It's no secret that an associate degree is a great first step toward earning a bachelor's. Many schools now encourage a “two and two” approach to undergraduate education, where students complete their first two years at a community college and finish their bachelor's at a four-year university. This allows students to graduate at a fraction of the cost of a traditional university. An online associate degree in education opens yet another door — with this degree graduates can move directly into a paraeducator position. Many preschools and elementary classrooms need entry-level educators, and an associate degree offers terrific preparation. Not only do graduates gain immediate teaching experience, they're prepared to return to school with a solid foundation. Paraeducators are also eligible to join professional organizations like the National Education Association and begin the licensure process, all while taking the first step in a long, rewarding career.

What are the best education programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Saint Francis University Loretto, PA
2 Chaminade University of Honolulu Honolulu, HI
3 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
4 Allen Community College Iola, KS
5 Northeast Community College Norfolk, NE
6 Southwestern Assemblies of God University Waxahachie, TX
7 The Ohio State University Columbus, OH
8 University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, AK
9 Arkansas Tech University Russellville, AR
10 Concordia University, St. Paul Saint Paul, MN

As labor studies have shown, it's a good time earn an associate degree and enter paraeducation. According to a recent study reported by Rasmussen College, you increase the number of jobs available to you by 134% simply by earning an associate. Paraeducation, in particular, is expected to grow by at least 6% in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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

Time to Complete

Full-time students can usually complete an associate-level education online degree in two years or less.

Credit Hours

To graduate, most online colleges require students to complete 60 credit hours of coursework.

Program Costs

$6,000 is the average cost for a year's tuitio.

Core Courses

English composition, public speaking, introduction to teaching, child development, math for teachers, US history, natural sciences

Concentrations

Special education, early childhood to kindergarten education, middle grades, secondary education

Accreditation

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation is the standard bearer for educational accreditation.

Additional Considerations

Some programs lead to basic licensure. Many include a field practicum, which requires a background check.

2020 Best Accredited Online Associate in Education Programs

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Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle
1

Saint Francis University

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

Saint Francis powers distance learning with the Canvas platform. The university offers an array of online undergraduate and graduate degrees, including an online associate degree in early childhood education that requires 63 credits. Students can complete all required coursework online or take some on-campus courses.

Major courses include educational psychology; child development; and family, school, and community partnerships. Graduates are prepared to work as teacher's aides, Head Start coordinators, and daycare assistants. They can also easily transfer into the university's bachelor of early childhood education program.

Saint Francis accepts applications on a rolling basis and provides two start dates each semester. Associate in education applicants can access several financial aid opportunities, including state-funded TEACH scholarships.

2

Chaminade University of Honolulu

Honolulu, HI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 59%

Chaminade serves nearly 3,000 students in over 50 programs each year, including an online associate of science in early childhood education track. Throughout a 60-credit curriculum, students learn to create positive and practice-informed learning experiences for children ages 2-6.

Required courses include child development; music, art, and creative movement in classroom instruction; and health and family issues. Participants gain hands-on skills by completing a practicum. This associate in education program meets standards established by the Hawaii state government and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Chaminade uses a holistic admissions process that gives applicants the option to submit ACT or SAT scores. The university accepts applications on a rolling basis. Undergraduate applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA.

3

Liberty University

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

Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty is a leader in distance learning. The university offers over 140 undergraduate programs, including an online associate degree in education that is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Students take accelerated, eight-week courses, and they can complete the program in under 18 months. Learners may also fulfill up to 75% of their degree requirements with transfer credits.

Required coursework covers topics like principles of education, learning theory and portfolio development, and psychology of childhood. Students also develop classroom management techniques. This program does not lead to initial teaching licensure.

Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA. Liberty provides several financial aid opportunities, such as tuition discounts for military personnel and first responders.

4

Allen Community College

Iola, KS Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 38%

Allen offers over 60 academic and technical programs, many of which students can complete online through the Blackboard platform. The college offers four options for learners who want to earn an online associate degree in education. Graduates are prepared to pursue entry-level jobs or transfer into bachelor's completion tracks that prepare them for state teaching licensure.

