An associate degree in early childhood education prepares you for a career working with young children and their families. Many school districts across the country are implementing kindergarten programs for four-year-old children, and the National Center for Education Statistics reports that more than one million children are enrolled in pre-K programs nationwide.

An associate degree in early childhood education allows you to teach in a preschool setting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the early childhood education field will have an employment increase of 10% between 2016 and 2026, which is above the national average.

What are the best early childhood education programs? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Fennimore, WI
2 Stanly Community College Albemarle, NC
3 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
4 Northeast Community College Norfolk, NE
5 Vance-Granville Community College Henderson, NC
6 Community Care College Tulsa, OK
7 South Texas College McAllen, TX
8 Saint Francis University Loretto, PA
9 Kennebec Valley Community College Fairfield, ME
10 Randolph Community College Asheboro, NC

Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College

Fennimore, WI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 61%

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, located in Fennimore, serves approximately 2,000 students each year. In addition to traditional day classes, Southwest Tech provides flexible evening, weekend, and online learning options that are suitable for working professionals. The school's online associate degree in early childhood education takes two years to complete.

Courses in this 60-credit program include introduction to diversity studies; guiding child behavior; and subject-specific curriculum development in STEM, social studies, art, and music. While a majority of course components allow for online completion, all students must complete four on-site practicum experiences in an early childhood setting.

Admission requires official transcripts, ACT or ACCUPLACER scores, and an application fee. Students may need to meet additional requirements to participate in required labs. Classes begin each August.


Stanly Community College

Albemarle, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 48%

Stanly Community College — located in Albemarle, North Carolina — awards certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees. Approximately 2,500 students enroll each year — more than half of whom study exclusively online.

Students pursuing an online associate degree in early childhood education at SCC can select from three different tracks: a transferable birth-kindergarten licensure track, a transferable non-licensure track, and a career-ready track. Requiring 71-73 credits, each track has courses in child development, general psychology, and quantitative literacy. Two on-site practica are required.

All applicants must submit an official copy of their high school transcripts. Placement testing may be required. Testing waivers are available for recent high school graduates and applicants with completed college-level English or math courses.


Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

Boasting one of the largest student enrollments in the nation, Liberty University is an evangelical Christian institution offering over 400 online programs. On average, students complete Liberty's associate in early childhood education in 18 months.

The 60-credit curriculum includes asynchronous, eight-week courses that cover topics like child psychology, educational philosophy, and classroom management. The entire program can be completed online without in-person requirements. All online students qualify for the same per-credit tuition rate, regardless of residency, with additional discounts available for active-duty military and veterans.

First-time college students applying to Liberty need only confirm completion of a high school education through a self-certification form. A minimum GPA is not required for associate programs.


Northeast Community College

Norfolk, NE Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 48%

Forty-one percent of Northeast Community College's roughly 5,000 students take at least one online course. The public institution operates four campuses in Nebraska and provides distance learners with access to 13 associate degrees entirely online, including an associate of arts with a concentration in elementary education.

Northeast's 60-credit curriculum covers topics like child and adolescent psychology, psychology of learning, and children's literature. An on-site professional practicum is required. Graduates are prepared to transfer into teacher education bachelor's programs.

Prospective first-year applicants must provide official high school transcripts and ACT or SAT test scores. Applicants without test scores can schedule an ASSET/COMPASS test through Northeast's testing center.


Vance-Granville Community College

Henderson, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 43%

Vance-Granville Community College serves four counties in North Carolina, educating about 3,000 students each year. VGCC offers more than 40 programs, including 10 that take place entirely online. The school's online associate degree in early childhood education requires 69 credits.

Available program tracks include general, college transfer, administration, and special education options. Through courses in child development, curriculum planning, and family and community relationships, graduates are prepared to immediately enter the workforce or transfer into a university program. A practicum in an early childhood setting is also required.

Prospective students must complete an on-campus orientation, submit official high school transcripts, and schedule placement testing (unless they qualify for a waiver).


Community Care College

Tulsa, OK Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 68%

Community Care College is a private institution focused on helping aspiring professionals gain the skills required to launch a successful career. More than 50% of CCC students attend class online, pursuing programs in 11 disciplines, including early childhood education.

The school's associate in early childhood education features required courses in language and literacy, classroom management, and child growth and development. Distance learners in the program can graduate within 10 months. Graduates are prepared for employment in public daycares and preschools. CCC offers student support through tutoring, career services, and library services.

