Put your life on hold for years–plus probably go into student-loan debt–in order to get a job taking care of kids in a day-care center where your annual salary, on average, won't top $22,000.

And if you'd like to put your hard-earned experiene to work running a day-care center, well, dear, you'll need to put your life on hold for another two years.

That's the substance of a crazy new law that went into effect this year in Washington, D.C.: Everyone who wants to teach in a day-care center must have a college degree. Here's the gist, from Inside Higher Education:

A new regulation in Washington sets an associate degree as the minimum credential for a lead teacher in a child-care center. The District of Columbia’s child-care providers have until December 2020 to meet the new regulation. Child-care directors must also earn at least a bachelor’s degree, and home-care providers and assistant teachers must have a child development associate credential, which is an entry-level certificate for providers.

Yes, you read that right. Even if you're making a few bucks watching your neighbor's kids in your home while their mom is a work, you're going to have to buy into–literally–the credential machine. I hope there's an exclusion for grandmas in the complex new District of Columbia regulations, but I'm not sure.

The rationale?

“We know the economy has changed, and by 2020, 75 percent of jobs in the District will require some postsecondary credential,” said Elizabeth Groginsky, assistant superintendent of early learning for the nation's capital. “We’re keeping up with the research, and having a policy that shows brain development in young children is incredible … Teachers will need this knowledge and skill base to work with this population.”

Well, yes–the "brain development" of a child between age 0 and age 3 is pretty amazing. So why not make it mandatory for all mothers to go to college for four years and major in early learning? Fathers, too!

There's already a problem: People who work in day-care centers don't earn a lot of money:

But increasing degree requirements for a career that traditionally doesn’t pay high — or even sufficient — wages is also concerning. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average annual wage of a day-care provider is $21,340.

Even if you obtain a full four-year degree, your annual salary is likely to top out at $39,000. So some critics are already wondering whether day-care workers will simply decide that spending money and time on extra education isn't worth it–or decode that if they've got to earn an education degree, why not get a degree in better-paying elmentary-school teaching instead?

The Washington Post sketches out the working day of a $12.75-an-hour day-care employee–and it sounds like murder:

Debbie James-Dean graduated from high school in 1979 and has spent much of her career working in child care. She was anxious when her director at Kids Are Us Learning Center in Southeast Washington told her she needed to go back to school….

On school days, she wakes up at 4:15 a.m. to take the Metro from Rockville to her work, on the edge of the District’s Washington Highlands neighborhood, so she can use the computer to do homework before the children arrive. 

She spends the next eight hours reading stories, changing diapers and playing chase and “ring around the table we go” with toddlers.

By 4 p.m., she’s headed for the Metro again to a child-care center on the other side of the city, where classes go to 9:15 p.m.

That's quite a day for a woman who's probably in her sixties.

Of course the hope seems to be that what with all the fancy new degrees, salaries for day-care employees will vault upwards, just as nurses' salaries did when educational requirements became stiffer. No one seems to have considered the possibility that this could make day care unaffordable for many mothers who have to work outside the home just to make ends meet.

As Preston Cooper, education analyst for the American Enterprise Institute writes: The only real beneficiaries of the new D.C. law are the "colleges that get to charge child-care workers thousands of dollars to churn out those credentials."

All this in a world where the assumption that every high school graduate needs to go to college is increasingly being questioned,