Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

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Early childhood education (ECE) programs cover education theory and instructional methods for children through age eight. Generally, ECE programs provide instruction on how to teach children from preschool through second grade. You may also study infant-toddler education, which is normally facilitated by parents for children from birth to age two. ECE professionals include teachers, paraeducators, child care center personnel, special education teachers, psychologists, and social workers. Earning a master’s in early childhood education will prepare aspiring teachers to lead young children as they develop cognitive and social skills.

Today, many students are pursuing their master’s in early childhood education degree online. The flexible schedule and convenient platform are ideal for students who must balance their coursework with other commitments, such as childcare or a full-time job. Most online ECE master’s programs are delivered in a hybrid (or ‘blended’) format, where students complete most assignments and exams online and receive supervised, hands-on training from established professionals in an internship or practicum course. These programs often culminate in a final capstone or research project, which allows students to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they developed in school.

Read on to learn more about what you can do with a master’s degree in early childhood education, and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to upon graduation.


Online ECE master’s students will explore the latest theories, educational models, and instructional strategies in the field. They will learn how to integrate games, activities, and sensory stimuli into lessons in order to engage with young learners. Learning how to monitor physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development is another program focal point. Other study topics include educational law and ethics, student-teacher relationships, and working with disabled children.


Online ECE master’s programs are designed to work around your schedule. Most curricula follow an asynchronous timetable, allowing students to complete course requirements on their own time from the comfort of their home computer. You can also study away from your desk using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other device with Wi-Fi accessibility. For additional convenience, online students are usually able to coordinate internships or practicum courses at a facility close to their residence.


Students who graduate with a master’s in ECE will be well-prepared to work as teachers. Those who earn a degree specialization in areas like special education, curriculum development, or infant-toddler education will also bolster their career standing in niche dimensions of the field. The best online master’s in early childhood education programs prepare students for the licensure requirements in the state where they plan to work. Remember, public school teachers must be licensed in all 50 states, and most states also carry certification requirements for childcare center directors.


Choosing a program is a personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master’s in early childhood education programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering obtaining a master’s degree in early childhood education, and you value the flexibility inherent in online education, be sure to take a look at these top schools.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

University of Colorado – Denver

 2/539.96%Denver, CO


The University of Colorado in Denver offers one of the top early childhood education online programs in the country. Specific emphasis on educational settings, child care programs, early intervention services (e.g., Head Start), and home-based education provides MA candidates with the ability to pursue varied careers.

In addition to a core curriculum in ECE, students learn to work effectively with parents and families of their students, and hone skills for successful collaboration in their surrounding communities. The degree typically takes two to three years from start to finish. It is comprised of 36 credit hours of coursework, 200 hours of fieldwork, performance assessments, and a comprehensive final exam. Attendance at a 3-day summer seminar in Denver is also required. Those looking for supplemental certification can select from special education, early literacy, health education, applied behavior, adolescent literacy, and online teaching.

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University of Dayton

 4/576.02%Dayton, OH


The University of Dayton’s master's in early childhood education online is designed by and for ECE leaders and teachers. Offered by the university’s Bombeck Institute, it is tailored for the working professional. It recognizes the value of previous experience and training with credit toward the M.S.E degree. The Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy (ECLA) graduate coursework prepares students to advance from the classroom to administrative roles.

Successful program applicants have an undergrad GPA of 2.75 or above as well as test scores from the GRE or MAT. Degree requirements include an eight course, 24 credit hour Leadership Core Sequence consisting of professional development, education philosophy, and research study. Students then choose to focus on either Early Childhood Advocacy or Early Childhood Leadership, each including 4 courses and 11 or 12 credit hours. Students can transfer up to six semester hours from previous coursework upon advisor approval.

