Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

An associate degree in early childhood education (ECE) prepares you for several career paths. Learn about the coursework, cost, and length of these online programs.
By
portrait of Alicia Bones
Alicia Bones
Read Full Bio

Writer

Alicia Bones is a college instructor and writer in Seattle. For the past decade, she has taught composition, research methods, technical writing, and creative writing at Seattle area colleges and the University of Iowa. She also has bylines in Higher...
and
portrait of Evan Thompson
Evan Thompson
Read Full Bio

Writer

Evan Thompson is an education and careers writer with BestColleges. He was previously a journalist with bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, and Everett Herald. His beats have included education, sports, business, outdoors, and lifestyl...
Updated on February 14, 2024
Edited by
portrait of Cassie Muniz
Cassie Muniz
Read Full Bio

Editor

Cassie Muniz is an associate editor for BestColleges, specializing in alternative education in the tech field. She previously worked in education as a technical editor, where she edited curriculum materials for digital skills bootcamps. She is passio...
Reviewed by
portrait of Samantha Fecich, Ph.D.
Samantha Fecich, Ph.D.
Read Full Bio

Writer & Reviewer

Sam Fecich, Ph.D., has been an associate professor of education for seven years. She is the author of "EduMagic: A Guide for Preservice Teachers" and "EduMagic Shine On: A Guide for New Teachers." She is a certified instructional technologist in K-12...
Learn more about our editorial process

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.

  • Early childhood education (ECE) is formal and informal learning for children under five.
  • An associate degree in ECE is an entrypoint for many teaching and childcare professions.
  • Online associate degrees in ECE require two years of full-time study.
  • According to Payscale, professionals with an associate degree in early childhood education earn between $41,000 and $48,000 on average.

Top
Ranked

2024

Best Online Associate Degree Programs in Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education (ECE) is any type of education children receive before they reach five years of age. ECE settings include preschools, childcare facilities, and homes. ECE educators include preschool teachers, daycare workers, teacher assistants, and nannies.

People who want to become a preschool teacher or teacher assistant may need to complete an associate degree in ECE. Preschool teachers need at least a two-year degree to enter the profession, which is growing at a much faster rate than average. Teacher assistants at schools or daycare centers also commonly hold at least associate degrees.

This guide talks about ECE fields that require associate degrees, as well as discussing the best online degree programs, coursework, costs, and completion times.

What Do You Learn in an Early Childhood Education Associate Program?

Two-year programs in early childhood education typically issue Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), or Associate of Science (AS) degrees. Some programs may be designed for students who want to enter the field after graduation. Others prepare students for transfer to four-year baccalaureate programs.

In these associate degree programs, aspiring educators learn effective instructional strategies through coursework in curriculum development and the principles and practices of teaching young children. They also discover strategies for working with diverse learners via courses in special education, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and language and literacy development.

Other common course topics include:

  • Child development
  • Behavior management
  • Safety in early childhood settings
  • Health and nutrition

Students must also complete general education and elective courses. Some programs require students to fulfill practicum or internship requirements, as well.

Related Associate Programs for You

Why Should You Get an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education?

You may have specific reasons for wanting to get an associate degree in early childhood education, like having a passion for working with kids. In general, the degree allows you to:

  • Be a Qualified Teacher: An early childhood education program trains you to become a skillful, kind, and understanding teacher who can meet the specific needs of young children.
  • Be a Positive Influence: Early learning professionals have a unique opportunity to support a child in their formative years, helping them grow and setting them up for future success.
  • Help Progress Your Career: An associate degree is a solid starting point for a career in early learning and for advancing your education. You'll get a jump start on a bachelor's degree in early childhood education and high-paying roles like preschool or daycare center director.

Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Rankings Summary

Jump to a school below using the links in the "School" column.

