Teachers work because they love learning and aim to impact younger generations, who will someday lead the world. Teachers play a role in students' lives for 13 years or more, and there is a constant demand for qualified educators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects growth in teacher demand across all grade levels between 2016 and 2026: 7% for kindergarten and elementary teachers, 8% for middle school teachers, and 8% for high school teachers.

For preschool teachers, the BLS projects an above-average growth of 10% over the same time period. This positive job outlook is due to an increasing demand for preschool programs, as parents choose to start their children's education earlier. Elementary and secondary schools offer preschool teachers the highest annual wage, while child day care workers receive the lowest lowest.

An associate degree in education can jump-start your teaching career. You can stay with early childhood education, or you might pursue teaching at another level or in another subject. As you decide your exact career path, you can get your feet wet in the field with a two-year education degree.

Should I Get an Associate Degree in Education?

An associate degree in education is a first step in a teaching career. You can enter the workforce as a preschool teacher or teacher's aide, or you may decide to pursue further education and transfer to a four-year college. To teach in grades K-12, you must obtain at least a bachelor's degree.

More students today are opting to begin their postsecondary education at the community college level. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrollment should rise by 12% between 2016 and 2027. By contrast, community college enrollment was down in the previous two decades. NCES projects that in the coming years, four-year enrollment will hold steady, but not increase at the pace of junior colleges.

Today's students must choose between full- and part-time study, and on-campus and online programs. Applicants should consider schedule, learning format, and college experience when choosing an institution. For working professionals and those looking to transition their careers, online programs are ideal. Their flexibility allows students to work while pursuing their degree.

For recent high school graduates, however, on-campus programs may work better. They provide more networking opportunities for students, and provide quicker access to student services, like academic advising and counseling.

What Can I Do With an Associate in Education?

An associate degree in education qualifies you for a number of career paths, starting with a career in early childhood education. If you wish to teach elementary, middle, or high school, you can take your associate degree and transfer to a senior institution. With an associate degree in education, however, you are already qualified to teach to the youngest learners, along with certification and a license.

Teacher Assistant

Also known as teacher aides, paraprofessionals, and education assistants, teacher assistants work under the supervision of a licensed teacher. They help students with the day's lessons, along with grading papers and handling other paperwork. They also help design positive learning environments. Teacher assistants must have at least two years of college coursework, and in many cases, an associate degree.

Median Annual Salary: $26,260

Preschool or Childcare Center Director

Preschool and childcare center directors supervise, working to design plans, create budgets, and ensure their school or day care operates smoothly. Directors typically need a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, which can begin with an associate degree in education.

Median Annual Salary: $46,890

Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers works with the youngest of students. Their classrooms include children who are readying for kindergarten, developing various skills to help them succeed once they begin K-12 grades. Preschool teacher requirements vary by state, but generally, teachers need an early childhood education degree, plus a certain number of hours working in an early childhood education setting.

Median Annual Salary: $28,990

Childcare Worker

Childcare workers work with children of varying ages, but mainly younger children, including those nearing kindergarten age. Requirements vary by state, so in order to work, childcare employers must meet the standards implemented by their state and employer. Childcare workers with postsecondary degrees, including an associate degree in education, may qualify for higher-level positions.

Median Annual Salary: $22,290

How to Choose an Associate Program in Education

As preschool programs grow across the U.S., more two-year schools are developing degrees to help meet demand. Early childhood education degrees at the community college level are readily available, and with 1,462 community colleges in the U.S., you have plenty of institutions to choose from. An associate degree in education qualifies you for various career paths, including preschool teacher, teacher's assistant, and child care worker.

At the junior level, applicants don't need to worry about increasing their admissions odds by applying to several schools. Community colleges are open enrollment, meaning applicants with a high school diploma or a GED equivalent, will be admitted to the community college of their choice, including online associate programs. A few colleges limit enrollment numbers, but this isn't the norm.

When choosing an associate program, consider location and course offerings above all else. Most students who attend community college stay close to home. A report from the American Council on Education found that most college freshman attending four-year public institutions live within 50 miles of their homes. This is even more common among community college students.

Associate in Education Program Admissions

Admissions for community colleges differ from admissions for four-year schools. Open enrollment practically guarantees your enrollment, so for students enrolling at two-year schools, the admissions process essentially involves picking a school and meeting required deadlines. Make sure to apply in time to begin classes at the start of term, and to enroll in your top-choice classes. Late applicants may miss out on course enrollment, and be put a waiting list. Note that applying to an online program is a bit more involved than applying to the local college.