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University of North Dakota

 2/555.49%Grand Forks, ND


This 2-year online M.S. program offers its in-state tuition to online students, so it is an opportunity to earn an affordable master’s in early childhood education online. Students can begin ECE classes even before being admitted to the graduate program. Admission requirements include a 2.75 GPA, and passing scores on field experience and PPST tests. UND also offers graduate students the chance to work toward National Director credentials through the Aim4Excellence program online. Students can choose the three required course modules as electives within the degree curriculum.

An M.S. in ECE from the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks prepares career teachers and education leaders to work with children from three to eight years of age in child care facilities, preschools, elementary schools, Head Start, and other educational program. Completing the two course offerings per semester for two years meets degree requirements. Students undertake their in-school practicum in the second spring semester of their program. They also must complete a scholarly project.

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University of Alabama at Birmingham

 2/555.54%Birmingham, AL


UAB’s online graduate program in ECE prepares students with in-depth knowledge of teaching children from preschool through elementary school. The traditional course requires 31 to 34 credit hours, while the Alternative Master of Education in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, designed for those with undergraduate degrees other than education, requires 48 to 49 credit hours.

Requirements for a Class A Certification include a valid Alabama bachelor’s level professional teacher’s certificate in Elementary Education. Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or above while in the program, complete both the core curriculum and elective credit hours, and pass the degree exam. UAB’s School of Education offers 20 scholarships for grad students and undergrads.

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Erikson Institute

 4/5N/AChicago, IL


Teachers with three or more years of post-baccalaureate experience and undergraduate GPAs of 2.7 or above are eligible for the ECE graduate program at Erikson Institute in Chicago. Founded in 1966 by a child advocacy group, EI offers the M.S. in ECE as a 28-month, 38 credit hour online program. It is designed to provide in-depth insight into how young children learn and how their families and communities affect their academic growth. Erikson Institute created its ECE graduate course as a cohort program, which means that students will work within a supportive, collaborative group of peers for the duration of their studies.

The core curriculum is a sequence of six classes that forms an interdisciplinary basis for the degree. Four ECE courses concentrate on K-3 classroom work while an integrative seminar, which spans the entire program, links coursework theory to classroom practice. Students who complete two to three courses per semester will earn their early childhood education degree online in seven terms. The average number of graduate students at Erickson is just over 200; most are in their early 30s, and women make up the vast majority. Approximately 75% receive some form of financial aid.

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Concordia University – Chicago

 4/557.83%River Forest, IL

This online ECE program is designed for completion in a minimum of two years and requires 30 credit hours of study. Concordia, founded in 1864, has a distinguished history in higher education and ranks in the top 25 out of 7,400 institutes of higher learning in the US. Its online postgraduate, on-campus, and cohort programs boast more than 3,500 students. Admission requirements for the Early Childhood Education M.S. program include an undergraduate cumulative GPA above 2.85.

Coursework covers curriculum design, issues, trends, and practices related to developmentally appropriate teaching, adult/child relationships, and field experiences. ECE M.S. candidates must design and complete a capstone project that involves research and practicum upon earning at least 24 credit hours of ECE graduate coursework. Concordia University offers several financial aid programs specifically for current and former military personnel.

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Concordia University – Saint Paul

 3/546.45%Saint Paul, MN

This fully online Master of Arts in ECE program requires 33 credit hours of coursework based on a 7-week academic schedule. Applicants must be employed in children’s education and have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0.

Concordia University Saint Paul offers Colleague Advantage and Corporate Partnership Advantage scholarship programs for employees of partnering institutions. It also participates in the Yellow Ribbon scholarship program for former and active military personnel.

The curriculum is based on standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and is designed to provide students with in-depth expertise in all areas of ECE. MA candidates must also complete a capstone project that involves research and analysis of a specific contemporary educational topic.

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Mercy College

 3/528.8%Dobbs Ferry, NY

This Master of Science program in ECE is designed for educators seeking birth to 2nd grade certification in New York State. A combination of online classes, field experience and clinical practice makes up this 39 credit-hour degree program. Fieldwork consists of 10 hours of observation per experience in actual classrooms. In the final semester, students participate in a Clinical Experience capstone course.

