Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

It takes passion and a degree to teach young minds. Earning a master's in early childhood education online offers convenience and affordability to prepare you for a wide selection of different occupations.
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Updated on February 9, 2024
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  • Without physical travel restrictions, you can pick from more programs across the country
  • Master's degrees in ECE pave the way for work as a teacher, principal, adjunct professor, or instructional coordinator
  • Careers in early childhood education pay between $49,690 - $101,320
Best Online Master's Degree Programs in Early Childhood Education

We know that early childhood education (ECE) plays an important role in the development of our nation's children. These programs help kids develop the building blocks for socialization, academic success, independence, healthy living, and societal contributions.

But what about the people who design and lead these programs? Well, those folks work with the same skills an online master's in early childhood education can offer you.

What Are the Best Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Programs of 2024?

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.

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#1 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

Worcester State University

  • Worcester, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $365
Out-of-State | $365

Credits to Graduate: 34

WSU's online master's in early childhood education emphasizes reflective practice in its coverage of curriculum development, lesson planning, and student assessment strategies. Emerging educators also learn to build supportive and inclusive learning environments, and to integrate educational technologies in the classroom.

Six start dates throughout the year enhance the online program's flexibility. Students can complete degree requirements in just 14 months, while pay-per-course policies maximize financial accessibility.

The program does not lead to initial teaching licensure. However, graduates who obtain initial licensure can use the degree to seek full professional licensure in Massachusetts.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$970
Out-of-state
$7,050
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$3,042
Out-of-state
$3,042
Retention Rate
73%
Acceptance Rate
89%
Students Enrolled
5,417
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
56% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#2 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

Georgia College & State University

  • Milledgeville, GA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: CAEP

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $288
Out-of-State | $288

Credits to Graduate: 36

GCSU's online M.Ed. in elementary education operates at the T5 certification level. Admissions are open to individuals who already hold or qualify for Georgia's T4 teaching certification.

Academic requirements cover curriculum and assessment, educational research, data analysis, and language and literacy development. Coursework ends in a capstone.

The capstone course prompts students to develop and present a comprehensive portfolio demonstrating their mastery of advanced early childhood education standards.

All courses are fully available online. Students can also opt for a hybrid model that includes collaborative in-person classes.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,508
Out-of-state
$26,688
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$5,292
Out-of-state
$18,846
Retention Rate
78%
Acceptance Rate
88%
Students Enrolled
6,763
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#3 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

University of Mississippi

  • University, MS
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: CAEP

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $514
Out-of-State | $514

Credits to Graduate: 30

The Ole Miss online M.Ed. in early childhood education maintains a dual focus on cognitive development and social and emotional learning (SEL). With a 100% online, asynchronous format, learners can set their own study schedules as they engage with the practical curriculum.

Coursework takes a holistic focus, grounding students in the biological, psychological, and emotional aspects of early childhood development before moving into education-focused content. Classes then take a subject-specific focus, exploring language acquisition and literacy, STEM learning, and the arts. 

The program offers two tracks: one for learners who hold Mississippi teaching licensure, and one for those without a license or field experience. Admission to either track requires a bachelor's degree in education or a related field.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$8,934
Out-of-state
$25,776
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$8,938
Out-of-state
$25,782
Retention Rate
88%
Acceptance Rate
90%
Students Enrolled
21,203
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#4 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

University of Michigan-Dearborn

  • Dearborn, MI
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: CAEP, Michigan Department of Education, National Association for the Education of Young Children

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $506-$909
Out-of-State | $632-$1,136

Credits to Graduate: 30

UM-Dearborn's online MA in early childhood education features a concentration in early childhood administration and leadership. Developed for non-certified educators, the degree prepares learners for careers as curriculum developers, educational coordinators, and program directors. The online program was designed to meet the scheduling needs of working professionals. 

Coursework explores childhood development, education research, and practical aspects of institutional administration. It also covers educational technologies and relevant legislation, and includes in-person internship components.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$13,416
Out-of-state
$27,648
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$14,110
Out-of-state
$25,152
Retention Rate
84%
Acceptance Rate
69%
Students Enrolled
8,331
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
78% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#5 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

University of North Texas

  • Denton, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: CAEP

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $452
Out-of-State | $828

Credits to Graduate: 30

UNT's online MS in early childhood education has an accelerated structure. The curriculum emphasizes diversity, inclusion, and cultural responsiveness, and prepares students for careers as teachers, education researchers, administrators, and policymakers.

This non-thesis program culminates with a comprehensive exit examination, which students must pass to graduate. Along the way, learners can access resources in UNT's Child Development Laboratory (now the Center for Young Children). The lab features a preschool program that doubles as a field training center for undergraduate and graduate students.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$8,295
Out-of-state
$18,111
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$6,350
Out-of-state
$13,694
Retention Rate
79%
Acceptance Rate
81%
Students Enrolled
42,441
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
62% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#6 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

University of Northern Iowa

  • Cedar Falls, IA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Iowa Department of Education

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $558
Out-of-State | $558

Credits to Graduate: 30

Designed for licensed and experienced teachers, UNI's online MAE in early childhood education focuses on building advanced, classroom-focused skills. It emphasizes current and emerging curricular, instructional, assessment, and leadership trends. The program also includes a complete review of proven teaching methods and strategies.