Admission Materials

  • Application: For community and junior colleges, the application process is simple and straightforward. They have online forms for students to fill out and submit directly. These schools don't require letters of recommendation or personal essays -- just the application and applicable transcripts.
  • Transcripts: Your high school transcript is the most important part of your application. Your grades determine your placement and how many credits, if any, you can apply to your degree. Requesting a high school transcript is free, but you must place your order on time.
  • Application Fee: Fees vary by school, are generally moderate. Application fees are not usually refundable.

Educational Paths for Education Associate Programs

In order to teach at the K-12 level, teachers must obtain a bachelor's degree, so if you aspire to teach at that level you should research transfer options to pursue after your associate. Many teachers hold a dual major in education and the subject in which they teach, such as English or math. What's more, according to NCES, employment rate is commensurate with the level of education one attains.

Elementary Education

A two-year degree in education covers the core foundational courses of an education degree. After transfer, students can begin to study teaching methods and child development, and take on a variety of student-teaching experiences to prepare you for teacher certification.

Special Education

This major meets the needs of students who struggle with varying disabilities. Special education teachers work with students of all ages, ranging from infancy to 21 years old. A special education major combines academic coursework and field experiences.

Social Work

An associate degree in education may inspire some students to help through social work. Social work students, like teachers, are motivated individuals who want to affect change. School social workers are among the fastest growing professionals in social work, with BLS projecting a 14% increase between 2016 and 2026.

What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in Education?

Associate programs in education vary depending on the school and program. Programs at the community college level have more in common than those at four-year institutions. A degree in education at the associate level is broad, comprehensive, and takes approximately two years to complete.

Courses in an Associate Program in Education

Courses in associate education programs may differ to some degree, but most cover roughly the same course content. At this level, most courses are introductory, or cover the basics of a subject.

Introduction to Early Childhood Education

This course provides students with an introduction to the field and covers history, the development of techniques, and modern research. Topics include observing behaviors, effective communication, and practices and techniques. Students also learn how to develop classroom environments that inspire creativity, learning, and curiosity.

Curriculum Development

In this course, students explore ways to reach preschool age children, which include everything from blocks and puzzles to the latest tech. Today, even at the ages of three to five, educators use technology to engage and inspire students.

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

This course addresses the health, safety, and nutritional needs of young children at preschool and kindergarten ages, and how you as their teacher can ensure their needs are met. Classroom environment is central.

Teaching Students with Exceptionalities

Exceptionalities in students include both children who excel and those who need more help to keep pace. A teacher may have -- and likely will have -- students at all different levels of development, and it is imperative that teachers observe, assess, and intervene on behalf of their students. Courses like this one will teach future educators in early childhood education exactly how to handle such situations.

Classroom Environment

Classrooms, especially for children at young ages such as preschool or in kindergarten, should inspire students to be creative, curious, and active participants. This course teaches future early childhood and K-3 teachers to create an engaging classroom environment that meets the motor, social, and cognitive needs of their young students.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Education?

On average, an associate degree should take a full-time student two years to complete. For part-time students, program length may be three years, or as many as five. An associate degree in education is 60 semester credits or 90 quarter hours. Students with full-time course loads take 12 credits per term at minimum, and 18 at maximum. The most common course load is 15 credits per term, at which rates students should translate in exactly two years. The semester system uses fall, spring, summer calendars, while quarter systems also include a winter term.

Prior credits may also affect program length. Some students graduate high school with college credit from Advanced Placement or community college courses. These students can usually finish their associate degree requirements in less than two years of full-time study.

How Much Is an Associate in Education?

According to a 2017 report by the College Board, tuition at community colleges continues to rise. The rise year-over-year from 2016 to 2017 was 2.9%, a trend which has continued for years, if in small increments. Community and junior colleges still prove cost-effective, when compared to four-year schools. According to this report, tuition at two-year public schools for 2017-18 averaged $3,570.

California offers the most affordable tuition for community colleges, while Vermont has the highest. Students planning to attend community college should also consider potential expenses for housing, transportation, books, and supplies. Students who attend community college tend to stay close to home, which may reduce or eliminate accommodation cost. In total, cost is significantly lower for students who attend private or public nonprofit two-year schools, rather than their four-year counterparts.

Professional Organizations in Education

Professional organizations can lead to both professional and personal growth. They not only promote your field or specialty, but can also connect you with like-minded individuals who feel the same about education as you do. Networking is the most cited benefit of joining a professional organization, but there's also research, industry news and updates, access to mentors, continuing education, and conferences. As a teacher, you must continue learning and renew your state license. A professional organization or association can help with both.

Military Child Education Coalition

This community for military families focuses on making sure military children have the same academic and social opportunities as civilians.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

NAEYC advocates for the improvement and wellbeing of children and students, particularly those age 8 and younger.

Association for Childhood Education International

ACEI promotes and supports all global efforts on behalf of children and their access to optimal education. Teachers, advocates, and community leaders make up ACEI's membership.