Mercy College offers the Post-9/11 GI Bill for graduate students who served in the military. Candidates can pursue dual or triple certifications, such as certification in Grades 1-6 or Students with Disabilities, with the addition of required courses and practicums. Upon earning the MS, students must also pass state tests to obtain certification.

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Northern Arizona University

 2/551.57%Flagstaff, AZ

NAU’s master’s in early childhood education online degree program offers two options: an emphasis is Early Childhood and an emphasis in Early Childhood Leadership. The program is primarily for practicing teachers who want to improve their skills working with preschool and primary-level children. The minimum credit hour requirement for a degree is 30. Students must complete four core curriculum classes totaling 12-15 credits; these are not eligible for transfer credit. They must also finish 16-18 units in their chosen emphasis and complete practicums in classroom settings. Degree candidates must maintain a 3.0 GPA or above. Additionally, they must finish the degree within a consecutive 6-year time period.

Established in 1899, the college’s main campus is located in Flagstaff, with a secondary campus in Yuma. It offers 99 online degree courses and 60 graduate degrees. Small class sizes ensure that students get the individualized attention they need for success. Northern Arizona University honors the Post 9/11 GI Bill and participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program for veteran financial assistance.

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Albany State University

 2/539.62%Albany, GA

This M.Ed. early childhood education online degree program is based in Albany, Georgia. Its purpose is to sanction leadership in professionals who work with K-5 students. Those earning a degree are eligible to work as school administrators, elementary teachers, educational administrators, and ECE special needs instructors. The 36 credit hour requirement includes coursework and practicum.

Successful applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree in ECE and a minimum GRE or Miller Analogies score. Those who do not have previous teaching credentials may be able to enroll if they take additional courses. Graduate students in good standing at another institution can take one semester of studies at ASU with written authorization. All M.Ed. candidates must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The ASU College of Education acceptance rate is 78%. Of more than 200 students in educational graduate programs, 75% are women.

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Champlain College

 5/557.12%Burlington, VT

This quarter-based early childhood education online program features 8-week terms. Master of Education candidates can choose a teaching or administration focus. They must complete at least 36 credit hours of coursework and practicum within a time period ranging from 1.5 years to 6 years. They do a 3-day residency at a national conference in education during their first year of study. The M.Ed. curriculum consists of eight core classes and four specialization courses. On average, students spend about 12 hours per week in online instruction.

Champlain College, a small institution based in Burlington, VT, was founded in 1878. Those who earned their M.Ed. degrees in 2014 subsequently enjoyed a 94% employment rate.

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Stephen F. Austin State University

 2/543.71%Nacogdoches, TX

Based in Nacogdoches, TX, Stephen F. Austin State University’s M.Ed. online Early Childhood Education program prepares educators to take on advanced careers working with children from birth to the age of eight as school district specialists, master teachers, consultants, researchers, and specialists in professional development. The program consists of 36 credit hours of classroom learning, teaching, and advanced research.

Successful applicants have a minimum 2.8 GPA for their final 60 hours of undergraduate education, and they must possess a teaching certificate in ECE or elementary education. Alternatively, they may have a degree in a closely related field of study. The graduate program does not require GRE scores. It accepts both the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill toward tuition. Stephen F. Austin State University was founded in 1923 as a teaching college.

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Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

 2/544.71%Edinboro, PA

Edinboro University’s master’s in early childhood education online program offers two options for students. Its M.Ed. track is for those already certified in ECE seeking advanced academic degrees. The second option is for students who hold Elementary Education credentials and are seeking Early Childhood Education certifications. The online degree program is designed for completion within two years of part-time study. At minimum, students can take one course per semester. During year one, students participate in a weeklong summer residency.