Prospective students can complete a free application online. CCC representatives guide all applicants through the remainder of the enrollment and financial aid process.


South Texas College

McAllen, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 22%

With annual enrollment numbers reaching 32,000 students, South Texas College is the state's largest higher education institution south of San Antonio. This public college offers more than 120 certificate and degree options. Thirty-six programs can be completed online, including an associate of arts in teaching with an EC-6 generalist track.

The curriculum of this AAT degree features 60-62 credits of coursework, including introduction to the teaching profession, introduction to special populations, and U.S. history. Two of the required classes in this program are field experience courses. Students who earn this associate degree can transfer to four-year programs to pursue initial Texas teacher certification.

Admission requires a completed high school education. Applicants must provide official documentation in the form of a high school transcript or GED certificate. Once accepted, students may need to complete placement testing.


Saint Francis University

Loretto, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 69%

Saint Francis University is a Catholic institution that offers more than 50 degrees across art, science, business, and health. Approximately 2,300 students enroll each year. Saint Francis also provides an extensive selection of asynchronous online programs, including an associate in early childhood education.

Available as a part-time or full-time option, the early childhood education program requires 63 credits. Coursework covers foundational concepts of education, early childhood pedagogy, and an introduction to special education. Graduates are prepared to pursue employment or pursue seamless transfer into one of the university's bachelor's programs.

Saint Francis accepts applications on a rolling basis. To apply, prospective students must provide a completed application and official high school and/or college transcripts.


Kennebec Valley Community College

Fairfield, ME Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 45%

Kennebec Valley Community College is a public institution headquartered on a 70-acre campus in Fairfield, Maine. Approximately 2,500 part-time and full-time students enroll in for-credit programs each year. KVCC offers flexible distance learning options, including hybrid and asynchronous online programs.

To earn an online associate degree in early childhood education, students must complete 63 credits of classes covering topics like health safety and nutrition, developmental psychology, and classroom management. Three in-person practica, totalling 270 field experience hours, are also required. Graduates can pursue employment as education technicians, classroom aides, and childcare workers.

Prospective students can fill out a free online application. Official high school transcripts are required for admission. Applicants can submit standardized exam scores (ACT, SAT, or PSAT) or complete placement testing.


Randolph Community College

Asheboro, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 42%

Randolph Community College is a public, two-year college in Asheboro, North Carolina. Approximately 2,800 students enroll each year, pursuing study in fields like graphic design, cosmetology, criminal justice, and nursing. Students can complete an associate in early childhood education through day, evening, online, or hybrid courses.

The 70-credit curriculum covers areas like creative activities, child development, and children with exceptionalities. No formal practicum is required, but students engage in field experiences during one of their courses.

RCC uses an open-door admission policy. Prospective students must complete an application, speak with someone from the admissions office, and provide official high school transcripts. Once accepted, learners may need to complete placement testing.

What Can I Expect From an Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Program?

An early childhood education online associate degree can be completed in one or two years and requires students to earn around 60 credits. Students will encounter courses in child growth and development, language development, child safety, and more. Many early childhood education online programs offer concentrations for students to choose between, which may include special education, child advocacy, and childhood nutrition.

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

Every early childhood education associate degree program is different, but there are some common factors that will come up regardless of where you study. Below, you'll find examples of the kinds of courses you might take, and get some idea of how long it will take to complete your degree.

Curriculum for an Online Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education

Child Development I
These courses usually focus on the development of children during the prenatal, infant, and toddler stages. You will discuss the biological, mental, and social patterns common to these early stages of life, as well as techniques for guiding children and parents toward developmental benchmarks.
Child Development II
Courses like this generally focus on children from three to eight years, covering preschool, kindergarten, and the first two or three grades of primary school. You will spend more time discussing pedagogy as well as mental and social developmental benchmarks.
Safe Learning Environments
This course discusses how to determine if children have a safe environment in which to learn, including health codes, the emotional development of children, bullying, and helping children face issues outside of the classroom.
Nutrition and Wellness
These courses cover the nutritional needs of children to foster healthy eating habits early in life. You will also discuss ways to help children stay active, both in class and after they leave for home.
Family Relationships
These courses focus on family structures and their impact on child development. You will discuss evolving models of those structures as well as how to help children navigate changes to them, such as divorce, parental incarceration or death, as well as moving or the introduction of new siblings.