Rank School In-State Tuition Out-of-State Tuition Acceptance Rate
#1 Ohio State University
Columbus, OH
$11,018 $34,101 57%
#2 University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, OH
$10,099 $25,433 85%
#3 Saint Francis University
Loretto, PA
$38,852 $38,852 73%
#4 Southwest Wisconsin Technical College
Fennimore, WI
$4,233 $6,345 Not provided
#5 Renton Technical College
Renton, WA
$3,781 $4,241 Not provided
#6 Florida Gateway College
Lake City, FL
$2,369 $9,473 Not provided
#7 Northwood Technical College
Shell Lake, WI
$4,570 $6,630 Not provided
#8 Gulf Coast State College
Panama City, FL
$1,750 $7,065 Not provided
#9 Stanly Community College
Albemarle, NC
$2,554 $9,005 Not provided
#10 Chaminade University of Honolulu
Honolulu, HI
$27,340 $27,340 90%

Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs

How We Rank Schools

To create this ranking, BestColleges sourced the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard. We then ranked each school according to the top variables college students selected in our College Choice and Admissions Survey. To learn more, check out our full rankings methodology or read the summary below.

Ranking Methodology Summary

Chevron Down

To qualify for our rankings lists, each school must be an accredited public or private, nonprofit institution. Each eligible school was then ranked based on a formula measuring:

  • Affordability (30%)
  • Student outcomes (30%)
  • Reputation (20%)
  • Diversity and social mobility (20%)

In addition, we only included colleges with graduation rates in the top third of all online colleges.

We use datasets from sources like the National Center for Education Statistics to inform the data for these schools. BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site. from our partners appear among these rankings and are indicated as such. All data is current as of the date this article was published. Program-specific information may vary.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

  • Browse programs
  • Discover matches
  • Request info
#1 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Ohio State University

  • Columbus, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $515
Out-of-State | $515

Credits to Graduate: 60

Ohio State Online's associate program in early childhood development and education takes four semesters to complete full time and 10 semesters part time. The fully online program features asynchronous classes with no set meeting times, providing a lot of flexibility if you have a busy schedule.

You need a high school diploma or GED certificate to qualify for admission to the program. After you complete the degree, you can apply for associate licensure in pre-kindergarten education in Ohio.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$11,018
Out-of-state
$34,101
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$11,560
Out-of-state
$37,512
Retention Rate
94%
Acceptance Rate
57%
Students Enrolled
61,677
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
77% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#2 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

University of Cincinnati

  • Cincinnati, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Cost per Semester:
In-State | $6,785
Out-of-State | $6,785

Credits to Graduate: 60

UC's online early childhood care and education AAS program can prepare you to work with children from infancy through age eight or grade three, depending on the school system. The two-year program teaches you all of the subject matter knowledge you need in order to effectively educate children in this age range.

Potential careers for graduates include preschool teacher, teaching assistant, or elementary school teacher. The curriculum includes classes like health, safety, and nutrition; nature-based early learning; classroom organization and guidance; and child guidance in play-based contexts.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$10,099
Out-of-state
$25,433
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$13,224
Out-of-state
$24,966
Retention Rate
87%
Acceptance Rate
85%
Students Enrolled
40,329
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
66% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#3 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Saint Francis University

  • Loretto, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Year:
In-State | $41,020
Out-of-State | $41,020

Credits to Graduate: 63

SFU's online early childhood education program gives you the chance to get real teaching experience and prepares you to work with children in pre-K through fourth grade. You can take all required classes online, or you can choose a combination of online and in-person coursework. 

The curriculum covers content and pedagogical knowledge, clinical competence, professionalism, and interpersonal and communication skills. Plan to take classes like emergent literacy and language development, family and community relations, educational psychology, and differentiated instructional practices.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$38,852
Out-of-state
$38,852
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$21,920
Out-of-state
$21,920
Retention Rate
85%
Acceptance Rate
73%
Students Enrolled
3,034
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
41% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#4 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College

  • Fennimore, WI
  • 2 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $146
Out-of-State | $146

Credits to Graduate: 60

Southwest Tech's online early childhood education associate program costs about $8,760 in total. The program covers child development theory, early childhood educator professionalism, and teaching and learning best practices. Graduates can apply for a license for The Registry Level 12 for working in Wisconsin.