Admission for M.Ed. candidates requires a 2.8 GPA, or acceptable scores on the GED or the Miller Analogies Test. Students seeking a master’s degree must take 27 credit hours of core curriculum and a 3-credit hour elective. To earn the degree, candidates must complete an independent study-9cc project, the Knowledge, Skills and Dispositions survey, and an exit interview. Edinboro University’s graduate programs serve more than 1,300 students on average, and conferred 423 advanced degrees in 2015. Its overall student to faculty ratio is 18:1.

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Northwestern State University of Louisiana

 2/537.79%Natchitoches, LA

This is the only M.Ed. in ECE degree offered in Louisiana. As a combination of online coursework and practicum addressing NAEYC standards, this graduate program focuses on strengthening student’s skills and knowledge in working with children from birth to the age of eight. Students work on their M.Ed. theses or research projects throughout the program.

Established in 1884, Northwestern State University is based in Natchitoches, La. It supports the Southern Regional Education Board’s Electronic Campus, a comprehensive source for higher education information in the South. Tuition for internet-only students is based on in-state rates.

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University of South Carolina – Upstate

 3/538.42%Spartanburg, SC

An early childhood education online graduate degree in ECE from USC-Upstate helps educators improve their classroom practices, inform their teaching with the latest research, enrich their students’ education, and increase their own marketability and career potential. The program features a small student to teacher ratio and NCATE accreditation. The curriculum consists of 18 credit hours in core studies, up to 12 credit hours of specialty electives, three to six hours of related study, and a 3-credit final seminar in ECE for a minimum of 36 credit hours. Students can earn their degrees in as little as two years or can take up to six years to complete the requirements. Candidates must successfully defend their Graduate Professional Portfolios and maintain a GPA of 3.0 or above.

To apply, students must provide GRE or MAT scores, a current teaching certificate, and proof of immunizations plus the standard application packet. USC-Upstate offers tuition assistance to military service members that covers up to $250 per credit hour through the Go Army program, which service members can use in conjunction with the university’s military tuition discount. USC-Upstate is based in Spartanburg, S.C. Its overall student to faculty ratio is 18:1.

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Shorter University

 3/545.15%Rome, GA

Based in Rome, GA, Shorter University’s online master’s in early childhood education requires completion of 45 semester hours of coursework. Currently, candidates must attend orientation activities and one semester on campus before beginning their teaching practicums. The curriculum is based on the Teacher Preparation Program Conceptual Framework, and degree requirements are subject to updates in accordance with the State of Georgia’s teacher certification regulations. Student teaching and fieldwork makes use of video sharing technology.

Shorter University began its long academic tradition as the Cherokee Baptist Female College in 1873, and although subsequently renamed, it remained a women’s college through the mid-20th century. It launched its online MAT ECE program in 2011. It is primarily designed for those with B.A. degrees in fields other than education but wish to become teachers of children from preschool to fifth grade. Successful candidates will earn a Level-5 teaching certification in ECE from the state.

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Texas A&M University – Kingsville


The College of Education and Human Performance at Texas A&M University offers this all-online advanced degree program. It is designed for teachers who wish to improve their professional resumes, enhance their career skills, and more effectively promote appropriate development in their young students. Coursework focuses on the most celebrated early childhood curriculum models, including Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia. Core requirements comprise 18 credit hours of study. A six credit hour research project, or elective coursework plus 12 credits in resource study, make up the M.Ed. degree curriculum.

Based in Kingsville since 1925, Texas A&M University’s graduate EME programs require that applicants have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above and either a GRE composite score of 284 or above, or a minimum MAT score of 388. A combination of lower GPAs and higher test scores may also qualify. The graduate school offers several tuition assistance programs for veterans and their families. The overall faculty to student ratio is 16:1, with nearly three-fourths of faculty members holding PhD degrees.

