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Best Online Associate Degrees in Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Best Online Associate Degrees in Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Ready to turn your passion for working with young children into a fulfilling and challenging career? Our comprehensive guide to online early childhood education associate degree programs provides everything you need to know.

If you have a heart for shaping young lives during their earliest educational experiences, an online early childhood education associate degree program provides the professional qualifications you need. From childcare workers to preschool teachers, early childhood educators aid in developing emotional, social, and educational skills that impact students for years to come—and that are proven to lead to higher grades and increased graduation rates. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the demand for preschool teachers will grow much faster than average between now and 2031.

Earning your ECE associate degree online means you get an education on your terms and schedule without ever having to set foot on campus. Read on to learn more about top schools offering an early childhood education associate degree online and what you can expect as you pursue higher education.

Spotlight on Associates Degrees in Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Various online early childhood education associate degree programs are out there, and each one presents a unique blend of courses, educational goals, and outcomes. While most prepare graduates for a range of careers, others offer specializations or focus on one position. When choosing a school for your early childhood education associate degree online, carefully review the details on the school’s website to ensure it meets your goals. Whichever you choose, remember that all ECE associate degree online programs must meet specific standards for accreditation. Below, we’ve highlighted three exemplary schools offering ECE associate degrees online.

American Public University

Students interested in early childhood development can earn an early childhood education associate degree online from West Virginia-based American Public University (APU). The school doesn’t require entrance exams and it doesn’t require students to pay for application fees, textbooks, or eBooks. This 60-credit program is entirely online; courses vary from eight to 16 weeks. During their time in this online early childhood education associate degree program, students develop their skills through courses in early childhood care and education, preschool education, and parenting. Additionally, taking classes in this program helps students prepare to pursue the Child Development Associate (CDA credential). American Public University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Earning an ECE associate degree online costs $325/credit.

Liberty University

Liberty University’s early childhood education associate degree online provides a fast, affordable, and convenient way for students to get the training they need. Courses are taught on an accelerated, eight-week schedule, meaning students can earn their degree in as little as 18 months. Each course is taught by seasoned early childhood educators. Classes are asynchronous and available fully online, so students aren’t tied to scheduled login times or mandatory intensives. Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and offers a tuition rate of $390/credit. 

The Ohio State University

Students looking for a flexible way to earn their early childhood education associate degree online should consider the Online Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Development and Education at The Ohio State University (OSU). There’s no need to submit standardized test scores to apply for this 60-credit online early childhood education associate degree program; students must simply submit proof they’ve earned a high school diploma or GED. To provide flexibility and convenience, OSU offers start dates during the fall, spring, or summer semesters and makes coursework available 100% online. Once admitted to the program, students can complete the program in four semesters of full-time work or ten semesters of part-time work. This program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and costs $405.88/credit. 

Inside Online Associate in ECE Coursework

As you pursue an online associate degree in early childhood education, understanding the core educational components is paramount to your success. While each school’s curriculum is unique, in your online early childhood education associate degree program expect to learn common principles in childhood development and classroom management. Below, we’ve outlined five common courses most early childhood education associate degree online students encounter.

  • Introduction to Early Childhood Education

    This foundational course serves as an entry point into the world of early childhood education. Students explore the history, underlying philosophies, and current best practices for teaching young children. They’ll also gain a clearer understanding of the ways children develop and learn and their roles as educators in shaping young minds. As a part of this course, students may be required to observe or participate in classes at a local preschool.

  • Child Development

    In this course, students are educated about children’s physical and psychological growth stages from birth to age 8. Typically, they’ll read contemporary research and theories on the topic, learn observational techniques to assess a child’s individual development, and practice communication to relate these observations to the child’s parents. Additionally, students are prepared to apply age-appropriate teaching strategies and provide learning environments that promote educational and emotional progress.

  • Curriculum Development

    This class is a deep dive into the art and science of selecting effective learning materials and designing educational classroom experiences. Students explore the principles of curriculum planning, assessment, and evaluation. Often they are assigned one or more projects to craft age-appropriate and diverse curricula that accommodate varied learning styles and needs. By the end of this course, students are prepared to create innovative and impactful educational offerings for their future classrooms. 

  • Classroom Management

    An integral course for any educator, this class equips future early childhood educators with strategies and tools they can use to foster a positive, structured learning environment. Students delve into techniques for handling classroom dynamics, promoting student engagement, and constructively addressing diverse behavioral challenges. They also learn to balance discipline and motivation, ensuring they will cultivate classrooms where every child can thrive.

  • Children’s Literature

    This course introduces online early childhood education associate degree seekers to children’s literature and its pivotal role in cognitive and emotional development. Students explore classic and contemporary works, learning to select age-appropriate books that ignite children’s imaginations and foster empathy and literacy skills. Students also learn how quality children’s literature can leave a lasting impression on young minds and develop practical techniques for promoting literacy from an early age.

