates from our programs, and these students will have gone through the same educator preparation program,” Johnson said. “It’s our curriculum, it’s our field experiences and it’s our partnerships, all working together to prepare highly qualified teachers who are ready to make a difference.”

That B.S.Ed. in Learning Behavior Specialist I curriculum, Hedin said, recently earned “commendable” status in the Illinois State Board of Education’s new Illinois Educator Preparation Profiles. The report also gave NIU’s degree its top-level “exemplary” designation in the areas of Knowledge and Skills for Teaching and Performance as Classroom Teachers.

Meanwhile, she gives great credit to faculty in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“We have content and knowledge covered for every area in special education; it’s a very broad and deep field, so we have to cover K-21 and we have to cover every disability area: visual disability, learning disability, development disability, transition specialists,” she said.

“Our research also keeps us current with the field, so we stay abreast of high-leverage practices, of technology, of things that are working in schools,” she added. “Our faculty get out into the field, so their contemporary experience makes them exemplary teachers of teacher-candidates. We aren’t just focused on the research side. We’re getting out there with boots on the ground, so we know what our candidates are expected to know and do.”

David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs in the NIU College of Education, is excited to watch the ECC partnership continue to grow as well as Dean Laurie Elish-Piper’s PLEDGE initiative.

David Walker
David Walker

His optimism starts with the people on the other side of the table.

“ECC is a great partner because many of the professionals with whom we’re working are, first and foremost, Huskies. They know our college culture well. They’ve graduated from the College of Education with undergraduate degrees and graduate degrees,” Walker said. “Also, their student body helps with a diversity of perspective and a diversity of locale to infuse in our student body, and I think that’s a real positive.”

Fruits of this collaboration also confirm that “the concept of our PLEDGE model is real with its three-pronged approach to grow-your-own educator, have them go back to their communities and become professional teachers,” he said.

“Our relationship with ECC has never been stronger, and this is really just taking it to another level,” Walker said. “Between ECC and the College of Education, our curriculum is great, and our field experiences, under Jennifer Johnson’s directorship, have never been better. All of these elements come together to produce fantastic professionals.”

A similar transfer pathway in Early Childhood Education will be launched in Fall 2021.

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