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Jacksonville State University

 2/530.09%Jacksonville, AL

This advanced online degree in Early Childhood Education is available to applicants who have already obtained their ECE teaching certifications. Areas of focus include issues, trends, and teaching methods for young children; reading and writing; children’s literature; and other topics applicable to early childhood education. Successful M.S.E. candidates are eligible for a P-3 Class A ECE Certification in Alabama.

To earn the degree, candidates must have at least 50% of their credit hours at the 500 level. Students transferring into the JSU M.S.E. ECE program can transfer up to 12 hours of applicable credits. The JSU graduate school accepts state and federal veterans’ tuition assistance. It also makes several salaried graduate assistantships available, which provide six semester hours of tuition per fall and spring term, and a total of six credit hours for summer terms. The school’s Graduate Cooperative Education Program enables professionals working full or part time to pursue an advanced degree simultaneously.

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University of West Alabama

 2/532.9%Livingston, AL

This online early childhood education program requires coursework, research, and/or fieldwork to complete the degree. Coursework must include a three credit hour Special Education survey class. Additionally, the specialist degree requires a minimum of 30 credit hours not used for any prior certifications in the same teaching discipline. Candidates for the E.S. in Childhood Education must complete 12 hours of professional coursework and a 21-hour teaching practicum for a total of 33 credit hours. They have to maintain a GPA of 3.25 or above and pass a written comprehensive final exam covering program materials. To earn the specialist designation, students must already hold a master’s level teaching certificate in ECE. They also should be able to demonstrate leadership ability as education specialists.

The University of West Alabama, based in Livingston, offers 35 online degrees ranging from bachelor’s level through specialist. It enjoys a 175-year legacy of training quality educators. Applicants to the graduate school must have a previous GPA of 3.0 in master’s level studies, meet or exceed score minimums on the GRE, GMAT, or MAT, plus meet specific standards of the College of Education.

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Southern New Hampshire University

 4/5N/AManchester, NH

SNHU is a private, non-profit school located in Manchester. Its online ECE M.Ed. delves into the cultural, social, biological, and cognitive aspects of early child development and education. The degree program prepares students for becoming licensed early childhood educators in the state of New Hampshire. Teachers already licensed can opt for a customized track that meets their specific career goals. The program is designed for completion over five terms. It consists of five online courses and a certification internship, which is a capstone for certified teachers pursuing additional certifications. It also requires candidates to take a weekly seminar on the SNHU campus.

Applicants to graduate school should have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.7 or higher. They should also have a passing score on one of several English proficiency tests. The tuition for the university’s online courses is among the lowest in the country. SNHU offers an up to 30% reduction in tuition for active service members and their husbands or wives. It also accepts state and federal military benefits.

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2 to 3 years
Program costs (when available)
$10,000 to $25,000 in annual tuition
Infant-Toddler Education, Preschool, K-3, Child Development, Special Education
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and Association for Early Learning Leaders (AELL)
Additional Considerations
Many programs (including many of those listed above) aware a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Education with a concentration in early childhood education.

Master vs Bachelor of Early Childhood Education

Students who earn a master’s degree enjoy more favorable job placement rates than their counterparts with less education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), master’s recipients across all industries face a 2.4% unemployment rate. Comparatively, the unemployment rates for bachelor’s and associate degree-holders are 2.8% and 3.8%, respectively. In education, the unemployment rate differences are even more pronounced. In a recent publication, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce explored career outcomes for employees with different educational attainment levels. Using data from this survey, we examined how educational attainment correlates with unemployment in ECE:

Educational Attainment Unemployment Rate
Recent Bachelor’s Graduate with Limited Work Experience 5.7%
Recent Bachelor’s Graduate with Limited Work Experience 5.7%
Experienced Bachelor’s Graduate 3.7%
Recent Graduate Degree Recipient with Limited Work Experience 2.4%
Experienced Graduate Degree Recipient 2.2%

Source: Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce

As the table indicates, even graduate degree-holders with minimal experience in the field face a much lower unemployment rate than experienced bachelor’s-holding graduates.