The curriculum includes classes like infant and toddler development, foundations of early childhood education, guiding child behavior, and children with different abilities. The degree also requires four field experiences, one each semester. To graduate, you must fulfill a CPR/first aid requirement.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$4,233
Out-of-state
$6,345
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
65%
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
2,520
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#5 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Renton Technical College

  • Renton, WA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $124
Out-of-State | $141

Credits to Graduate: 90

RTC's online early childhood education AAS program can help you prepare to become an early childhood teacher or director and work with children from infancy to age eight. During the program, you can earn six stackable certificates that line up with Washington state licensing requirements.  

You can learn to design curriculums, work with diverse populations, and come up with developmentally appropriate activities. The program offers courses like child, family, and community; learning environments; and technology for teachers. The degree also requires five practicums that provide real-world experience.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$3,781
Out-of-state
$4,241
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
3,097
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
#6 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Florida Gateway College

  • Lake City, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: National Association for the Education of Young Children

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $103
Out-of-State | $231

Credits to Graduate: 60

FGC's online early childhood education program requires classes like cognitive experiences for young children, guiding the young child, special needs in early childhood education, and an internship. The program can prepare you to educate and take care of children from birth through age four in roles like childcare teacher or teacher assistant. 

The total estimated tuition for the degree is $6,199. However, you may need to pay up to an additional $600 in online fees. Admission requirements include a high school diploma or GED certificate, and you may need to take a placement exam.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$2,369
Out-of-state
$9,473
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
2,792
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
71% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#7 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Northwood Technical College

  • Shell Lake, WI
  • 2 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $160
Out-of-State | $234

Credits to Graduate: 60

Northwood Tech's early childhood education associate degree program, called E-CHiLD, combines online learning with in-person student teaching experiences. You must attend live online class sessions during the evening once a week and can attend optional open teaching labs. Courses cover topics like behavior guidance, early childhood development, curriculum design, and working with families. 

Distance learners pay a $10 fee per credit for each online class. Early childhood education graduates receive a childcare services technical diploma and a group childcare essentials pathway certificate. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$4,570
Out-of-state
$6,630
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
67%
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
2,656
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
73% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#8 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Gulf Coast State College

  • Panama City, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $73
Out-of-State | $294

Credits to Graduate: 60

Gulf Coast State College's online early childhood education AS program can prepare you to work with children from birth to age five in settings like education and caregiving. The program covers early childhood growth and development, communication, professional responsibilities, and the learning environment for young children. 

The early childhood education degree program incorporates the Florida Childcare Professional Credential course. Major courses include infant and child psychology, special needs children, and management of child care programs. You also must complete a supervised work experience.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$1,750
Out-of-state
$7,065
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
4,377
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
57% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#9 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Stanly Community College

  • Albemarle, NC
  • 2 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $76
Out-of-State | $268

Credits to Graduate: 71

Stanly Community College's early childhood education program covers child growth and development, observation and assessment, and family communication. You can get practice working with young children in early childhood environments under the supervision of qualified teachers. 

Required classes include children with exceptionalities, language and literacy practices, and an early childhood capstone practicum. Almost every course in the program requires field experience, ensuring that you have practical career-relevant skills by the time you graduate. Because of this, students must pass a criminal background check.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$2,554
Out-of-state
$9,005
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
83%
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
2,456
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
89% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#10 Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs 2024

Chaminade University of Honolulu

  • Honolulu, HI
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $585
Out-of-State | $585

Credits to Graduate: 60

Chaminade University of Honolulu's early childhood education program can prepare you to work with young children as an early childhood educator. The curriculum aligns with standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The fully online program offers flexibility with no set meeting times while emphasizing the importance of hands-on learning with a required practicum. Major requirements include health and family issues in early childhood education; music, art, and creative movement in early childhood education; and introduction to early childhood education.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$27,340
Out-of-state
$27,340
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$27,720
Out-of-state
$27,720
Retention Rate
70%
Acceptance Rate
90%
Students Enrolled
2,214
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
63% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Discover Similar Degree Programs

How Long Does an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education Take?