Students can pursue an early childhood education degree, enrolling in an associate of science or associate of applied science program. They can also earn an associate of arts in elementary education. Additionally, Allen offers a 64-credit associate of arts in secondary education that prepares students to teach classes like algebra, U.S. history, biology, and geography.

Prospective learners must submit ACT, ASSET, or Compass scores. Distance learners are eligible for federal aid and institutional scholarships.

5

Northeast Community College

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

Located in Norfolk, Nebraska, Northeast serves more than 5,000 students annually. The college uses the Canvas platform to offer online degrees, including an associate of arts with an early childhood education concentration. After completing this 60-credit program, graduates can begin careers as childcare workers, teacher's assistants, and preschool administrators.

The curriculum consists of courses like expressive arts, children with exceptionalities, and family and community relationships. Students also learn to develop curricula that emphasize inclusionary practices and parental engagement. All learners complete two practica with infants/toddlers and preschool-aged children.

All applicants must submit ACT or SAT scores. Northeast provides institutional scholarships and merit-based tuition waivers. Students also benefit from dedicated career services that help them explore job options, search for employment, and create effective resumes and cover letters.

6

Southwestern Assemblies of God University

Waxahachie, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 44%

SAGU serves about 2,100 students each year, many of whom earn their certificates and degrees online through the Blackboard platform. The university's undergraduate catalog includes an associate in education program, which prepares graduates to work as teaching assistants and school administrators. Distance learners can take all required courses online or complete the degree through blended learning.

The 60-credit curriculum includes major courses like foundations of education and instructional technology. Students delve into developmental psychology as it relates to principles and theories of learning. SAGU also offers an online associate program in early childhood education.

While applicants do not need to submit ACT or SAT scores, they may need to take placement tests.

7

The Ohio State University

Columbus, OH Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 84%

Ohio State powers distance learning with the Canvas platform, offering over 35 online programs, including an online associate of arts in early childhood development and education. This 60-credit program leads to associate licensure in pre-K education in Ohio, allowing graduates to teach in preschool and childcare programs.

Required courses cover topics like psychological perspectives on education, family development, and young children with exceptionalities. Students learn how to promote language development and create age-appropriate curricula. They gain hands-on skills by completing a fieldwork experience.

Ohio State provides fall, spring, and summer start dates. The university evaluates applicants holistically based on criteria like GPA, ACT, or SAT scores; leadership achievements; and work experience. Online students can access government grants and institutional scholarships.

8

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Fairbanks, AK Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 32%

UAF delivers affordable distance learning programs — including an online associate of applied science in early childhood education — through the Blackboard platform. Throughout a 60-credit curriculum, students cultivate the knowledge and skills needed to support the development of the whole child from prenatal stages to age eight.

Required courses include curricular principles and practices, nutrition and physical wellness, and child and family ecology. Students also examine child guidance, learning how to create safe and healthy learning environments for children with special needs. To earn their online associate degree in education, all learners must complete a practicum.

Distance learners can begin taking classes in the spring, summer, or fall semester. UAF requires applicants to submit ACCUPLACER, ACT, or SAT scores. The university offers several financial aid opportunities, including the Alaska Performance Scholarship for high-achieving state residents.

9

Arkansas Tech University

Russellville, AR Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 41%

Based in Russellville, ATU serves approximately 10,000 students annually. The university offers an online associate degree in early childhood education that prepares graduates for careers in childcare centers, schools, and social services organizations. Graduates are eligible to earn the national child development associate certification.

The 60-credit curriculum includes courses like child growth and development, nutritional science, and theories of early childhood education. ATU's associate in education program also teaches learners how to create instructional materials using developmentally appropriate activities and practices. The program culminates in a practicum.

First-year applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA and adequate ACCUPLACER, ACT, or SAT scores.

10

Concordia University, St. Paul

Saint Paul, MN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 59%

CSP offers more than 40 online programs through the Blackboard platform, including a fully online associate degree in early childhood education. Students in this program take seven-week courses that allow them to work full time and still earn their degree in two years.

