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Career Development in Early Childhood Education

Research shows that the more education and training early care and education professionals have, the better the care and education children will receive, and this contributes to more positive short and long-term outcomes for children. Currently, Nebraska requires directors of early childhood programs to have a high school diploma or GED in order to work in licensed early childhood programs. Teachers/assistant teachers in child care centers must be at least nineteen years of age according to state licensing requirements. However, there are a variety of credentials and degree options available in Nebraska that can help prepare individuals to work with young children and their families and increase their earning potential. For anyone considering a career in the early childhood field, plan ahead, talk with others, including: colleagues in the field, coordinators at the Early Childhood Training Center, an academic counselor and the chair of the academic department of the college you plan to enroll in so that you select the career option that will work best for you.

The state of Nebraska has developed a Career Advising Guide. The guide includes information on the various roles in the early childhood field, salary and income information, and options for increasing education.

Download the October 2021 Nebraska Early Childhood Education Career Advising Guide

The following are some of the training/education options available to you:

Teacher Education Programs:

In-service Clock Hours: Twelve clock hours is the minimum training requirement of Health and Human Services Licensing. (Licensing is required of all center and family child care programs and preschools serving more than 3 children from one family for payment).

Child Development Associate Credential (CDA): The Council for Professional Recognition is a national organization that awards the CDA to early care and education professionals who have demonstrated their skills and competencies in working with young children and their families. This is an entry-level professional credential that recognizes community based-training and/or college credit and experience in early education. There are three areas of specialization in the CDA:

1) Center-based setting: infant/toddler or preschool;
2) Family Child Care Setting, and;
3) Home visitor setting.

This credential is roughly equivalent to one year of college. One of the benefits of the CDA is that it is recognized in many states and can be used as an entry-level credential. It must be renewed every three years. The CDA requires that you keep accurate records of your training hours. A CDA credential may be acquired through an on-site portfolio development process or in combination with some college credit courses. For people interested in pursuing a college degree at some point in time, the college credit option for a CDA would be the preferred method of obtaining the credential.

Learn more about Nebraska’s CDA pathways.

Continuing Education Units (CEUs): Ten clock hours of training in a topic offered by a master’s level trainer. Early Childhood CEUs are issued when training is arranged/brokered through entities which meet requirements of the Council on Professional Recognition in Washington, DC. In Nebraska, the only approved entity currently is the Early Childhood Training Center (ECTC), a statewide professional development project of the Nebraska Department of Education. CEUS are required to renew a Child Development Associate Credential.

Diploma/Certificate Option: Nebraska Community Colleges offer a one-year diploma in early childhood or child development. No credential is attached to this option. The coursework will give students a basic understanding of child development trends, curriculum planning, teacher-family communication, and program models. The number of credit hours required for the certificate varies based upon the college and whether they are on a semester or quarter system. If the college is on a semester system they require about 32-40 credit hours. If the college is on the quarter system they require about 50-75 credit hours.

Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education (A.A.S.): The Associate of Applied Science is earned at Nebraska community colleges. The A.A.S. is designed to meet the needs of students wishing to prepare for employment or who are presently employed in the field of early childhood education. The A.A.S. generally requires between 60-65 semester credit hours (110 quarter credit hours), depending on the college, and is focused almost entirely on early childhood or related courses. Most programs include a supervised internship where students have the opportunity to work in the field. A.A.S. degrees typically require between 15-22 semester credit hours (more if quarter credit hours) of general education courses, such as English, speech, history, or psychology. This is the degree option if you plan to seek employment immediately after completion of a two-year program. However, consider how your professional goals may change over time when considering this degree option as many of the credits earned from an A.A.S. degree many not transfer or count should you choose to continue your education to obtain a Bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university.

Associate in Science/Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education (A.S. or A.A.): Associate in Science/Arts degree can be earned at Nebraska’s community colleges. An A.S. or A.A. degree requires approximately 61-65 semester credit hours (90 quarter credit hours), with 37-41 credits in general education and approximately 21-36 semester credits of courses related to early education. A.S and A.A. degrees give students the opportunity to work in the field under supervision through an internship program. This is the degree route recommended if you want to transfer your credits to obtain a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university. Plan your transfer program with a counselor from the four-year institution you plan to attend.

Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development: This four-year degree is offered by a few of the four-year public and some private colleges and universities. When this major area of study is not linked to a teacher education program, it is not accompanied by a teaching credential. The degree does require general education courses, professional courses, early childhood courses and practicum. Many positions in the field of early care and education do not require state teacher certification. Because this degree currently does not lead to state teacher certification, institutions offering this degree may be in a better position to accept early childhood or education courses in transfer from accredited two-year colleges. Consider your professional goals and the type of employment you plan to pursue when considering this degree program.

Bachelor’s Degree in Education/Early Childhood Education: There are several Bachelor’s degree programs offered through four-year colleges that lead to a teaching certificate. As a general rule, bachelors degree programs require general education courses, professional courses on teaching methods, early childhood courses and related electives. In many teacher education programs, students have professional semesters where they are required to student teach in infant/toddler, preschool, and kindergarten through grade 3 settings under the supervision of a teacher.

Most four year colleges require that you obtain the elementary teaching degree with the early childhood endorsement. The early childhood education endorsement includes 30 semester credit hours in early childhood education.

New to several four year colleges is the early childhood endorsement unified. People with this endorsement may teach infants, toddlers, and children from birth through grade 3 including those with disabilities. This endorsement requires a minimum of 45 semester hours of courses that include early childhood education and special education including curriculum and methodology appropriate for primary grades.

Graduate programs in early childhood are currently available through the three campuses of the University of Nebraska (Lincoln, Omaha, and Kearney), Wayne State College, Peru State College, Chadron State College, Concordia University and Doane University.

The Early Childhood Special Education Endorsement is offered by several four year colleges. The endorsement requires 27 graduate semester hours related to Early Childhood Education and Special Education and 100 clock hours of related field experiences. Persons with this endorsement may teach, coordinate or serve as a consultant to programs for infants, toddlers, pre primary and primary aged children who have a range of disabilities, and services to families and other personnel with responsibilities for their care and education.


For further information please contact the Early Childhood Training Center at, or 1-800-892-4453.

Updated October 6, 2021 11:37am