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How to Apply
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If you work or have worked in early childhood education and you're seeking additional credentials and/or a degree in early childhood education, you may be eligible for the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE) Scholarship Program. The program was created to address the shortage of qualified early childhood educators by encouraging the pursuit of credentials and advancement of already-held degrees in early childhood education, with an aim toward building a strong, well-prepared workforce. If you would like to be connected to someone who can walk you through all the available educational opportunities, consider completing the Higher Education Navigator Interest Form. A Higher Education Navigator from your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency will reach out to you and can help you find and enroll in the college that best meets your needs.
Awards are available for undergraduate and – for the 2023-24 academic year – graduate study at public and non-profit private 2- and 4-year Gateways-entitled and Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity member institutions. For students attending community colleges and public universities, the scholarship will cover the applicant's total cost of attendance for an academic year (including summer) after other financial aid received. Students at participating non-profit private institutions may receive an amount no more than the cost of the most expensive undergraduate program of study in the early childhood education field at an Illinois public college or university. Recipients of the scholarship are expected to continue or return to teaching or direct services in the early childhood care and education field in Illinois after they complete their program of study. The ECACE Program has been funded for the last three academic years (2021-22 through 2023-24) through federal coronavirus response dollars. It is hoped that the state legislature will consider some level of state funding for the scholarship for the 2024-25 academic year during its spring legislative session. When more information is available, updates will be posted to this page.
To be eligible for an award during the 2023-24 academic year, you must:
- be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
- be a member of the incumbent workforce, currently working or having worked in the early childhood field (in either a licensed or license-exempt facility), including home-based child care (e.g., family, friend, neighbor), center-/community-based child care, Preschool for All programs, school-based preschool settings, and Head Start programs, that serve children from birth to age 5. Acceptable positions include teachers, assistant teachers, directors, family child care providers and assistants. Applicants must provide documentation confirming their current membership in the Gateways to Opportunity® Registry.
- A licensed facility is a child care program in a center or home (family child care) that is licensed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Most programs that serve more than three children aged 0 – 12 in a center or home are required to be licensed. Public and private schools and programs in other settings may not be required to be licensed and are typically categorized as "license-exempt", if serving children aged three and older.
- License-exempt refers to child care that is not required to be licensed by DCFS. They may include programs operated by public or private elementary school systems, high schools or institutions of higher learning; programs conducted on federal government premises; and other programs recognized or registered with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), if children in the program are aged three and older.
- be enrolled or accepted for enrollment on a full- or part-time (at least 3 credit hours) basis at the undergraduate or graduate level at a public or non-profit private 2- or 4-year Gateways-entitled and Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE) member institution, and be pursuing at least one of the following:
- an Associate of Applied Science degree (or related certificate) in early childhood education or an associate degree with a concentration in early childhood at an approved college.
- a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, with or without a Professional Educator License; or
- for those who already hold a bachelor's degree:
- courses to make you eligible for a lead teacher position in a licensed program;
- Director, Early Childhood or Infant Toddler Credentials;
- a Professional Educator License with an Early Childhood Endorsement;
- for those who already have a Professional Educator License, an Early Childhood Endorsement;
- for those who already have a Professional Educator License with an Early Childhood Endorsement, additional endorsements or letters of approval in Bilingual, English as a Second Language, or Special Education; or,
- for those seeking licensure, and/or an additional endorsement, a Master's degree in early childhood.
- maintain satisfactory academic progress as established by your college.
- complete the online application process by submitting a complete Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity Scholarship Program application and a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) on or before by the ISAC-established date in order to receive priority access to funding.
- be certified as meeting eligibility requirements by the college at which you will use the scholarship.
- not be in default on any federal student loan, nor owe a refund on any State or federal grant. If you are in default, you may re-establish your eligibility.
To view a listing of Illinois colleges approved to participate in this program, click on the link for the appropriate school year. Click on the name of the school you are interested in to be linked to information about its Early Childhood Education programs.
The ECACE Scholarship Program interactive application for the 2023-24 academic year may be accessed online via the Program Applications & Status Checks area of the ISAC Student Portal. The online application has built-in edits to prevent errors, and we will send immediate confirmation to your e-mail address that your application has been received at ISAC.
An ECACE Scholarship application must be submitted for each academic year in which benefits are to be used. Applicants are also required to complete the FAFSA for the same academic year that you are applying for the scholarship. To determine your eligibility for the scholarship, the ECACE-participating Illinois college(s) at which you plan to use the award must be listed on your FAFSA (see below if attending more than one college during the same term). The FAFSA results will be used to prioritize awarding, although you do not need to demonstrate financial need to receive the award.
If you haven't filed an online FAFSA before, you will first need to create an FSA ID at studentaid.gov/fsa-id to login and use as your electronic signature. Once you access the online FAFSA, you will be asked to choose the school year for which you will be completing the FAFSA. This will need to be the same year as the ECACE application you are submitting. For example, if you are filling out an ECACE application for the 2023-24 school year, you must also complete the 2023-24 FAFSA.
You are encouraged to complete and submit both the ECACE application and the FAFSA on or before the date for priority access to funding, which is announced when the application is made available. The priority access to funding date for the 2023-24 academic year was August 7, 2023. Untimely applications (i.e., those received after that date) will continue to be considered only if funding remains available after all timely, qualified applicants have been awarded. A notification will be sent to applicants after a final decision has been made regarding their award status.
On the ECACE application, you will be asked to list the college you plan to attend. If you are undecided, list your first choice; if necessary, the college of record can be changed after your application has been submitted. See below if attending more than one college during the same term. You will also be asked to provide the job title for your most recent position, which must match what is listed on the Eligibility Verification Form. See below for information about the Eligibility Verification Form.