The 64-credit curriculum includes courses that cover areas like language development/literacy, best teaching practices, and children's play and learning. Students examine the role of the early childhood educator with respect to cultural inclusivity and professional ethics. The associate in education curriculum satisfies training requirements established by the Child Development Associate National Credentialing Program.

Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA. They must also submit a 400-word personal essay. CSP boasts a high success rate, with 95% of students receiving job offers within one year of graduation.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Associate in Education Degree?

CAREER PATHS

Most people entering the workforce with an online associate degree in education do so as entry-level classroom help. This might be as an assistant teacher, an educational technician, or a preschool teacher who instructs children before they go into kindergarten. Some may find work in childcare centers, Head Start programs, or even in religious organizations. Almost universally, these positions require you to be comfortable around very young children, and part-time positions are not uncommon.

Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers work in nursery schools and childcare centers, teaching language skills, math, and science to kids under five years old. The job requires patience and an ability to connect with and inspire toddlers.

Median Annual Salary - $28,790
Projected Growth Rate - 7%

Assistant Teacher

Because of large average classroom sizes, most teachers have help. Assistant teachers provide support to educators and work under the supervision of classroom teachers. They spend one-on-one time with kids, help them understand the instructions and lessons of the day, and provide personal attention. They also may work with special needs children. The position usually follows a traditional school schedule.

Median Annual Salary - $25,410
Projected Growth Rate - 6%

Childcare Worker

Many families and child-care centers hire help to take care of young children while parents are working. Because this position often includes teaching kids rudimentary skills, an associate in education is a major asset.

Median Annual Salary - $21,170
Projected Growth Rate - 5%

EDUCATIONAL PATHS

While an online associate in education offers good preparation for assistant teachers, it is also a great step to a bachelor's degree in education. Every state requires teachers to possess a four-year degree to gain licensure, and a two-year program lays the foundation. Most schools design their associate in education for students to transfer to a traditional university for the remaining two years of a baccalaureate degree. In other words, two-year schools provide an affordable path to complete general education requirements, and many schools guarantee that earned credits will transfer.

The investment is worth it — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income of kindergarten and elementary school teachers was $55,490 in 2016, almost double the salary of a preschool teacher with only an associate.

  • Bachelor's in Education: The traditional bachelor's in education takes four to five years to complete, and leads to licensure as a teacher at the K-12 level. Most programs allow students to specialize in the grade level or subject matter they'd like to teach.
  • Bachelor's in Special Education: Special education teachers take a slightly different path to traditional teaching, earning extra certification in subject matters and techniques used in special needs populations.
  • Bachelor's in Educational Administration: Most principals and school administrators have master's degrees, but a bachelor's in educational administration lays the foundation. This degree can usually be earned in four years, but some programs require slightly longer study.

Employment Outlook for Associate in Education Graduates

ASSOCIATE IN EDUCATION SALARY

Education is one of the major factors determining financial success, and this is certainly true of an associate degree. According to recent labor market studies not only does a two-year degree improve one's job prospects — 6.3 million available jobs, as opposed to 4.7 million for high school grads — it also results in higher pay. Those with an associate degree earn nearly $23,000 a year, according to Payscale — which amounts to an additional $6,000 a year over those with only a high-school diploma. A completed associate degree also makes you more attractive to employers and university admissions officers.

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

One of the benefits of working in education is the array of professional organizations and networking opportunities available to you. These groups often have continuing education programs, special publications to keep you up-to-date on the industry, conferences to meet-and-greet peers and learn best practices, online discussion groups, and plenty of opportunities to meet like-minded people across the country.

Resources for Associate in Education Programs

One of the main benefits of an online associate degree in education is its affordability. It is perhaps the least expensive way to begin a teaching career, as it provides a cheap alternative to pricey four-year schools. Even so, tuition costs may still be expensive. Thankfully, students in online associate in education programs are eligible for the same financial aid as their on-campus counterparts. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine your eligibility for federal funding. Several organizations also offer scholarships to aspiring teachers, and Teach.org is an excellent source of funding opportunities. Some communities will even offer grants or pay off your loans in exchange for a commitment to teach in specific communities.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

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.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

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 STUDENTS

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.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

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.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

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.