An associate in elementary education is a useful gateway for students planning to work as certified teachers. Though most schools prefer teachers with bachelor's degrees, a two-year associate program can allow students to work as teacher aides or substitute teachers while they complete their bachelor's degree. An associate degree can also build a strong resume, a network of professional connections, and a foundation of classroom experience.

Should I Get an Associate Degree in Elementary Education?

Associate degree programs in elementary education are best for students with little or no college experience. Learners with family obligations, full-time jobs, or other scheduling constraints may benefit from online programs. However, recent high school graduates desiring a typical college experience may prefer on-campus programs.

Although online courses offer convenience, on-campus classes allow students to interact with fellow students and faculty, which provide diverse perspectives and support networks. Regardless of modality, students earning their associate degree in elementary education learn to think critically, facilitate healthy development in young children, plan lessons, and communicate effectively.

Because most school districts require a four-year degree for teacher certification, many two-year schools partner with nearby universities to create a pipeline from the associate degree to the bachelor's program. Such programs allow students to easily transfer credits from their associate programs to four-year schools.

What Can I Do With an Associate in Elementary Education?

An associate degree in elementary education can prepare a student to take entry-level positions in childcare and education. Graduates with this diploma can teach preschool children, become teacher assistants, and work in daycare centers. With some experience and managerial skills, these professionals can go on to direct childcare centers.

Preschool Teacher

These educators are often the first formal teachers in a student's life. As such, they lay the foundations for lifetimes of learning. These professionals plan and administer lessons that prepare young learners for kindergarten and beyond. Many schools and childcare centers require an associate degree for this position.

Median Annual Salary: $28,990*

Teacher Assistant

With a classroom full of children, even the most experienced teachers struggle to give each student adequate attention. Teacher assistants assist in managing elementary classrooms. Associate degree graduates often work in these positions as they complete their bachelor's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $26,260*

Childcare Worker

Many infants and toddlers go to daycare facilities while their guardians work. Childcare workers tend to the emotional, educational, and physical needs of these children. Though not required, an associate degree bolsters a candidate's hiring prospects.

Median Annual Salary: $22,290*

Preschool or Childcare Center Director

These professionals must have managerial acuity, business acumen, and childcare experience. An associate degree can demonstrate to potential employers a candidate's dedication to and knowledge of caring for young children.

Median Annual Salary: $46,890*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose an Associate Program in Elementary Education

As students research associate degree programs in elementary education, they must consider several factors. First, investigate which programs partner with a four-year school to offer a bachelor's degree; students seeking to further their education should prioritize these associate programs. Students may also choose between on-campus and online programs. Online schools may benefit students with busy schedules or those who don't wish to relocate.

Applicants should also consider program length. Although many associate degrees take two years to complete, some schools offer accelerated programs and online classes, which allow students to graduate more quickly. Similarly, students who need to take classes part-time may consider institutions that offer shorter classes and multiple enrollment sessions that allow them to graduate in two years.

Cost is another vital factor. Many two-year colleges offer associate degrees in elementary education. Students who live in-state will often pay considerably less in tuition and fees. Location can also affect the price of the degree in other ways, like the cost of living in the area and how much a student pays to commute. Furthermore, learners who want to work in the area where they study may consider places that have teacher shortages.

Associate in Elementary Education Program Admissions

Students should consider applying to multiple associate programs to better their chances of acceptance, weighing factors like cost, length, four-year program partnerships, and instructional modality to determine which schools best accommodate their needs.

Once students have determined which schools they'll apply to, they should gather their application materials. Two-year programs require high school transcripts -- and college transcripts, for students who have previously attended institutions of higher education -- but usually do not require standardized test scores.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Applications for two-year schools are generally shorter than applications for other institutions and require less than an hour of a student's time.
  • Transcripts: Transcripts demonstrate an applicant's academic record. Students can get these for free (from their high school guidance counselor) or for a small fee (from their previous institution's office of the registrar).
  • Application Fee: Some public, two-year colleges offer free applications, while other institutions charge as much as $50. Students who prove financial hardship and apply for waivers may not have to pay any application fees.

Educational Paths for Elementary Education Associate Programs

Although associate degrees in elementary education allow graduates to work in childcare, many states require classroom teachers to have bachelor's degrees. These teachers not only have more agency in their lesson plans, but also make more money per year than professionals with associate degrees. For example, teacher assistants make an average of $26,260, while elementary school teachers earn $56,900 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Elementary Education

After two further years of study, associate program graduates can earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education. These programs prepare learners to become certified teachers who educate children between kindergarten and sixth grade. Graduates can specialize in a subject area or work as generalists.

Special Education

Young learners with developmental disabilities need teachers who accommodate them. Students in these bachelor's programs study teaching methods and classroom practices to help these children.

Early Childhood Education

These programs teach students to facilitate pre-kindergarten learning. Graduates are ready to lead preschool and childcare organizations.

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

While each program differs, there are several commonalities across associate programs in elementary education, including the curriculum and expected program length.

Courses in an Associate Program in Elementary Education

As with most associate degrees, learners study core subjects like math, English, and history. Major-specific studies for an associate degree in elementary education may include some of the following common classes.

Elementary School Art

Art is an essential part of elementary education. This course teaches students to plan art lessons and evaluate completed projects. Learners may also study art theory as it applies to education.

Family and Community Relationships

Beyond the classroom, effective teachers must also connect with each child's family and surrounding community. These courses teach students to integrate adults into a child's learning environment.

Developmental Psychology

Students in this course study human development in growing children, including the social, emotional, and educational needs of young people. They apply these ideas to their classrooms.

Physical Education

In this course, students learn to facilitate physical education courses in elementary schools. The course may cover the physical needs of young children, how to plan gym-oriented lessons, and safety concerns.

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

A full-time student can expect to earn an associate degree in elementary education in two years. However, there are several factors which can impact program length: Students who take summer courses, for example, may graduate in 18 months or fewer, while those enrolled part time can expect to finish in more than two years.

How Much Is an Associate in Elementary Education?

The cost of an associate degree varies by institution. Generally, public in-state colleges cost less than other institutions. In fact, learners can expect to pay an average of $3,750 per year for tuition and fees at such colleges, according to the College Board. Students who attend public four-year institutions in their states spend $9,970 per year on tuition and fees. This means that students who earn associate degrees at two-year colleges before heading to four-year institutions can save more than $10,000 on their education.

However, learners should also consider other costs, like room and board. Most two-year colleges do not provide on-campus living arrangements, so prospective students should look at the cost of living and commuting expenses for each school.

Professional Organizations in Elementary Education

Students completing their associate degree in elementary education can join professional organizations for educators. These associations offer networking opportunities like local chapter meetings and national conferences. Learners may also access continuing education classes and exclusive teaching resources. Many organizations also provide career services like job boards and resume reviews.

Association of American Educators

The Association of American Educators is the largest non-union organization for educators in the U.S. Members are eligible for scholarships, grants, discounts to partner companies, and liability insurance. The association also lobbies for educational interests in Congress.

National Education Association

The National Education Association advocates for excellent public schooling around the country. Members can apply for teaching grants, attend local events, and access exclusive tools for their classrooms.

American Federation of Teachers

The American Federation of Teachers is a union organization for teachers and early childhood professionals. The organization offers opportunities for networking and community involvement.