Types of Degree Programs

For those who have a passion for making a difference in the lives of young children, early childhood education can be a very rewarding career. Because teaching these youngsters is so highly specialized, knowledge of child development is essential for all ECE professionals.

Preparing for a career in ECE may not be as clear-cut as it would be for those interested in teaching middle grades or high school since preschool programs often occur within a variety of settings, from public schools and Head Start classrooms to private preschool programs and childcare centers.  Because of the range of settings in which these programs occur, the varying regulations, regulatory authorities, rates of payment, and other differences, requirements for teaching in early childhood often differ between programs and employers. 

Establishing the path that is right for you in accordance with your needs and long terms goals is the first step in your journey to furthering your career in a field where you make a difference each and every day.

Non Degree Credentials

A The Child Development Associate® (CDA) is available in the following areas:

  • Preschool
  • Infant-Toddler
  • Family Child Care
  • Home Visitor

CDA - The Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential, commonly known as the CDA, is a national credential awarded by the national Council for Professional Recognition to teachers working with young children. The CDA may be earned after completing requirements set by the Council and is valid for a period of three years. After the three year period, the credential must be renewed.

The requirements to obtain a CDA include 480 hours of work experience and 120 clock hours of training in eight specific areas, which include introductory elements of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) standards for professional preparation.  The subject areas include: learning environment; physical and intellectual competence; social and emotional development; relationships with families; program management; and, professionalism. 

The training requirement can be completed through credit-bearing coursework provided by high schools or colleges, or noncredit-bearing coursework provided by colleges or training organizations not affiliated with any secondary or postsecondary education institution. Noncredit-bearing coursework may be recognized as credit-bearing if the CDA candidate chooses to enroll in a college program, depending on the design and alignment of the training and college courses. The amount of credits that students who complete these training programs can earn varies based on the training program and the college, but typically ranges from 0 to 9 credits for the three courses included. While some teachers working in roles that do not require college degrees or college level credentials may choose to complete a CDA as their highest-level credential, CDA training programs should offer all completers an entry ramp into the profession of early childhood education, guiding them toward a next level professional degree.

Degree Programs

Degree programs in early childhood education may include:

  • Associate of Arts (A.A.) in early childhood education
  • Associate of Science (A.S) in early childhood education
  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in early childhood education
  • Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in early childhood education
  • Master of Science (M.S.) in early childhood education
  • Master of Arts (M.A.) in early childhood education
  • Post-baccalaureate (ECE certificate program) in early childhood education
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.) in early childhood education
  • Ph.D. in early childhood education

Associate Degree

Earning an Associate’s degree in early childhood education will prepare you for being a practitioner in the field. An Associate’s degree in Early Childhood will provide the foundational knowledge in understanding the development of young children.  Some early childhood education programs require a minimum of an Associate’s degree in order to be a part of the teaching staff.

Bachelor’s Degree

A Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education is designed to prepare students to effectively work with young children birth through age 8. These programs provide students with the knowledge of methodology and practical skills needed to create a developmentally appropriate educational experience for youngsters that nurtures their learning and growth.

Some early childhood education programs required a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in order to be a teacher. 

A Bachelor’s Degree is the minimum degree requirement for certification in Pennsylvania. Teaching within the public school system in Pennsylvania requires certification, whether it is preschool or second grade and beyond.


Obtaining state certification is a rigorous process, but can make a huge difference in the advancement of your teaching career in the field of early childhood education. In the state of Pennsylvania, the minimum degree requirement for certification is a Bachelor’s degree. In order to teach within the public school system in Pennsylvania, a valid teaching certificate is required. Preschool teachers within public schools must hold a certification that enables them to teach in an early childhood setting. Other government funded programs (PreK Counts) and childcare settings may also require teachers to hold a valid certification.

Act 48 — What is Act 48?

Act 48 is a law that mandates all professionally certified educators in the state of Pennsylvania to complete continuing professional education activities every five calendar years in order to maintain an "active" certificate status.

Learn more about ACT 48 and PERMS >>

ECE Students on University Steps