Cost of Earning Your Associate Degree in ECE Online

When considering your options for an early childhood education associate degree online, it’s crucial to have a clear picture of the cost of tuition. Overall, expenses vary widely based on factors such as the school you choose and your residential status. We’ve outlined specific per-credit costs from five diverse institutions below to give you a general grasp of what you can expect to pay.

SchoolCost Per CreditNumber of Credits
University of Cincinnati$447 (in-state)/$462 (out-of-state)60
The University of Arizona Global Campus$51067
Baker College$43560
Southern State Community College$192 (in-state)/$366 (out-of-state)63
Indiana Wesleyan University$30960

What You Can Do with an Early Childhood Education Associate Degree

Once you’ve earned an early childhood education associate degree online, you’ll be qualified to work directly in the care and education of young children up to age five. A variety of potential career paths will be available to you. In the following section, we’ll explore three of the most common job titles you may have after graduation.

  • Preschool Teacher

    These professionals are responsible for the instruction of preschool-age students, including creating and following lesson plans, managing the classroom environment, and planning developmentally appropriate activities that encourage academic and social growth. These instructors guide children aged five and under in the basics of education, including identifying colors, shapes, numbers, and letters. They also introduce children to classroom expectations and routines, evaluate them for progress and developmental concerns, and communicate with parents regularly. The demand for preschool teachers is growing rapidly; their median wage is $30,210.

  • Teacher’s Aide/Teacher Assistant 

    While teacher’s aides don’t carry the primary educational responsibility in a classroom, they fulfill a vital role. Effectively running a classroom often requires more than one educational professional, so teacher’s aides lend support to the lead teacher. For example, a teacher’s aide may prepare teaching materials for the classroom or lead certain activities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for teacher assistants is $29,360.

  • Childcare Professional

    Childcare professionals may work as childcare providers or nannies in group settings, such as childcare centers, or one-on-one environments. They’re primarily focused on providing for the needs of infants, toddlers, and small children, from monitoring their safety to preparing meals to maintaining hygiene routines. In addition, childcare professionals help children adhere to schedules that encourage healthy developmental patterns and habits. They may also organize activities or a curriculum that introduces children to the world around them and watch for early signs of emotional or developmental differences. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for childcare professionals is $24,230.

FAQs About Online Associate ECE Degrees

Deciding to get your ECE associate degree online is an exciting step. However, many prospective students have lingering questions before beginning the application process. Here, we’ve compiled answers to five of the most common questions our readers have before enrolling in an online early childhood education associate degree program.

  • Are online associate degree programs in ECE fully online?

    Many associate degrees in ECE are offered online to provide maximum convenience to students who need flexibility while pursuing a degree. However, pay attention to individual programs and course requirements. Depending on the school, you may need to observe or interact with early childhood-age children or classroom environments to gain hands-on experience. Additionally, your state may require additional licensing or training before you can work in a classroom setting.

  • What accreditation should I look for in an online associate in ECE program?

    Accreditation serves as a stamp of approval from recognized accrediting bodies that ensure an early childhood education associate degree online provides students with a quality education. In general, expect colleges and universities to receive accreditation from one of the six regional accrediting bodies in the United States. Additionally, look for accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the CAEP, which are programmatic accrediting bodies that endorse early childhood education programs.

  • What does the admissions process look like for this degree?

    In most cases, the sole admission requirement for applicants to an online early childhood education associate degree program is a high school diploma or GED. That means students don’t need to worry about taking a standardized test or submitting scores to these schools. However, if you’ve already attended college, be prepared to submit transcripts from previous institutions. Since you’ll be working with children, a criminal background check is a common requirement, as is the case at Indiana Wesleyan University and Northcentral Technical College.

  • How long does it take to complete an associate degree in ECE online?

    This depends on the online early childhood education associate degree program and the student. In a traditionally paced early childhood education associate degree online, students spend four full-time semesters working toward their degrees, typically graduating in about two years. Some students will need to take a slower pace; part-time students at The Ohio State University earn their degrees over ten semesters. With accelerated programs, such as the one at Liberty University, students can graduate in as little as 18 months.

  • What is the difference between the outcomes with a bachelor’s and an associate degree in ECE?

    While you can start working in early childhood education after obtaining an ECE associate degree online, earning a bachelor’s degree expands your potential career path and earnings potential. An associate degree prepares you to work with children up to age five, but a bachelor’s degree enables you to work with children through the age of eight, meaning you could teach up to second grade. Elementary school teachers earn a median annual wage of $61,350, while preschool teachers earn a median annual wage of $30,210.