Earning a Living

In addition to better job placement rates, students who earn a master’s in ECE stand to earn higher salaries than their peers with a bachelor’s degree or less. The 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report tallied salary expectations at the entry-level and mid-career stages for employees with different academic majors and educational attainment levels. Using this data, the next table examines salary projections for associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree-holding professionals.

Degree Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ years) Salary Premium for Master’s Degree- Holders
Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education $23,100 $29,400 59.7% at Entry Level; 63.6% at Mid-Career
Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education $30,300 $38,000 21.7% at Entry-Level; 26.5% at Mid-Career
Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education $32,900 $42,300 12.1% at Entry-Level; 13.7% at Mid-Career
Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education $36,900 $48,100  

Source: 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

As the table indicates, master’s-holders earn more than bachelor’s and associate earners by a considerable margin at both career benchmarks. However, it’s also important to note that your expected career earnings will vary depending on your job title. The next table looks at salary expectations for five ECE occupations at four different career stages.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Early Childhood Educator (ECE) $26,000 $30,000 $34,000 $39,000
Kindergarten Teacher $34,735 $40,046 $43,191 $47,505
Preschool Teacher $26,670 $29,076 $29,417 $30,215
Special Education Teacher (Preschool, Kindergarten or Elementary) $39,973 $43,926 $49,929 $54,788
Preschool Director $35,512 $36,663 $39,410 $40,844

Source: PayScale

Of the five careers listed, ECE educators enjoyed the highest career salary growth ― a 50% increase in annual earnings between the entry-level and late-career marks. Special education teachers and kindergarten teachers also saw significant salary growth. Finally, special education teachers earned the highest salaries at all four career stages.

Career Opportunities

Students who graduate with an online master’s in ECE will qualify for a variety of jobs. Below, we’ve covered four of the most common career pathways for graduates with a master’s in ECE.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: Teachers in kindergarten and elementary school classrooms help students build core skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and other basic skills. All kindergarten or elementary teachers who work at public schools must earn a teaching license or certification in all 50 states, and most states also require candidates to pass a background check. Private school teachers do not need to be licensed.

Special Education Teachers: Special education teachers specialize in instructing and helping students with physical or cognitive disabilities, as well as those with behavioral disorders and mental health problems. Most special education teachers maintain a private classroom at their school where special needs students can come study or develop other key skills. A teaching license is required in all 50 states for special education teachers who work at public schools.

Preschool Teachers: Preschool teachers are responsible for educating children five and under who have not yet entered kindergarten. They make lesson plans that cover core subjects like reading, science, and basic math.

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors: These directors oversee the teachers, support staff, and other personnel at pre-K childcare centers. Many preschools and childcare centers are located in public buildings, although some are operated in private homes. Many states require public and private childcare centers to earn certification before they can accommodate young children; some states also require preschool directors and their staff to become certified in CPR and first aid.

Occupation Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2014-24)
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers $54,550 6% (+87,800 jobs)
Preschool Teachers $28,570 7% (+29,600 jobs)
Special Education Teachers $56,800 6% (+28,100 jobs)
Preschool and Childcare Center Directors $45,670 7% (+4,200 jobs)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different educational approaches is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for early childhood education professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children: In addition to accrediting college programs, the NAEYC offers a range of supportive services for professionals who teach and assist children from birth to age eight. Member benefits include discounted books and other resources, complimentary magazine and newsletter subscriptions, and access to ‘Members Only’ areas of the organization’s website.
  • National Child Care Association: The NCCA is an advocacy-driven organization that fights for classroom equality, safe learning environments, and educational funding. The website features a resource library, discussion forums, and links to webinars and continuing education opportunities.
  • Association for Early Learning Leaders: Founded in 1984, the AELL is a nonprofit organization dedicated to childcare center directors and administrators across the globe. The website offers a job board, online training and webinar programs, continuing education courses, and other professional development opportunities.

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