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Early childhood education degrees online

The first few years of a child's life contain vital opportunities for cognitive, physical, emotional and social development, and early childhood education (ECE) degrees can teach you how to help them make the best of those opportunities. Whether you want to work independently, teach in classrooms or shape education at the policy level, early childhood education degrees can help you reach your goals.

Campus-based and online degrees in early childhood education are available at multiple academic levels from schools all over the country. Many institutions even offer their early childhood education degree online, which can make it easier for students to continue their education on a schedule that works for them.

Here's a table that shows the number of schools in each geographical region that feature early childhood education degrees, both online and on campus, according to data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

Region No. of schools with
early childhood education degrees
No. of schools with at least one
early childhood education degree online
Far West (CA, OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 127 19
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 46 13
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 130 25
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 87 23
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 269 55
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 178 19
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 157 9
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 91 8
Total (all 50 states) 1085 171

Entry-level early childhood education degrees

Entry-level degrees in early childhood education can qualify you for a range of careers in the field, depending on the requirements set by the individual employer. Here are some details about a few different types of early childhood education degree, both online and on campus:

  • Associate degrees - Employers of preschool teachers, child care providers and teacher assistants each may prefer candidates who have at least associate-level early childhood education degrees. A two-year curriculum typically includes such subjects as child health, safety and nutrition, infant and toddler care, curriculum development, basic psychology and sensitivity to children with special needs.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Kindergarten and elementary school teachers need bachelor's degrees, as well as childcare center directors and other administrative personnel. Four-year early childhood education degrees expand upon the subjects studied at the associate level, adding such concepts as early childhood observation and assessment and children's literacy, and may include a path to a teaching license in some states.
  • Non-degree certificates - Some institutions offer non-degree programs for students who want to add early childhood education training to their existing degrees in other educational specialties. These credentials can be earned in infant and toddler care, early childhood administration and early school-age teaching, among other areas, and typically require around 16 credit hours of study.

Colleges and universities that give students the option to earn an early childhood education degree online are often willing to work with those whose circumstances might make it difficult to earn a traditional, campus-based degree. If scheduling or financial difficulties might otherwise prevent you from getting your degree, digital distance education programs like those listed below might be just right for you.

In addition to earning an early childhood education degree online or on campus, teachers in public school systems must be licensed by their state board of education or equivalent agency. Your school should have ample resources available to provide information about the requirements for licensure in your state.

Advanced-degree early childhood education programs

Taking your training to the next level may be necessary for some careers in the field, particularly those that include higher education, independent research or considerable administrative and managerial responsibility. Here's some information about upper-level early childhood education degrees and the directions in which they can take your career:

  • Master's degree programs - Early childhood education master's degrees come in two common forms: Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Education (M.Ed.) programs. The differences lie primarily in their applied focus — M.A. degrees tend to concentrate on teaching skills while M.Ed. programs may expand to include administrative theory or school counseling. Master of Science (M.S.) degrees in early childhood education also exist but are somewhat rare.
  • Doctorate programs - Doctoral degrees in early childhood education also have two common variations: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degrees. Programs that lead to a Ph.D. focus on preparing students for careers in research and lifelong study, while those that confer Ed.D. degrees are designed for those who wish to apply their advanced knowledge to continued practical work in the early childhood education field.
  • Graduate and postgraduate certificates - Professionals with extensive prior study in another related field can increase their scope of understanding with early childhood education certificates at the graduate and post-graduate levels. School system superintendents and other education administrators with jurisdiction over multiple student age ranges may use programs like these to bolster their ongoing professional development.

In consideration to the fact that degrees at this level typically provide the most benefit to working professionals whose schedules are unlikely to permit full-time, traditional education, many institutions offer at least one early childhood education graduate degree online. These degrees are primarily beneficial to scholars hoping to deepen their understanding and educators or and administrators hoping to climb the career ladder, but some classroom teachers may opt for graduate degrees as well.

