Online Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education

What is Early Childhood Education?

Early childhood education focuses on teaching and caring for children up to eight years old. Guiding children during these formative years is an exciting responsibility. It provides an opportunity to help young people, their parents, and the community in an important and fulfilling way. Potential jobs for people with an early childhood education associate degree include preschool workers and administrators, teacher assistants, and other childcare positions. The growing demand for trained workers to fill these roles means career opportunities are plentiful for people with an associate degree in early childhood education.

Potential jobs for people with an early childhood education associate degree include preschool workers and administrators, teacher assistants, and other childcare positions.

You can earn an early childhood education associate degree online. This convenient method allows you to keep up with your current responsibilities while you take classes. The curriculum for an early childhood education online associate degree includes introductory courses on child development, behavior management, and education. It also includes the general studies courses you might expect in an associate program, such as introductory-level classes in math, science, and English. Many people who earn their early childhood education associate degree online go on to complete their bachelor's degree, which opens up further career possibilities. Some states require licensure to work in certain early childhood education roles, and an associate degree may help with gaining the necessary credentials.

Choosing an Online Early Childhood Education Program

When you look at your options for earning an early childhood education associate degree online, you should research several aspects to make sure they are compatible with your needs. First, any school you consider attending should be accredited. Choosing a regionally accredited school ensures you are receiving a valid education that will be accepted by future employers and other schools you may wish to attend.

As you choose among accredited schools, look at what is required to complete each school's program. The cost of tuition and other fees is a major factor. You should research your financial aid eligibility and options so you have a truer sense of what you can afford. For an accurate idea of what your degree will cost, you also need to know how many credits are required, and how long it takes to complete them. Some programs require full-time attendance, while others are designed with working professionals in mind, allowing students to attend part time so they can maintain their existing jobs and other responsibilities. Most online programs are designed to accommodate students who already work full time.

You can complete some of these programs completely online, but others are hybrid programs, which require some in-person attendance or on-campus requirements. You may be required to complete an internship, a practicum, or gain some other direct experience, so be sure that you can fulfill any such requirement when the time comes. If you do not live close enough to a campus that requires students to visit in-person, a fully online program may be a better fit.

Entry Requirements

Before you can enroll in a program to earn an early childhood education online associate degree, you must meet the school's admission requirements. The exact requirements vary from school to school, but there are some basic commonalities. You are required to submit your official high school transcript or an equivalent and transcripts from any previous college experience. However, if you completed more than a certain number of transferable college credits, the high school transcript is not necessary. You also may be asked to submit test scores, such as the SAT or ACT, and have a GPA over a given threshold. Some of these requirements may be waived if you pursue your associate degree at a community college, where you can work to establish solid academic credentials. You may need to take placement tests to determine which classes to complete.

Prior teaching experience is not usually required to pursue an associate degree in early childhood education. Most programs include a practicum or internship working with children in an educational setting, so you must meet all legal standards allowing you to do so. A background check or drug screening may be required.

Directory of Accredited Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs

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What Can You Do With an Online Associate in Early Childhood Education?

Graduates with an early childhood education online associate degree have many potentially rewarding and lucrative employment options. In addition to job opportunities, earning an online associate degree in early childhood education also prepares you to continue your studies. If you choose to, you can go on to earn a bachelor's degree in education online, or in a traditional campus setting.

How Much Do Early Childhood Educators Make?

Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers teach and care for children who are too young to enter kindergarten. They may work in a childcare center, or in a public or private school. The levels of training and education required vary by state, but preschool teachers are generally required to have an associate degree at minimum.

Median Salary: $29,840

Teacher Assistant

Under a teacher's supervision, teacher assistants work in the classroom, providing extra attention to individual students and helping the teacher with various tasks. This position does not always require an associate degree, but it is often preferred. Many teacher assistants eventually complete their bachelor's degrees to become teachers themselves.

Median Salary: $22,958

Preschool Director

A preschool director oversees every aspect of a preschool or childcare center, managing its staff and planning activities. This position typically requires at least a bachelor's degree and some professional experience working in early childhood education, such as time spent as a preschool teacher. Some states require preschool teachers to be certified.

Median Salary: $39,866

Administrative Assistant

Administrative assistants work in a wide variety of fields. They perform various clerical duties, usually in an office environment. An administrative assistant with an associate degree in early childhood education might work in the office of a school, preschool, childcare facility, or another environment that serves young children.

Median Salary: $38,625

Childcare Worker

Childcare workers take care of children. Their duties may include feeding, dressing, bathing, and otherwise supervising children. They may work in preschools, childcare centers, private homes, or their own homes. The educational requirements depend on the employer and the location, but some childcare workers earn a relevant early childhood education certificate or degree

Median Salary: $22,290

Paying for Your Online Associate in Early Childhood Education

There are many ways to pay for your early childhood education online associate degree. Colleges do not offer payment plans, and tuition payments are due in full at the beginning of each semester. You can pay for your tuition and other education expenses out of pocket if you wish, but many students use financial aid to cover at least a portion of their education costs. Most people use one or more of the methods below, then cover any remaining balance out of pocket.