Learners engage with coursework through a synchronous, 100% online format. Live video conferencing sessions take place on Monday evenings. Admission requirements include an early childhood education license issued by any U.S. state. Licensure does not need to be current.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,780
Out-of-state
$18,480
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$9,296
Out-of-state
$19,928
Retention Rate
81%
Acceptance Rate
86%
Students Enrolled
9,217
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
54% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#7 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

Lesley University

  • Cambridge, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $563-$750
Out-of-State | $563-$750

Credits to Graduate: 40

Lesley's online M.Ed. in early childhood education embraces an empathetic philosophy built on a belief in the competence and creativity of children. The program equips educators with tools for inspiring a love of learning in young students. Delving beyond cognitive development, coursework also explores SEL and moral evolution in children.

Online courses use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning, helping students balance their studies with external commitments. Independent market research identifies Lesley as the top choice among education hiring managers and school superintendents in Massachusetts.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$29,200
Out-of-state
$29,200
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$18,900
Out-of-state
$18,900
Retention Rate
75%
Acceptance Rate
87%
Students Enrolled
4,010
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
27% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#8 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

West Chester University of Pennsylvania

  • West Chester, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: CAEP

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $516
Out-of-State | $774

Credits to Graduate: 33

WCU's online M.Ed. in early childhood education uses a cohort model that combines individual and group learning. Coursework emphasizes academic content development, student assessment strategies, and educational technologies. Degree-seekers build these proficiencies in a learning context that considers childhood development principles and student family and cultural backgrounds.

The program uses a 100% online learning model that includes both asynchronous and synchronous components. Accelerated pacing leads to graduation in just five semesters.

Applicants require at least one year of professional early childhood education experience. Prospective students should note that the program does not directly lead to teacher certification.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,716
Out-of-state
$19,290
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$9,288
Out-of-state
$13,932
Retention Rate
85%
Acceptance Rate
89%
Students Enrolled
17,614
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
36% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#9 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

Erikson Institute

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Illinois Board of Higher Education

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $1,157
Out-of-State | $1,157

Credits to Graduate: 30

Erikson's online MS in early childhood education combines small workshop-style classes with self-reflective seminars to guide learning. Participants can choose from two focus areas: SEL, or leadership and advocacy. Degree-seekers in both tracks gain full access to Erikson's career counseling, networking, and recruitment programs.

This non-licensure program does not support initial teaching certification. Instead, it intends to elevate the professional capabilities and career growth opportunities of established educators.

Learners can choose part-time or full-time study schedules. Students can begin the 100% online program in the fall, spring, or summer semester.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$19,988
Out-of-state
$19,988
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
399
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
67% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#10 Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Programs

Northern Arizona University

  • Flagstaff, AZ
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Arizona State Board of Education

Cost per Academic Year: $14,640 (full-time)

Credits to Graduate: 30

NAU's online M.Ed. in early childhood education offers four emphasis areas. Degree-seekers can concentrate their studies on classroom teaching, leadership, multi-age instruction, or National Board for Professional Teaching Standards exam preparation.

All four of those focuses use semester-based, 100% online learning formats. NAU developed the program for actively practicing early childhood educators seeking to benefit from advanced instruction in education research, curriculum development, and teaching methods. Learners also have the option of engaging with in-person field training and internship opportunities.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$10,381
Out-of-state
$16,600
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$10,724
Out-of-state
$19,266
Retention Rate
74%
Acceptance Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
28,711
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

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

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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.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Early Childhood Education?

  • What It's About: A master's in early education is designed to provide you with the skills to work with and advocate for children from birth to age eight. This program is also well suited for educators who want to pursue a doctorate.
  • Purpose: This master's program prepares you for careers in teaching, social work, administration, and policy reform. You may also qualify for leadership roles in education. For example, teachers may advance to administrative roles, principal roles, or director positions.
  • Place of Work: With a master's in early childhood education, you can work as a teacher in preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school settings. You can also work as a preschool or childcare center director, as an early childhood instructional specialist, or as a special education teacher. An ECE degree can lead you to roles in schools for big kids, too. With a master's degree, you could be an adjunct professor at a university.

Popular Online Master's Programs in Early Childhood Education

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Why Should I Get a Master's in Early Childhood Education Degree?

A master's in early childhood education can elevate your career in many ways. While traditional teaching roles for early childhood educators require only a bachelor's degree, your graduate degree could prepare you for more job opportunities and higher earnings. You could even pursue a specialization or more advanced occupations.

Benefits of a Master's in Early Childhood Education

  • A master's in early childhood education may lead to more advanced positions.
  • Master's degree-holders often earn more money than those with a bachelor's.
  • Graduate-level early childhood education programs provide advanced teaching skills and specializations.
  • Many employers may prefer to hire candidates with a master's degree over those with a bachelor's.