Q&A with experts

Dr. Stacy R. Gill-PhillipsDr. Stacy R. Gill-Phillips, founder of West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School

What would have been helpful to know when you were looking into schools for your own ECE training?

Unfortunately, most colleges and universities do not require teachers to spend time in the classroom until they begin student teaching — find a school that does! There are some schools changing requirements so that education teachers begin gaining classroom experience during their early semesters.

What are some primary differences between degrees at different levels? How does a bachelor's differ from a master's, or a master's differ from a Ph.D/Ed.D.?

A master's degree helps teachers take their teaching to a higher level than teachers with only a bachelor's degree. Because teachers often teach the way they were taught, teachers who complete a master's degree often become emboldened to push the boundaries in their classrooms to take their students to the next level.

Is it always helpful to work in the field for a while before getting a graduate degree? What sort of students should go straight into an ECE master's program after graduating with their bachelor's?

A master's degree program is always helpful, but it is probably more helpful if the degree is obtained after a teacher has been in the classroom for a few years instead of immediately after undergraduate school.

Tiffany Bridgewater

Tiffany Bridgewater, head of Lower School at Louisville Collegiate School

What are the most common educational paths for those interested in this career field?

First and foremost, anyone interested in this career field should love working with young children between the ages of about four through eight. Some schools require a bachelor's degree in child development or early childhood education; however, a graduate degree in early childhood education has become more common among early childhood educators.

Why is a degree in early childhood education important?

Advances in brain research show that the first five years are important to the cognitive as well as social emotional development of young children. This time is also important to the success young children experience later in their academic journey because those early years are building block years.

Types of early childhood education careers

Careers for graduates with early childhood education or child development degrees don't begin and end at the classroom door. Here's a table of the various careers that a degree in early childhood education can lead to, given appropriate professional experience and other qualifications:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2014)
Projected job growth
(2012-2022
)
Total U.S. employment
(2012)
Entry-level education
Childcare Worker $21,710 14 percent 1,312,700 High school diploma or equivalent
Teacher Assistant $26,000 9 percent 1,223,400 Some college, no degree
Preschool Teacher $32,040 17 percent 352,420 Associate degree
Preschool or Childcare Center Director $52,190 17 percent 63,800 Bachelor's degree
Kindergarten Teacher $53,480 13 percent 158,500 Bachelor's degree
Elementary School Teacher $56,830 12 percent 1,361,200 Bachelor's degree
Instructional Coordinator $64,040 13 percent 147,700 Master's degree
Education Teacher, Postsecondary $65,690 15 percent 79,300 Master's degree
School Principal $91,780 6 percent 231,500 Master's degree

Common misconceptions about early childhood education degrees

Early childhood education degrees may be widely available, but that doesn't mean that some restrictions don't occasionally apply. Here are a few common misconceptions about earning your early childhood education degree both online and in the traditional classroom:

Misconception: You can start from scratch at any school to earn an early childhood education degree online.

  • Fact: Some online study plans are structured as degree completion programs instead of full-fledged degrees. Completion plans require students to have a set amount of transferrable credits or a relevant associate degree before they can be cleared to enroll.

Misconception: Early childhood education master's programs all require an ECE bachelor's degree.

  • Fact: Many M.Ed./M.A./M.S. degree programs only ask that applicants hold a bachelor's degree and list no specific subject matter requirements, although your acceptance may be conditional on the completion of certain prerequisites during your first semester or two of enrollment.

Misconception: Earning an early childhood education degree online is easier than earning one on campus.

  • Fact: If anything, online degrees take an extra measure of motivation to get you all the way to graduation. If you're thinking about earning your ECE degree in the virtual classroom, see if your school offers an online education readiness assessment to help you be sure that you're up to the challenge.

How can I enroll in an online early childhood education degree program?

