Recently Washington, D.C. became one of the first cities in the country to impose a licensing requirement that mandates that all child care workers — that is, people caring for infants and toddlers who aren’t yet in a pre-school or kindergarten program — must obtain college degrees.
The college degree requirement is part of an effort to address an “achievement gap” between children that apparently is evident as early as 18 months of age. The concern is that most early child care workers are treated, and paid, like glorified babysitters, when they actually should be viewed as being more like teachers. D.C. officials want to focus child care programs more on education and quality of care and “set our young children on a positive trajectory for learning and development.”
The new standard will require many existing child care workers in the District of Columbia, who hold only high school diplomas, to go back to college and obtain a degree — a daunting prospect for many because of the cost of going to college and the low pay that child care workers traditionally receive. Studies show that a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education produces the lowest lifetime earnings of any college degree, which makes it likely that child care workers who do earn a degree won’t stay in the child care area and will instead move on to better-paying careers. If those child care workers need to take out student loans to get that college degree, their financial issues will become even more acute. And neither the District of Columbia, nor the parents of the kids being cared for, apparently have the resources to pay the workers more after they get that required college degree.
This seems to me like a self-inflicted problem. Of course, making sure that young children enjoy stimulating environments, are introduced to the benefits of reading at an early age, experience interesting forms of play, and so forth is important — but it doesn’t require a college agree to make sure that happens. People with high school diplomas who are adequately trained and monitored should be perfectly capable of helping children move onto that “positive trajectory for learning and development” through programs that can be set by the supervisors of the child care centers.
More and more, we seem to be requiring college degrees for jobs because it sounds good, and a college degree can be seen as a kind of general surrogate for all kinds of skills — when in reality not every job actually requires a college degree. This trend pushes more people into college, allows colleges to continuously increase their tuition, puts pressure on wages, and has all kinds of other effects. We need to recognize that not everyone needs to go to college, and not every job requires college.