Many associate degrees in early childhood education consist of around 60 credits. Full-time students take about 15 credits per semester and earn their degree in two years. Most part-time students complete this degree in 3-4 years. But if you're taking self-paced, asynchronous courses, program length can vary widely.

Depending on the institution, you may be able to reduce the program length by transferring previously earned credits or by earning college credit through relevant employment.

How Much Does an Online Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education Education Cost?

An online associate degree in education costs about $3,900 per year, according to 2021 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data. The good news is that the cost varies per institution, and online degrees cut commuting costs that in-person associate degrees may carry.

Your return on investment for your college education is something to keep in mind, too. To help you pay for school, you can apply for education scholarships to reduce the cost of your tuition and fees.

Total Average Net Cost of a Two-Year College (2021-2022)

Public Institution

$3,564

Private Institution (Nonprofit)

$18,480

Source: NCES

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education?

An early childhood education associate degree provides the skills and knowledge you need to work with kids in and out of the classroom. You could teach kids in a preschool, look after kids in daycare, or assist teachers in the classroom.

In most of these roles, you'll balance supervising children and organizing activities to entertain them or teach them basic concepts.

Popular Jobs in Early Childhood Education
Job Title Median Annual Salary
Preschool Teacher $30,210*
Teacher's Assistant $29,360*
Daycare Worker $31,649**
Nanny $36,191**
Special Education Aide $23,777**
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Payscale
*Based on data from May 2021
**Based on Payscale data from May - June 2023

How Much Money Will You Make With an Associate in Early Childhood Education?

Early Childhood Education, AA

Average Base Salary: $48,000

Early Childhood Education, AAS

Average Base Salary: $41,000

Source: Payscale (as of June 2023)

Beyond the Associate Degree

Though an associate degree is sufficient for some preschool teaching jobs, many states require these pre-kindergarten educators to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. For instance, 50% of all teachers in Head Start, a federal program for children from low-income families, must hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. Preschool teachers at public schools, as well as preschool and daycare center directors, often need to hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

Some states also require preschool teachers to hold Child Development Associate (CDA) credentials. The Council for Professional Recognition, the organization that issues the credential, describes it as the "most widely recognized credential in early childhood education." The credentialing process requires several steps and must be completed every three years.

Frequently Asked Questions About Associate Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Can I be a preschool teacher with an associate degree?

Though preschool teachers at public schools often must hold bachelor’s degrees, some private schools may only require an associate degree. Additionally, center-based Head Start preschool teachers and assistant teachers can be hired with an associate degree.

Is a CDA the same as an associate degree?

The Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential is not the same as an associate degree. To acquire a CDA, candidates must graduate high school, finish 120 hours of professional education, and complete 480 hours of work with children. Then, they take an exam and complete a verification visit with a CDA® Professional Development Specialist. CDAs must be renewed every three years.

Are early childhood educators in demand?

The BLS projects a 15% increase in preschool teacher jobs from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than average. The 63,100 preschool teacher job openings expected each year will be driven by educators leaving the profession or retiring.

What is the highest-paying job in early childhood education?

Preschool or childcare center directors earn the highest salaries in early childhood education. According to the BLS, they earned a median annual salary of $47,310 in May 2021. Top-paid directors can earn up to $78,350 per year. However, you likely need at least a bachelor's degree to become one.

What qualities should an early childhood educator have?

The BLS says that preschool teachers should have strong communication skills, creativity, interpersonal skills, organizational skills, patience, and physical stamina. These qualities help educators support student development, as well as connecting with colleagues and parents. Teacher assistants should possess communication skills, interpersonal skills, patience, and resourcefulness (BLS).

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.