Best Online Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Explore the different kinds of online undergraduate and graduate degree programs in early childhood education. Also, learn about common coursework, possible career paths, and teacher licensure. Schools offering Early Childhood Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Best Online Degree Programs in Early Childhood Education

To determine the top online schools with early childhood education programs, you should consider the kind of degrees offered, program cost, flexibility, and completion time. The schools below offer a range of early childhood education degrees, including associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees.

1. Prescott College

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Prescott, AZ $31,485 100%

Prescott College offers two online childhood education degrees: a bachelor of arts (BA) degree with teacher certification and a master of education (MEd) degree with optional teacher certification. Both of these degree programs allow you to choose a track in the following areas:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Early Childhood Special Education
  • A dual focus in both teaching areas

The BA program requires 120 credits and includes teaching-focused coursework that spans the core subject areas of science, the arts, reading, and math. The MEd program requires 36-40 credits with a similar scope of coursework as the BA without any general education requirements. Each program also has a focus on nature and place in experiential learning. In addition to online coursework, students are required to complete student teaching and field experiences.

2. Concordia University-Saint Paul

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Saint Paul, MN $22,275 99%

Concordia University-Saint Paul's online Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education degree program requires 64 credits and features short 7-week classes. Along with general education classes, students also study such subjects as child development and best practices for early childhood teachers. This online program helps students fulfill the requirements for the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Concordia University-Saint Paul also offers an online Master of Arts in Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. This non-licensing program requires 33 credits and is designed for those with teaching or volunteer experience.

3. Lewis-Clark State College

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Lewiston, ID $6,618 96%

Lewis-Clark State College offers an online Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development degree and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development degree. The AAS requires about 60 credits with coursework on curriculum development, cognitive development, and child and families. This online program also requires a real-world internship. The BAS degree is for those who have already earned an AAS degree in early childhood development and students get a chance to do an internship. Both programs effectively prepare students for careers as childcare lead teachers, special education aides, or early education specialists.

4. Chaminade University of Honolulu

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Honolulu, HI $25,374 99%

Chaminade University of Honolulu has two online undergraduate degree programs in Early Childhood Education: a bachelor of science and an associate of science. The 120-credit BS program meets all National Association for the Education of Young Children standards with coursework on educational tech and curriculum building. The 60-credit AS program requires classes on music/movement and health in an early childhood context. Both programs require real-world fieldwork experiences. This university also offers an online 30-credit Master of Education in Child Development degree that can be completed in about 18 months.

5. University of North Dakota

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Grand Forks, ND $8,695 90%

The University of North Dakota offers several online degree programs in the field of early childhood education, including:

  • A Bachelor of Science in Education in Early Childhood Education
  • A Master of Science in Early Childhood Education
  • An Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's in Early Childhood Education

The 4-year BS requires about 125-128 credits with small classes of only 12-25 students. Online classes center on assessment practices, curriculum building, and child development. The MS program requires 32 credits, takes about 2 years to complete, and charges all students the in-state tuition rate. Both the BS and MS programs require real-world student teaching or classroom practicums with the MS program allowing current teachers to complete their practicum in their own classroom. The accelerated BS to MS program allows students to earn both degrees online and in only 3 years.

Rank School Name Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
6 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY $9,666 99%
7 Harding University Searcy, AR $19,845 %
8 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, AL $8,568 94%
9 University of Maine Orono, ME $11,170 100%
10 The University of Montana-Western Dillon, MT $5,717 89%
11 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD $8,764 92%
12 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, LA $7,922 97%
13 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Saint Mary of the Woods, IN $29,960 100%
14 West Chester University of Pennsylvania West Chester, PA $10,412 79%
15 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL $30,900 100%
16 University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Stevens Point, WI $8,239 89%
17 Arkansas State University-Main Campus Jonesboro, AR $8,607 97%
18 Wichita State University Wichita, KS $8,270 89%
19 Concordia University-Chicago River Forest, IL $32,078 100%
20 Georgia Southern University Statesboro, GA $6,356 90%
21 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY $10,512 96%
22 University of Toledo Toledo, OH $10,293 95%
23 Portland State University Portland, OR $9,105 84%
24 Northwestern College Orange City, IA $31,100 100%
25 Shasta Bible College and Graduate School Redding, CA $12,060 100%
26 University of Wisconsin-River Falls River Falls, WI $8,025 90%
27 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ $11,564 94%
28 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA $22,584 97%
29 East Tennessee State University Johnson City, TN $8,935 97%
30 Minnesota State University-Mankato Mankato, MN $8,184 89%
31 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA $18,380 97%
32 Eastern Oregon University La Grande, OR $8,679 98%
33 Troy University Troy, AL $8,908 94%
34 University of Washington-Seattle Campus Seattle, WA $11,207 61%
35 University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, AK $6,657 84%