Accreditation for Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Degrees

Accreditation is an important part of the academic process. An accredited school is certified by a national or regional board, meaning that the school has earned the right to award degrees to their students, and meet standards of education. Regional boards accredit public colleges, while national boards accredit private, for-profit, and vocational schools. Neither accreditation is better than the other; the difference is merely one of jurisdiction.

Some professional organizations offer accreditation of programs and degrees, known as programmatic accreditation. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is one such organization, reviewing early childhood programs and offering accreditation to those who meet their standards. While programmatic accreditation like this is not necessary for a quality education, programs with such accreditation offer something extra, and also look better on resumes.

The United States Department of Education sets the standards to which accreditation boards hold schools, though regional boards may also enforce standards developed by individual states. The Department of Education also maintains the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, which allows users to search for the accreditation of individual schools.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation is a group of over 3,000 degree-granting institutions that advocates for accreditation and the importance of academic standards. They release a number of studies and publications to help inform the public about these issues.

Employment Outlook for Associate in Early Childhood Education Graduates

Associate in Early Childhood Education Salary

The table below offers salary estimates for the field of early childhood education. The table below lists some common positions you to may want to pursue with an online early childhood education degree and the salary expectations for those positions. For each, we have listed the national median salary, as well as those for professionals with less than five years experience, between 5-10 years of experience, and over 20 years of experience. Education careers with greater earning potential than those listed below require more training, but these positions offer a good starting point.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Median Salary for Mid-Career Median Salary for Late-Career
Preschool Teacher $30,109 $25,000 $27,000 $29,000
Teacher's Assistant $22,691 $22,000 $24,000 $26,000
Childcare Worker $24,630 $20,000 $21,000 $24,000

Associate in Early Childhood Education Careers

Below, you'll find descriptions of and salary information for some of the most common careers available to someone with an early childhood education associate degree. While creative individuals might find ways to apply such a degree in other careers or fields, such as business or publishing, these are some of the jobs for which the degree was designed and for which it prepares students. You can find salary and job growth information in the table below the descriptions.

Preschool Teachers

These professionals work with children under the age of 5, helping them learn motor, language, and social skills. Their job is primarily to help prepare children for kindergarten, during which time they will be eased into more rigorous K-12 system.

Median Annual Salary - $28,990
Projected Growth Rate - 10%

Teacher Assistants

These professionals work under the direct supervision of one or more teachers, offering help in the classroom. Their primary role is to give students additional attention that would take time away from the rest of the class. They might help with specific areas of study such as math or theater.

Median Annual Salary - $26,260
Projected Growth Rate - 8%

Childcare Workers

These professionals work in child care facilities or private homes attending to the basic needs of children. They oversee play, meals, bathing, and other aspects of children's lives. They may work with very young children or those who are largely independent./p>

Median Annual Salary - $22,290
Projected Growth Rate - 7%


An online associate degree in early childhood education prepares you for undergraduate studies, which in return, will prepare you for more advanced positions. An associate degree is sufficient to serve as a preschool teacher or teacher's assistant, but most states require a four-year degree to teach kindergarten through third grade. Earning an associate degree in early childhood education will allow you to easily transition into a bachelor's program.

Early Childhood Education: A bachelor's degree in early childhood education allows you to qualify for jobs as a teacher for children from birth to third grade. These programs represent the most seamless transition for learners who already hold an early childhood education online associate degree from an accredited institution.

Elementary Education: Bachelor's programs in elementary education prepare students to teach children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Teacher certification, which is required in most states, is a key component of these programs.

Special Education: With a bachelor's degree in special education, you'll be prepared to provide instruction to children, teenagers, and young adults with special needs. Special education professionals may work with children as young as three and adults as old as 21.

Library Science: Many individuals with an early childhood education associate degree transfer into library science, where they study to become librarians in a K-12 or community library setting. These programs focus on reading and literacy, along with the use of technology and best practices to help students access information.

Professional Organizations

Joining a professional organization is a good idea even if you are still working on your degree. They can provide networking and job search assistance, continuing education opportunities, and even financial assistance during school. Once you are in the workforce, they can help you to improve your abilities, advance your career, and help others facing similar professional challenges. The four groups detailed below are just a small sample of the organizations you might join.

Financing Your Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Program

Despite the media reports on the rising costs of higher education, it is possible to earn an affordable early childhood education associate degree. First, students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which will help you determine if you are eligible for any federal grants, subsidized loans, or work-study support. There are also numerous scholarships available for students looking to enter the early childhood education field, so be sure to check with your program or search online for additional support to finance your education.


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