Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

What Is an Early Childhood Degree?

Early childhood education refers to formal and informal education for children from birth to age eight. During that time, caretakers and teachers encourage children to imagine, create, and think through activities in daycare, preschool, kindergarten, and first through third grade. In childhood education, exercises that blend play with academic activities are commonly used to help children grow and learn.

If you want to learn how to shape children’s early years through quality care and education, pursue an early childhood education degree online. You can earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a certificate in the subject.

CertificateAssociate's DegreeBachelor's Degree
Early Childhood Education CertificateAssociate of Arts in Early Childhood EducationBachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education
Grow core skills and knowledge of educational strategies. Prepare to apply for the Child Development Association (CDA) credential.Study the foundation of early childhood education. Learn about development, learning assessment, special education, strategy, and more. Learn how to help children overcome developmental delays. Prepare for a certificate in early childhood education and special education.
  • Curriculum & instruction
  • Observation & assessment 
  • Foundations of child development
  • Intro to early childhood education 
  • Intro to behavior management
  • Intro to curricula & instruction
  • Legal aspects of special education 
  • Child, family, cultural, community relationships, & advocacy 
  • Developmentally appropriate curriculum

Early Childhood Degree Requirements

Whether you earn an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, programs for early childhood education, you will take two kinds of courses: general education courses and courses focused on childhood education for your major. Your general education courses will cover subjects like math, science, English, sociology, philosophy, and history. The courses for your major will cover important areas of early childhood education. For example:

  • Child development
  • Curriculum development
  • Guidance and discipline
  • Literacy
  • Creativity and play

Otherwise, here are some differences between the requirements for earning an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree:

Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education

  • It takes two years of full-time study to earn an associate’s degree.
  • You will take from 15 to 20 courses (and earn 45 to 70 credits).
  • With an associate’s degree, you can pursue work as a daycare provider, camp counselor, recreation coordinator, or teacher’s aide.
  • Once you have earned your associate’s degree, you might transfer your credits into a bachelor’s degree program. If all your credits transfer, you can earn a bachelor’s degree through two more years of full-time study.

Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education

  • It takes four years of full-time study to earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • You will take from 36 to 40 courses (and earn 126 to 150 credits)
  • With a bachelor’s degree, you can pursue a teaching credential and work as a teacher or administrator.
  • Once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, you become eligible to earn a master’s degree. It takes an additional one to two years of full-time study to earn a master’s degree.

No matter the level of your childhood education degree program, you’ll divide your time equally between general education and major courses. Both types of classes will help you develop the skills you need to be a successful early childhood educator. Some key skills you’ll likely develop include:

  • Learning strategies
  • Speaking
  • Critical thinking
  • Active listening
  • Social perceptiveness

How Long Does It Take to Become a Preschool Teacher?

In most states, you have to have a bachelor’s degree to become a preschool teacher. Therefore, it could take at least four years to work in the profession. In addition to earning a college degree, you might have to earn the Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential. This credential is offered by the Council for Professional Recognition. Earning your CDA may take additional time unless your degree program specifically prepares you to earn one.

In rare cases, you only have to have an associate’s degree or a high school diploma to work as a preschool teacher. This depends primarily on what state you intend to work in. It also depends on if you want to work for a private or public school or government-funded program. To increase your job possibilities, earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. If you don’t have the time or money to earn a bachelor’s degree right now, begin by earning an associate’s degree. Work with a counselor to ensure you can transfer your credits later.

Early Childhood Education Degrees That Could be Completed in 2 to 4 Years

School# of Credits RequiredStart DatesMinimum Months to Complete
Ashford University67 (Associates Degree)Multiple Through Out the Year24
Ashford University120 (Bachelor's Degree)Multiple Through Out the Year48

Early Childhood Education Degree Costs

In 2016, the median in-state tuition for earning a degree in early childhood education was $5,936 per year. Out-of-state students paid a median annual tuition of $27,632 that same year. Following are more specific examples of what tuition could cost. These rates are for full-time students as of 2019.

SchoolDegree Level# of Credits RequiredCost Per CreditTotal
Ashford University: Early Childhood EducationAssociate's Degree67$480$32,160
Ashford University: Early Childhood EducationBachelor's Degree120$480$57,600
Colorado Christian University: Early Childhood EducationBachelor's Degree120$469$56,280
Ashford University: Early Childhood Education AdministrationBachelor's Degree120$480$57,600

Top Online Early Childhood Education Schools

There were 29,623 early childhood education degrees awarded to students. The majority of these degrees (55.3%) were bachelor’s degrees.

Schools2016 Grads Total/Degrees awardedTuition (Out of State)
Ashford University1,247$10,632
Ivy Tech Community College6187,932
Kaplan University: Davenport493$13,356
Grand Canyon University465$16,385
California State University: Fullerton436$16,632

Source: datausa.io/profile/cip/131210/#category_occupations

ECE Certification

An Early Childhood Education (ECE) Certification program helps aspiring preschool teachers gain knowledge in the field. Students might earn one before, during, or after earning a degree in early childhood education.

To gain ECE certification, students take courses and participate in an internship. The courses cover subjects like literacy, child development, and family life. Students can earn a certificate online, through hybrid courses, or through their academic degree program. Students typically must have ECE certification to apply for licensure. However, students must also meet other measures—such as having a degree—to earn licensure.

You can find ECE certification options at many colleges through their education programs.

Find the Perfect Online Degree For You

What Can You Do With an Early Childhood Education Degree?

In 2016, 2.4 percent of people who earned a degree in education—or 122,043 people—worked as preschool and kindergarten teachers. They were considered to have some of the more specialized skills of all educators.

Otherwise, people with degrees in education worked in the following occupations:

  • 39.1 percent worked as elementary or middle school teachers
  • 6.3 percent worked as high school teachers
  • 4.5 percent worked as education administrators
  • 2.6 percent worked as college instructors
  • 2.5 percent worked as special education teachers

Of the people who earned a degree in early childhood education, 96.6 percent were female. The average age of people working in education in 2016 was 46.3 years old. An estimated 50,100 preschool teachers will gain employment between 2016 and 2026. That means that the field could grow by 10 percent. This is faster than average for all professions.

Top States for Preschool Teacher Jobs

As of May 2017, the following five states had the highest employment of preschool teachers:

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York34,110$44,310

How Much Do Preschool Teachers Make?

Preschool Teachers

These professionals typically work with children ages 3 to 5, organizing appropriate study lessons, periods of physical activity, play and rest. They are expected to track students' progress and interest, playing close attention to their development and signs of emotional or learning problems.

  • In 2017, Preschool Teachers earned a median annual salary of $28,990
  • Job growth through 2022: 10% (faster than average)
  • Entry-level education: Associate's degree or bachelors degree

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

Stepping into more managerial roles, preschool and childcare center directors are charged with overseeing all aspects of their facilities. From managing budgets to working directly with the teachers and staff, these professionals make sure the childcare center runs smoothly, parents are satisfied with the program and all state requirements for operation are met.

  • In 2017, Preschool and Childcare Directors earned a median annual salary of $46,890.
  • Job growth through 2022: 11 percent (faster than average)
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree, usually in childhood education and leadership or administration

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers work with children that are older and more capable of learning and understanding more complex subjects. It is up to these professionals to put together lesson plans that are more in-depth, yet simple enough for learners that are still very young. Becoming a kindergarten or elementary school teacher may be more rigorous, as all states require certifications or licenses to teach and at least a bachelor's degree.