What Is a CDA? Understanding the Value of a Child Development Associate Credential

what is cda

Early childhood education (ECE) is such a rich world of ideas and insights. Learning how bright young minds develop and how educators can craft a classroom or an experience to encourage and support that development can be a thrilling journey that makes you enjoy learning yourself!

And there is so much information to take in. Psychology, early literature—and that’s not to mention the blogs and Pinterest boards positively brimming with colorful ideas and activities. The world of education for early learners is a treasure trove of resources.

But the career side of ECE can be a little murkier. What do people need to become ECE experts? How do early childhood educators get where they are? If you’ve looked into the field as a potential career, you may have seen the acronym “CDA” floating around. If you’re curious about what the CDA is and how it factors into an early childhood education career, then you’ve come to the right place.

So, what is a CDA?

A CDA is a credential that early childhood educators can earn to demonstrate certain competencies and, in turn, can help them advance their careers. The Child Development Associate credential is carefully administered to ensure that those who earn it know how to put important ECE understandings into practice. “Put simply, CDAs know how to nurture the emotional, physical, intellectual and social development of children,” writes the Council for Professional Recognition.

Some of the core benefits of earning a CDA include potential career growth and job eligibility, renewing your knowledge of developmentally appropriate practice and offering parents and clients the extra reassurance that you are a qualified ECE professional.

Why does a CDA matter?

Early childhood education is a totally different situation than teaching elementary-aged children. States have standardized licensing requirements for elementary teachers, for example, but there are fewer regulations guiding standards for preschool teachers and daycare providers. The Child Development Associate credential was created in the 1970s as a way of improving standards in early education.

One important standard of the CDA is training educators in safety. Since the younger years of education are so important for social and developmental learning formation, the CDA also focuses on objectives like positive social guidance, building familial relationships and healthy emotional understanding.

“The benefit of a CDA is that it is a nationally recognized metric,” says Daniel Koffler, president of Explore + Discover Early Learning Center. “It demonstrates that the holder has completed 120 hours of formal education—making them strong candidates in a pool of teachers.”

Koffler explains that a CDA doesn’t matter as much for certain lead teaching positions that require advanced degrees, but for the average ECE candidate, the certification can make a hiring difference. “It really depends on the role and what the candidate brings to it, but a CDA certainly stands out in a hiring profile.”

To help illustrate this, we used job posting analysis software to see what employers are seeking. Out of over 10,000 preschool and ECE job postings analyzed, the CDA was easily the most in-demand certification or credential, with nearly 40 percent of those job posting requesting applicants with a Child Development Associate credential.1

How do you earn a CDA?

To earn a CDA credential you’ll need to apply through the Council for Professional Recognition. Applicants who hold a high school diploma or equivalent will need to complete 120 hours of professional early childhood education training. The fully-online CDA Prep training from Rasmussen College is an option that closely aligns with CDA education standards.

Additionally, applicants will be required to create a professional portfolio, obtain at least 480 hours of professional work experience, undergo a verification visit and—last but not least—sit for and pass an online CDA exam.

Is a CDA important for your career?

It is possible to find employment in certain areas of early childhood education without a CDA. But for those who want more employment options in the field, it’s a lower up-front investment than an ECE Associate’s degree that will still open plenty of doors—including the option to return for more education.

“Think about your five-year plan,” Koffler says. “A CDA is a good step for someone who wants to work in early childhood education but maybe is not ready for a path leading to an advanced certification.”

A useful attribute of the CDA is that some institutions will apply the coursework you’ve completed for a CDA to Early Childhood Education degree programs—great for if you decide to return to school down the road. The Rasmussen College CDA prep program spans three courses (12 credits) that can be applied seamlessly to other Rasmussen College ECE degree program offerings. 

Some professionals begin with a CDA to start working and earning an income before returning to school later to build that credential into a degree. Great educators tend to be lifelong learners, according to Koffler. “I applaud all teachers looking to add depth to their credentials.”

Now for the fun part

You have a good idea of what to answer if someone asks, “What is a CDA?” But the best part of this credential is the coursework you get to take while earning it, and the opportunities and benefits it can bring to your career. If you’re passionate about working with young children and being a supportive and nurturing influence in their lives, then you’ll love the focus of the Child Development Associate credential.

And if you could use some new energy in your career prospects, you’ll love some of the benefits that often accompany a CDA on your resume. Check out “Is Earning a Child Development Associate Credential Worth It?” for more details on what earning this certification is like and what it can do for your future.

1Source: Burning-Glass.com (Analysis of 11,795 early education and preschool job postings, Jun. 01, 2017 – May 31, 2018).

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Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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