Reasons to Get Your Early Childhood Education Degree Online

  • Earning an early childhood education degree online provides more flexibility.
  • Online degree-seekers can often keep working while they study.
  • An online degree may save money or time.
  • Online students often have little to no location limitations (outside of possible in-person orientations), so they can choose from a larger pool of programs.

How Much Does an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Degree Cost?

Average Annual Tuition Cost of a Graduate Degree | 2021-2022

Public Institution

$12,596

Private Institution (Nonprofit)

$29,931

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

In-state students enrolled in public colleges tend to pay the lowest tuition. However, many online master's in early childhood education programs do not charge nonresident fees.

Private schools generally charge the highest rates. Learn more about true online program costs and how these costs compare to on-campus programs.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master of Early Childhood Education?

An online master's in early childhood education program typically requires about 30-40 credits and takes about two years of full-time study to complete.

However, accelerated online tracks can lead to a degree in one year. Programs that lead to initial certification may require 48 credits. These programs require fieldwork and student teaching experience.

Required Course Credits

30-40*
*Depending on your program and specialization

Field Study Requirements

Yes*
*Depending on your program and specialization

Concentrations for a Master's in Early Childhood Education Degree

Concentrations enable you to pursue your area of interest in early childhood education. You can choose from concentrations such as special education, administration, child advocacy, or curriculum development.

When preparing for grad school, you should consider where you would like to focus your studies. A few of the many early childhood education specializations include the following:

  • Trauma Studies: This concentration teaches you how to identify and address behavioral challenges that stem from trauma. Graduates can work in schools, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
  • Special Education: This specialization focuses on the skills required to serve and teach students with special needs.
  • Leadership and Advocacy: This concentration teaches you about management and advocating for policies that support and protect young children and their families.

How Much Money Can I Make With a Master's in Early Childhood Education Degree?

Median annual wage for preschool and childcare center directors

$49,690

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Median annual wage for elementary, middle, and high school principals

$101,320

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

In education, you have the option to specialize in various settings, age groups, subjects, or children with moderate to severe physical or learning disabilities. Each occupation offers different compensation rates.

Interested? Check Out These Master's in Early Childhood Education

What Jobs Can I Get With a Master's in Early Childhood Education Degree?

Teaching remains the most common career path after earning a master's in early childhood education online. Even so, your coursework and practicums enable you to chase many other careers.

Straight out of your program, you can pursue the jobs listed below, or further your studies with a doctoral degree.

Early Childhood Education Careers and Wages
Early Childhood Education Career Median Annual Wage (2023)
Elementary and secondary school principals $102,400
Instructional coordinator in elementary and secondary schools $75,290
Kindergarten teachers $60,490
Preschool teachers $35,330
Preschool and childcare center directors $49,690
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Besides teaching and executive and administration positions in education, you can also own a daycare or pursue a doctoral degree to teach early childhood majors. Some adjunct roles don't even require a doctorate, accepting candidates with a master's degree and some graduate hours.

Is an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Worth It?

This depends on your personal goals and priorities. A master's in early childhood education will likely give you more career opportunities and flexibility in the long run.

In the short run, however, you're spending more time and money on education. Most early childhood education professionals want to make a difference, but you need to think about where and how you want to do this.

If teaching is your goal, a bachelor's might be more suitable. But if your aim is working behind the scenes to improve educational systems and environments, you should strongly consider a master's degree.

Everything Else You Need to Know About Master's in Early Childhood Education Degrees

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in ECE?

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Administrative and executive positions in early childhood education offer some of the most competitive salaries in the industry. Not only do these positions require teaching experience, but also a master's degree and usually a state license. Administrators, such as vice principals and principals, oversee staff and interact regularly with students, as well as higher district administrators.

As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes, elementary principals make a median salary of $102,400 and other management occupations earn a median wage of $99,740.

Are master's in early childhood education programs accredited?

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Some early childhood education programs are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Your program does not need CAEP accreditation -- just institutional accreditation -- but CAEP's stamp of approval is a bonus.

What are the 12 core ECE units?

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The 12 core units refer to the most foundational early childhood education courses in the discipline. These early childhood education classes include some variation of the following subjects:

  • Child development
  • Curriculum
  • Principles of teaching
  • Child and family

These fundamental classes help you to better understand young children and how best to teach them. As a result, many employers look for the completion of these courses when hiring.

Why is early childhood education important?

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A child's brain development shapes their future, including learning and their behavior in adulthood. According to the Centre on the Developing Child of Harvard University, childhood -- the first years of the brain's development -- is when the brain makes the bulk of its neural connections.

Is a master's in ECE a challenging major?

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A master's in early childhood education provides intellectually challenging studies, but one that passionate students can successfully complete. That said, on the job, many teachers face burnout because of a lack of support and resources.

How does ECE differ from elementary education?

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Both early childhood educators and elementary teachers mold young minds. However, early childhood development focuses on teaching children literacy, fine and gross motor skills, creative expression, and socialization.

Also, early childhood educators teach infants and children up to 8 years old, while elementary educators lead classrooms with children from kindergarten to sixth grade.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed January 2, 2024.

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.

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