Tomayto, Tomahto: What’s in a [Degree] Name?

Blog Post
Dec. 1, 2017

The recent release of NAEYC’s Early Childhood Higher Education (ECHE) Directory concludes a two-year project to identify every early childhood degree program in the country and feed them into a searchable directory. The directory is part of NAEYC’s response to the seminal 2015 Transforming the Workforce report which confirmed, among other things, the need for early childhood educators to have specialized knowledge and skills in order to work effectively with young children. The ECHE Directory launches a new resource for current and prospective students who want to advance their early childhood education credentials. It is congruent with other efforts to increase access to early childhood degrees as it raises awareness of the many degree options (in bricks and mortar classrooms and online) available to meet the needs of often-nontraditional early childhood postsecondary students. It also reveals the extensive diversity of the early childhood degree field, and perhaps an opportunity for creating clarity.  

Here’s what we’ve learned: early childhood degree programs have many names, probably too many. As we collected data for the ECHE Directory, we identified 1300 associate degree programs, 1067 baccalaureate degree programs, 612 master’s degree programs and 84 doctoral programs. For purposes of this blog post, we’ll focus on the associate degree and baccalaureate degree programs. Within those levels, there are almost 15 types of degrees at each level, from the Associate of Arts, Associate of Applied Science, Associate of Science in Teaching, and Associate of Public Service to the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Science in Education. There are over 60 degree names at each degree level — including Child Development, Early Childhood Education, Early Childhood Care and Development, Inclusive Early Childhood Education, Family Care, Child Growth and Learning, Early Childhood Unified, etc. What’s more, within each degree there are sometimes multiple tracks — such as Infant/Toddler, special education, Pre-K, Administration, etc. These degrees are housed in many areas of institutions, such as Schools/Colleges/Departments of Education, Family and Consumer Sciences, Agriculture, Business and Service Careers, etc. These degree variations do not clearly articulate who is being prepared and what they are being prepared to do.

There are a multitude of reasons for such diversity in the names and focus of the various early childhood degree programs. Below are some of the drivers that influence degree names:

  • preparation of graduates for specific roles or early learning settings;

  • faculty’s right to determine the content (and names) for their courses/programs;

  • the college or department where the program is housed;

  • layers of approval within the institution;

  • names may be legacies from the programs’ creations;

  • programs housed within a state or regional institutional system may have additional requirements for or constraints in naming a degree program;

  • programs preparing graduates for teacher licensure may select the same degree name as the license; and

  • state departments of education or legislatures may have to approve the degree name.

Regardless of the reasons for this diversity, it still contributes to significant confusion – inside and outside the early childhood field. The Power to the Profession (P2P) initiative that launched earlier this year aims to bring clarity to the field. It posits that for the field to achieve compensation comparable to K-12 teachers, we must first specify who early childhood educators are, what they do, what specialized knowledge and skills they should have, how they are prepared, how they are held accountable, and how the programs preparing them are held accountable.

Names matter. This is why the first P2P decision focused on the name and role of the early childhood educator. The various current labels we use to define early childhood educators (provider, child care worker, ECE workforce, caregiver) make it challenging to create a cohesive and understandable identity, and the same can be said of the wide variation in degree names.

The variation of degree names can be confusing to students trying to understand which programs will best prepare them for their early childhood career goals. They can be confusing to a public that doesn’t understand the nuances of the degree names. They can also be confusing to governmental, philanthropic, and corporate entities which often fund initiatives and programs to help improve the field. As the P2P Taskforce prepares to release draft 1 of the unifying expectations for preparation programs, there is an opportunity for higher education to lead a parallel effort — with states and professional organizations as partners — that considers the current landscape of early childhood degree names and puts forth strong recommendations for improving the clarity and consistency in the degree naming conventions.