Financial Aid

The first step toward receiving financial aid for college is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can fill out and submit this form at the U.S. Department of Education's official FAFSA website. You use this form to receive funds for any undergraduate program, including an associate degree. The FAFSA determines whether you are eligible to receive funds and the amount you will receive for the academic year.

This financial aid may be in the form of grants, loans, or work-study funds. If you are awarded these funds, they will be sent to you or to the college you designate in time for the tuition payment deadline. In general, this money must be spent on educational costs, including tuition, fees, books, room and board, and related expenses.

Government-sponsored (public) student loans are preferable to private loans. Unlike private loans, public loans offer lower interest rates, provide tax benefits, and do not have to be paid back until you graduate. If you receive a need-based subsidized public loan, you do not have to pay interest until it is time to begin making these payments against the principle.

Work-Study Programs

College students with financial need may receive funds through the Federal Work-Study Program. This program provides a part-time job that benefits the community and is relevant to the student's area of study. These jobs are typically on campus, at a public agency or at a private nonprofit organization. Work-study jobs pay at least the federal minimum wage, but potentially more depending on the type of work and the student's qualifications. The maximum number of hours a student is allowed to work varies, and is based on their course load and academic performance.

Tuition Reimbursement Programs

When you are researching your financial aid options, ask your employer if they offer a tuition

reimbursement program. These programs are sometimes included in benefit packages sponsored by employers. They encourage employees to continue their education as an investment in company workforce training. The student submits proof that they are enrolled in an applicable educational program and have paid tuition, and the employer reimburses them for some or all of the tuition cost. Not all employers offer this benefit, and restrictions often apply. Many employers only reimburse tuition for studies relevant to the worker's job.

Grants, Fellowships, and Scholarships

Grants, fellowships, and scholarships are the most desirable types of financial aid because they do not need to be paid back if the student follows the criteria for the individual award. They may be based on academic merit or financial need. Some are aimed at students who are pursuing a degree in a particular area, while others may be based on the student's background or where they reside. Scholarships may be awarded by schools, public agencies, or private organizations to cover all or part of a student's educational expenses. Many types of scholarships are available, so it is worth your time to research which ones you may be eligible for. A few examples are listed in the section below.

A grant is similar to a scholarship, sponsoring a student's education or research in a particular academic area. A fellowship is a type of grant which is usually focused on a certain program or area of study, and often requires the student to perform some type of service. This service may constitute valuable professional experience. Fellowships are often seen as prestigious honors, and some are highly competitive.

Scholarships for Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Degrees

Bright Futures National Scholarships Up to $1,000

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is for students pursuing a degree in a field related to early childhood education in the coming academic year. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and a minimum of nine months experience working with children age six or younger. View Scholarship

Coca-Cola Scholars Scholarship $20,000

Who Can Apply: The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation sponsors this scholarship for high school seniors with a GPA of 3.0 or better who will enroll in college in the fall. The award is given to 150 students each year. It is not need-based, but is given to students who show active involvement in their schools and communities. View Scholarship

Jack Kinnaman Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: Sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA), this scholarship is awarded to members of the association's Aspiring Educators Program who intend to pursue a career in teaching. Applicants must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher, demonstrate financial need, and participate in NEA Aspiring Educators activities. View Scholarship

TEACH Grants Up to $4,000 per year

Who Can Apply: The federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is for students who are pursuing a degree leading to a teaching career. To receive this grant, you must agree to teach in a high-need field at a school serving low-income families for at least four of the eight years immediately after you complete or leave your program. If you do not meet these conditions, the grant's funds are converted into a direct unsubsidized student loan, which you must pay back. View Scholarship

Resources for Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Students

  • Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) Provided by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, ERIC is an extensive database of education-related information and research, including journal articles, research documents, and other resources.
  • Education Week Education Week collects education-related news and research, hosts education blogs, provides online educational resources for people in the education field, and offers a job board. There are resources specifically aimed at teachers and a section devoted to early childhood education.
  • Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) Overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start ECLKC provides information about a wide variety of early childhood education-related topics. It also includes information about policy and regulations for child care in general and Head Start programs.
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) NAEYC offers resources such as research, publications, professional development opportunities, and public policy advocacy. An entry-level membership for students is available, providing access to resources, including educational content, networking opportunities, and a job board.
  • NEA Early Childhood Education The NEA's early childhood education section includes public policy briefs and information, and the latest research in the field. The NEA offers a student membership, so you can gain access to more resources for professional development and networking.