The application process requires proof of employment as part of the incumbent workforce through an Eligibility Verification Form. Incumbent workforce is defined as having worked in the early childhood industry (in either a licensed or license-exempt facility), including home-based child care (e.g., family, friend, neighbor), center-/community-based child care, Preschool for All programs, school-based preschool settings, and Head Start programs, that serve children from birth to age 5. Acceptable positions include teachers, assistant teachers, directors, family child care providers and assistants.
An Eligibility Verification Form from the Gateways Registry must be downloaded and/or printed and then uploaded when completing the application. You will not be allowed to proceed through the application without uploading the required documentation, so it is recommended to obtain and print your verification form before starting the online application. No other documentation of your employment history will be accepted. Registry members will enter through the Dashboard Login to access the form. Follow these instructions to access your Eligibility Verification Form. If you're not already a member, you can complete your registration on the site and then obtain your verification form. You must be a current Gateways Registry member to qualify for the scholarship. The Eligibility Verification Form contains members' employment history, with assigned position codes. For award consideration, at least one of the position codes must be an eligible code, and the job title for your most recent position reported on your ECACE application must match what is listed on the Eligibility Verification Form.
If you have prior employment that is not listed on your Eligibility Verification Form, you may request that it be added by completing the Reporting Prior Employment for ECACE Scholarship form. Once the information has been added (usually 2 business days), you will receive an e-mail notification, at which point you will be able to again access the Registry and obtain an updated Eligibility Verification Form. The updated form can then be uploaded during the application process.
If you plan to or are attending more than one college during the same term, list only your college of record on the ECACE Scholarship Program application. Contact your financial aid office(s) for assistance if you are unsure which college is considered your college of record. Your college of record and the other college at which you plan to take additional courses must be ECACE-participating schools, and both colleges must be listed on your FAFSA. Be sure to notify both colleges that you have submitted an ECACE Scholarship Program application.
After you submit your ECACE Scholarship application, the process is as follows:
- You will immediately receive an e-mail confirming that your application was received at ISAC. Application processing time may be up to 4 weeks.
- Be sure the financial aid office at your college knows you will be enrolling and that you have submitted an ECACE Scholarship Program application.
- If your application, including required documentation, is incomplete, you will receive a letter from ISAC explaining the reason(s) and advising you how to resolve the issue.
- If, based on information you provided on your application, you are not eligible, you will receive a Notice of Ineligibility.
- Once ISAC determines that both the ECACE Scholarship application and the FAFSA have been submitted, you will receive a letter stating that your application is considered complete. Unless you need to change any of your application data (see Changes to Application Data below), there is nothing more for you to do at this point.
- Following the date for priority access to funding (August 7, 2023 for the 2023-24 academic year), ISAC will send a letter notifying you of your pre-qualified status. Pre-qualified means that you have met the initial eligibility requirements and the next step will be verification of your enrollment and program eligibility by your college.
- Your college will certify your eligibility and request payment on your behalf. Program funds are disbursed directly to the college.
- If the college determines you are not eligible, you will receive a Notice of Ineligibility.
- Applications are processed in date-received order.
- Renewal applicants (applicants who received an ECACE Scholarship in the previous academic year) will receive priority access to funding.
- ISAC prioritizes recipients from among the neediest of applicants, according to information from the FAFSA.
- Qualified applicants may receive ECACE Scholarship funds only up to the amount by which their cost of attendance exceeds the amount of other financial aid they are receiving.
Only one application for this program may be submitted per academic year. Consequently, if you need to change your response(s) to any item(s) and/or update any information after the application has been submitted, you will need to provide the information to ISAC. Examples of items that may need to be updated include demographic information (i.e., name, address, telephone number, etc.), your college of record and the impacted terms (e.g., full year, or fall or spring semester). These changes can be submitted to ISAC using one of the below methods, but cannot be done over the telephone.
- via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
- via FAX to 847.831.8549
- via letter to ISAC Dept D, 1755 Lake Cook Road, Deerfield, IL 60015-5209
The request must include the last four digits of your Social Security number (for identification purposes) and clearly state what change(s) need to be made. These changes will not affect the application "received date." In order to allow adequate processing time and prevent a loss of benefits, changes to your college of record should to be reported prior to the beginning of the applicable term(s).
ISAC works with the college to disburse funds for this program. The college certifies student eligibility and then submits a payment request on behalf of the student. ISAC processes the payment request and submits the information as needed so that the State Comptroller's Office can release funds.
Depending on the college, students may be responsible for payment until program funds are received. Qualified applicants who are awaiting receipt of funds from this program should contact the Financial Aid Office to determine the college's policy.
Note that ISAC routinely updates this section as new information becomes available. Be sure to check back periodically for the current processing status.
For the 2023-24 Academic Year
(last updated on August 17, 2023)
The 2023-24 Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE) Scholarship Program application – used to request funding for the fall 2023, winter/spring 2024, and summer 2024 terms – is now available.
The 2023-24 FAFSA, which also must be completed as part of the ECACE application process, is also available.
The 2023-24 date for priority access to funding (August 7, 2023) has passed. Untimely applications (i.e., those received after that date) will be considered only if funding remains available after all timely, qualified applicants have been awarded. You are encouraged to complete and submit the application as soon as possible.
Applicants who have completed the online application process – which means submitting a complete ECACE Scholarship Program application, including the required documentation, to ISAC and completing a FAFSA – will be notified of their pre-qualified status via a letter from ISAC. If, based on information provided on the application, the applicant is not eligible, ISAC will send a Notice of Ineligibility.
A comparison chart provides a side-by-side view of the following programs, which are designed specifically for individuals studying to become teachers: ECACE Scholarship, Minority Teachers of Illinois (MTI) Scholarship, Illinois Special Education Teacher Tuition Waiver (SETTW), Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois, and federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant.