Early childhood education (ECE) programs cover the educational theories, methods, and tools used to teach children from preschool through second grade. ECE also covers strategies parents can use to evaluate and educate their infants and toddlers. In addition to classroom teachers, many ECE graduates become paraeducators and classroom assistants, special education specialists, childcare center employees, and child psychologists.
What are the best early childhood education programs of 2020? Here are our top 5:
- Florida International University - Miami, FL
- University of Washington - Seattle, WA
- University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, WI
- Eastern Washington University - Cheney, WA
- California Baptist University - Riverside, CA
A bachelor's degree is considered the minimum educational requirement for most ECE professionals, including preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers. ECE bachelor's programs equip students with the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to lead lessons, games, and other activities for young learners. Most programs also feature required practicum components, which allow students to receive supervised training from established teachers in actual classrooms.
Today, many students are choosing to earn their bachelor's in early childhood education online. Web-based programs follow the same rigorous curriculum as classroom-based options, and the flexible schedule is particularly convenient for students with jobs, childcare responsibilities, or any other commitments that make attending classes on campus difficult.
2020 Best Accredited Online Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education Programs
Florida International University
|Miami, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 58%||
Based in Miami, Florida International University is a leader in distance education. The institution delivers more than 100 remote undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a fully online bachelor of science in early childhood education. Throughout a 120-credit curriculum, students develop in-depth understanding of the social/emotional, cognitive, and language development of young children.
Major coursework covers educational psychology, family literacy, and teaching students with exceptionalities in inclusive settings. Learners round out their studies by taking three electives. This bachelor's in early childhood education does not result in teacher certification.
FIU offers fall, spring, and summer entry dates. Applicants must submit ACT or SAT scores. Applicants must earn a minimum 2.5 GPA on all lower division coursework.
University of Washington - Seattle
|Seattle, WA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 84%||
The University of Washington offers 17 fully online bachelor's programs that students can complete within two years. UW offers a bachelor's in early childhood education that emphasizes the latest educational research and best practices. UW delivers coursework asynchronously through Canvas.
The curriculum features classes in child observation/assessment and positive behavior support. Students also learn to develop effective curricula and educational programs. The program culminates in a senior project, in which candidates present a professional portfolio.
Applicants need at least 70 transferable credits earned with a minimum 2.5 GPA. The cohort program offers start dates in the fall and spring.
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point
|Stevens Point, WI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 62%||
The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point serves over 9,000 students each year and now offers an online bachelor's degree in early childhood education. Delivered in a hybrid format, the program combines asynchronous online coursework with on-campus experiences.
Required classes include human growth/development, methods and materials for teaching reading, and educational technology. Learners also develop the skills to support students with special needs. They gain hands-on experience by completing practica and student-teaching sessions.
Although UWSP prefers the ACT, the school also accepts SAT scores. UWSP awards merit and major-specific scholarships. UWSP's school of education provides its own financial aid opportunities and career development resources.
Eastern Washington University
|Cheney, WA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 44%||
Eastern Washington University maintains its flagship campus in Cheney, serving 12,600 students annually. EWU delivers over 90 online and hybrid academic programs, which include a bachelor's in early childhood education. Qualifying candidates can concurrently enroll in the teacher education program, preparing to earn a Washington teaching certification.
Students take required courses in early literacy, art in the elementary school, and assessment in early childhood education. They learn best practices for creating blended curricula that support the needs of diverse children. All students complete field experiences, a practicum, and a capstone project.
Applicants need a minimum 2.8 GPA. They must submit adequate ACT/SAT scores or achieve designated results on the Washington Educator Skills Test.
California Baptist University
|Riverside, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
California Baptist University provides more than 40 online majors and concentrations, including an online bachelor's in early childhood education that teaches students to create and oversee developmentally appropriate learning environments for young children. Most candidates complete the 48-credit major in 16 months.
Upper division requirements cover cognitive development in infancy and early childhood, STEM integrated with the arts, and the exceptional child. Students learn to administer early childhood programs with regards to quality standards and sensitivity toward diversity. They also complete a research seminar, developing the skills to succeed in graduate academics. The program delivers all coursework asynchronously through Blackboard.
To enroll in this bachelor's in early childhood education program, applicants need a 2.0 minimum GPA. CBU prefers students with at least 24 transferable credits.
University of Wisconsin - River Falls
|River Falls, WI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
The University of Wisconsin River Falls champions affordable and career-focused education. Students choose from over 70 areas of study across four colleges, including an online bachelor's in early childhood education. Accepted students can pair their degree with a Wisconsin early childhood teaching certification.
The curriculum covers educational psychology, preschool curriculum, and supervision and management of early childhood programs. Students develop the specialized skills to teach and create curricula for K-3 mathematics and integrated reading/language arts. All learners in the program complete 100 hours of student teaching.
Applicants need an associate degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also demonstrate satisfactory performance on basic skills assessment through either the ACT, SAT, or PRAXIS.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
|Saint Mary of the Woods, IN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
Chartered in 1846, Saint Mary-of-the Woods College is the oldest Catholic post-secondary school in Indiana. Today, the institution delivers 50 academic programs, including an online bachelor's in early childhood education. Students can choose between hybrid and entirely online delivery methods.
The curriculum covers core topics like growth/development and ethical foundations of education. Candidates also delve into mild disabilities, content area literacy, and special education law. They complete 21 credits of clinical experiences before engaging in supervised teaching sessions.
Applicants pursuing the licensure track need 40 transfer credits earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA and adequate ACT/SAT scores.
Central Methodist University
|Fayette, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 59%||
Central Methodist University delivers more than 25 online programs through its College of Graduate and Extended Studies, including a bachelor's in early childhood education that prepares students to earn Missouri teaching certification. Asynchronous classes span eight and 16 weeks to accommodate the busy schedules of working professionals.
Students take required classes like materials for teaching content classes and psychology of the exceptional child. They develop program administration skills and the ability to tap into family and community resources. Students gain hands-on experiences by completing a field experience and student teaching hours.
Admissions criteria include a minimum 2.5 GPA and adequate ACT/SAT scores. CMU offers scholarships for incoming freshmen, transfer candidates, and education majors.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University maintains a comprehensive catalog of online certificates and degrees. Distance learners can enroll in a bachelor's in early childhood education to cultivate the leadership skills and pedagogical knowledge to engage students of all backgrounds. By taking accelerated eight-week classes, learners can graduate within 3.5 years.
Courses include educational psychology, classroom management, and instructional practice for differential instruction. Students learn to create settings that foster wellness in young children. They round out their degree by completing a field experience and capstone project.
Applicants need a 2.0 minimum GPA. Liberty maintains a generous transfer policy that lets students fulfill up to 75% of their degree requirements with external credits.
The University of Montana - Western
|Dillon, MT||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 45%||
The University of Montana Western offers a catalog of programs that includes a bachelor's in early childhood education. UMW offers most of the program's general education and core classes online, allowing students to complete the degree in a hybrid format.
The curriculum covers topics like positive child guidance and management, meeting the needs of families, and cultural diversity. Students also examine the goals, benefits, and limitations of current assessment practices. All learners in the program complete one course at a time. Working with a personal advisor, learners choose advanced coursework in an emphasis area, such as special education, business/management, or safety and nutrition.
UMW offers fall, spring, and summer entry dates. First-time applicants must submit ACT or SAT scores. The university offers several scholarship opportunities, including the Reach
Higher Montana award for state residents.
- WHAT IS THE BEST ONLINE SCHOOL FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION?
BestColleges.com ranks Florida International University's bachelor's in early childhood education at number one, but each school is different. Prospective students should check whether schools meet their needs and will help them achieve their goals. Read more here..
- CAN YOU GET AN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION DEGREE ONLINE?
Yes. BestColleges.com ranked 25 of the best online bachelor's in early childhood education. Read more here..
- HOW TO GET AN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION DEGREE ONLINE
After students have been admitted, they must complete all curriculum requirements, which may include a set amount of student-teaching hours or a capstone project. Most programs also require learners to maintain a minimum GPA. Read more here..
- WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH AN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION DEGREE?
Graduates with a bachelor's in early childhood education are prepared for many careers, including kindergarten teacher, special education teacher, and preschool director.
- IS AN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION DEGREE WORTH IT?
Professionals with a bachelor's in early childhood education make 29% to 32% more than those with an associate degree. A bachelor's degree also prepares learners for more careers.
Choosing a Program
WILL AN ONLINE EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
ECE bachelor's programs teach students how to educate young children. Students are taught how to incorporate games, songs, art projects, and other engaging activities into their lesson plans. They also study procedures for evaluating young children in different academic arenas, and how to work with children who have learning disabilities or behavioral issues. Other areas of focus include state and federal laws governing public education, strategies for holding parent-teacher conferences, and ways to integrate disabled and gifted children into the classroom dynamic.
WILL AN ONLINE EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?
Most online ECE bachelor's programs follow an asynchronous (self-paced) schedule, which allows students to access course lectures and materials, submit written assignments, take exams, and communicate with their professors on their own schedule. The latest in educational technology also allows them to study away from home using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, and other Wi-Fi-compatible devices. For additional convenience, distance learners can usually coordinate practicum courses at schools and other training sites near their residence.
WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION DEGREE?
Many ECE bachelor's program graduates pursue careers as kindergarten or elementary school teachers; however, public school teachers at all grade levels must be certified or licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Public school licensure requirements vary by state, although the criteria may include successful completion of a state-issued licensing exam, a set number of classroom-based training hours, undergraduate grade point average, or specialization in specific academic subjects. A background check is usually also required. ECE roles that may not carry licensure requirements include private school teachers, childcare center personnel, and paraeducators.
WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION PROGRAMS?
Choosing a program is a very 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 ECE programs in the United States. If you want to pursue an ECE degree, and you value the opportunity to study online, read on to learn more about the top online early childhood education programs in the country.
Interview with an Expert
Dr. Steve Coxon, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the School of Education at Maryville University and executive director of the Center for Access and Achievement. Dr. Coxon's expertise includes educational development and creativity in early education, specifically in relation to problem-based learning, technology, and STEM curricula.
- Why did you choose to pursue a career in education? Did this field always interest you?
I did not plan to go into education until late in my undergraduate programs in English and biology. An advisor suggested that I complete a service-learning project. I spent a few hours each week in an alternative middle school for students who had been removed from their neighborhood schools for behavior. I loved it and decided to do my master's in secondary curriculum and instruction and taught high school for a while.
However, I had helped pay for my MA by working as a substitute teacher, mostly at the elementary level. I found that I loved working with younger kids, in part because I was able to share my interests in language arts, science, and math — not just one subject. So, I moved into teaching elementary school. I was able to provide my students with strong foundations in each subject, which my secondary students had often been missing.
Now that I have my own three young children, I have discovered a passion for early childhood education. In particular, that passion lead to the grant-funded project STEM Sprouts, which works with teachers in a high-need, urban early childhood center.
- What was the job search like after completing your master's degree in education? What about after earning your doctorate?
I completed my BA and MA at Virginia Tech but decided to move to the Bay Area in California. Most states have reciprocity agreements on teacher certification, though I did have to take California's teacher exam. I applied to half a dozen or so districts around San Francisco while I was in my last semester of my master's program. The phone rang on the cross-country drive with an offer to teach summer school, which I gladly accepted. This led directly to my first full-time teaching position.
The following summer, when I decided to move back to Virginia, I called the principal of the elementary school where I had subbed the most, including a stint as a long-term sub in special ed. I was only asking for a letter of recommendation to teach secondary school, but she essentially offered me a job teaching fifth grade. I still had to go through the interview process, of course, but the principal and teachers on the hiring committee had seen me teach, and I knew that I loved the school community.
I advise all of my university students to see their practicums as long-term job interviews and to take jobs in summer school or as substitutes if at all possible. These are the kinds of opportunities that lead to full-time teaching jobs.
Seeking a job in my last full-time year as a Ph.D. student was very different. My wife was expecting our first baby, so the pressure was much greater. I searched nationwide. I don't remember how many applications I submitted (a lot), but I ended up with three job offers: a gifted education position in a public school district, another as a curriculum director for a private school, and the professorship at Maryville University. My mentor advised me to take the professorship, and I've never looked back.
I love working with pre-service teachers, and my grant-funded projects allow me to work with students of all ages, preK-12th grade. Every day is different, though I do miss having my own elementary classroom.
- What are some crucial skills that you acquired through your degree programs?
As a beginning teacher, being proactive in classroom management instead of simply reactive is the most important thing that I learned, both from hearing about it in the university classroom and through mentors I found in my early career. Although I learned quite a bit from my university programs, I was very fortunate to have great mentors.
In my first year teaching at a high-need, urban high school, I was very frustrated with a student. My mentor there, a science teacher named Randy Depew, reminded me to always remember that I might be the only decent adult in a student's life, which helped put things in perspective. The student had an especially difficult home life. It was vital to develop a relationship with students, particularly those with challenging behavior who often have bigger challenges at home.
This was just as true at the elementary level. All students deserve to have caring teachers, but those who have difficult lives outside of school really require a trusted, caring teacher before they can even begin to learn. Chris Walter was a fifth-grade teacher who modeled how to develop a relationship that wasn't just to be "liked" by students — a mistake many new teachers make. He commanded respect not by raising his voice but by getting to know students well and engaging them with hands-on learning in which they were personally invested. Learning is the opposite of boredom. When students are engaged in learning, even the most challenging behavioral issues can disappear.
When I would hear about a very difficult student who would be in my class in the upcoming school year, I'd invite him in to help me set up the classroom. It could be as simple as making tape squares and hanging posters with me for an hour on a workday right before school. Then, on the first day, I'd make him the line leader and ask him to do special tasks like take the attendance folder to the office. This was a game changer for kids who had become used to being the "bad" kid in class. All of a sudden, on day one, they were a star student. Coupled with differentiated project-based learning, most of the behavioral challenges went away and these students had great school years.
- How have you seen the education field change during your career? What changes do you anticipate for the field in the coming years?
The rise of false accountability through testing has been the biggest change. I think most people — teachers, parents, and, slowly, policymakers — are beginning to see the problems this is bringing. Students in high-poverty schools, in particular, spend so much time in test prep, often including weekly practice, that they are actually spending less time learning.
Kindergarten has been ruined by this hyperfocus on testing in most schools. All students deserve time for hands-on, constructivist learning. We know most worksheets and nearly all homework, a lack of free play and exercise, and a general focus on rote learning are all harmful for all ages, especially in early childhood. Children need to play. They need to move. They construct knowledge over time, not through memorization-focused worksheets. They need to develop social skills, including sharing and communication.
It's my hope that kindergarten, in particular, will be reformed into a time of curiosity and exploration. This is nothing new; we have at least 140 years of thinking and research on this. Young children learn at their own pace when given opportunities within a safe and cheerful learning environment. Almost all children learn to read between ages 4 and 7, for example. We shouldn't deny a 4-year-old who is ready any more than we should force a 5- or 6-year-old just because she is in kindergarten. Learning should be filled with joy, and children will learn at their own pace when facilitated by caring teachers.
- What advice would you give to students who are considering a degree in early childhood education?
Don't go into early childhood education if you think it is going to be easy. You will be teaching the very fundamentals of language arts, math, science, and social studies. Young children require the most patience. You will be teaching vital "soft skills" like sharing, and this work happens over years, not days. You should be a model of joyful learning, curiosity, and creativity every day. You should be excited by worms and spiders, thrilled by shadows, and wonder aloud about the whys of the weather, among everything else!
Whatever you do, stand up for children. You work for them — not for politicians or even principals. It's too easy for adults to forget about child development and to then accidently create school environments that are hostile toward young children's learning. Make your classroom a place of joy and wonder. Be a hero for the tiny people who will look to you for their earliest experiences in learning. You have the opportunity to set the course for the rest of their educational and life journeys.
Financing Your Online Early Childhood Education Degree
Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.