If you're ready to take the next step toward earning an early childhood education degree online, take a look at the listings we've provided below to help get you started. Browse the available programs, learn as much as you can about your options and make sure your chosen program is accredited by a reputable regional or national accreditation agency before pulling the trigger and signing up.

Sources:
1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed October 20, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed October 20, 2015: Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252011.htm
3. School pages, accessed October 20, 2015: Early Childhood Education, Ivy Tech Community College, https://www.ivytech.edu/early-childhood/; Who is an Early Childhood Educator?, Wayne State University, http://coe.wayne.edu/ted/childhood/index.php; Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education, Penn Foster College, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/education-and-child-care/early-childhood-education-associate-degree; Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Development, Kaplan University, http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/arts-sciences/early-childhood-development-bachelor-degree.aspx; Early Childhood Education Degree Programs, Guilford Technical Community College, http://degreeprograms.gtcc.edu/early-childhood-education; Teacher Licensure for Undergraduates, University of Massachusetts Boston, https://www.umb.edu/academics/cehd/curriculum/ug/teacher_licensure_for_undergraduates; Early Childhood Education Graduate Program Curriculum, University of North Dakota, http://education.und.edu/teaching-and-learning/grad-early-childhood-curriculum.cfm; Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education, Concordia University Saint Paul, http://online.csp.edu/academics/master-of-arts-in-education-early-childhood-education; Early Childhood, M.Ed., University of Massachusetts Boston, https://www.umb.edu/academics/cehd/curriculum/grad/early_childhood_med?nossl; Master of Science in Education, Missouri Southern State University, http://www.mssu.edu/academics/graduate/master-art-early-childhood-education.php; Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education, Northcentral University, http://www.ncu.edu/school-of-education/doctor-of-education/early-childhood-education; Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning with a Focus on Early Childhood and Childhood Education, New York University, http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/teachlearn/childhood/phd; Ph.D. or Ed.D.?, University of Pittsburgh, http://www.education.pitt.edu/FutureStudents/DoctoralPrograms/PhDorEdD.aspx; The Post Master's Certificate Program in Early Education Research, Policy and Practice, University of Massachusetts Boston, https://www.umb.edu/academics/cehd/curriculum/grad/certificate_program_in_early_education_research_policy_and_practice; Early Childhood Education Post-Master's Certificate, Northcentral University, http://www.ncu.edu/school-of-education/post-masters-certificate/early-childhood-education; Early Childhood Education Admission Requirements, Eastern University, http://www.eastern.edu/academics/programs/loeb-school-education-0/bs-early-childhood-education-degree/admission; Early Childhood Education Graduate Program Admission, DePaul University, http://education.depaul.edu/admission-and-aid/graduate-admission/admission-requirements/Pages/early-childhood-education.aspx; Admission Requirements and How to Apply, Bachelor's Degree Completion Program in Early Childhood Education, Ball State University, http://cms.bsu.edu/academics/collegesanddepartments/online/academics/programs/undergrad/bachelors/earlychildhood/apply
4. Master of Arts in Teaching vs. Master in Education, Teach.com, accessed October 20, 2015, http://teach.com/how-to-become-a-teacher/teacher-education/master-of-arts-in-teaching-vs-masters-of-education
5. "What Can I Do with an Early Childhood Education Degree," Rasmussen College, Kendall Bird, November 4, 2013, accessed October 20, 2015, http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/education/blog/what-can-i-do-early-childhood-education-degree/
6. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed October 20, 2015: Childcare Workers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/childcare-workers.htm; Teacher Assistants, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/teacher-assistants.htm; Preschool Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Preschool-teachers.htm; Preschool and Childcare Center Directors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/preschool-and-childcare-center-directors.htm; Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm; Instructional Coordinators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Postsecondary-teachers.htm; Elementary, Middle and High School Principals, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm
7. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed October 20, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
8. Interviews, Dr. Stacy R. Gill-Phillips, conducted October 23, 2015 & Tiffany Bridgewater, conducted October 27, 2015

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