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Overview of Online Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

There are several kinds of online degree programs in early childhood education, including undergraduate and graduate degrees. Generally, early childhood education degree programs focus on developing students' teaching skills and knowledge, focusing on the pre-K through the 3rd-grade level. Along with online coursework, most programs require students to complete student teaching, field experiences, classroom observations, or other real-world practicums.

Undergraduate Degrees

There are early childhood education degree programs at both the associate's and bachelor's degree levels.

Associate of Arts/Science in Early Childhood Education

Associate degrees in early childhood education usually require about 60 credits and take 2 years to complete. These programs require some general education coursework as well as core courses in early childhood education subjects. To apply to an associate program, students generally need a high diploma or its equivalent.

Some online associate programs help students meet training and educational requirements for the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. While some online associate programs can be completed fully online, others do require real-world classroom observations, practicums, or field experiences. Additionally, associate programs don't usually help students earn teacher certification or licensure.

Bachelor of Arts/Science in Early Childhood Education

Bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education require about 120 total credits and take around 4 years to complete. Like associate programs, bachelor's programs require general education coursework in the sciences, math, composition, and social sciences. These online programs also include coursework on:

  • Core teaching areas, such as math or reading
  • Child development
  • Classroom management
  • Teaching methods

Most online bachelor's programs require real-world elements, such as student teaching or practicum experiences. However, some programs may make this an optional feature. Many, but not all, bachelor's programs in early childhood education can help students achieve state-level teaching certification or licensure.

Graduate Degrees

On the graduate level, online early childhood education degrees include master's degrees and doctoral degrees.

Master's in Early Childhood Education

There are several kinds of master's degrees in early childhood education, including Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Master of Education degrees. Despite the difference in name, these master's programs have a similar focus on:

  • Child development
  • Classroom management
  • Developing an early childhood-focused curriculum
  • Leadership skills

These programs require about 30-40 credits. Many programs feature short courses that last 6-8 weeks. Typically, students can earn an online master's degree in early childhood education in about 1 and a half to 2 years.

In addition to online classes, most master's programs require a real-world internship or practicum in an early childhood education setting. Also, many programs require a final capstone project or a comprehensive examination.

To apply to a master's program, you must hold a bachelor's degree. Some, but not all, programs also require you to be a licensed teacher.

PhD/EdD in Early Childhood Education

Although somewhat rare, there are online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Education (EdD) programs in early childhood education. These programs are for those who have already earned a master's degree in early childhood education or a related field and have significant professional experience. The goal of these doctoral programs is to prepare students for careers in higher education or policy development.

Usually, PhD/EdD programs require students to complete core coursework in early childhood education topics and courses on research methods. Comprehensive exams and a dissertation are also required. These programs may also involve an on-campus residency or an internship.

Common Courses in Early Childhood Education Programs

Although the exact coursework in an early childhood education program depends on the kind of degree and program requirements, below you can explore some common subjects in the field.

Introduction to Early Childhood Education

Introduction to Early Childhood Education is a foundational course found in undergraduate programs that gives students a broad understanding of the most important concepts in the field, such as:

  • Child development
  • Child nutrition
  • Professionalism
  • Curriculum creation
  • Learning environments
  • Program management

Educational Psychology

Educational psychology examines the way that children learn in an educational environment. This course covers various theories in the field, including how classroom environments, social influences, and individual personalities affect learning processes. Some courses examine diversity in the classroom as well.

Child Development

A course on child development explores how children develop in physical, emotional, cognitive, and social ways as they age. In early childhood education programs, there may be a focus on the prenatal to early years of development.

Literacy and Reading Instruction

This course teaches theories about, and best practices for, teaching children how to read and increase their language, writing, and literacy skills. There is a focus on the factors that affect literacy, including student-teacher interactions and family influence.

Curriculum and Instruction Development

A class on curriculum and instruction development teaches students how to create curriculums and lesson plans specifically for young learners. Many courses cover the theories behind curriculum design as well as using lessons that incorporate play, physical activity, and encourage the growth of cognitive, verbal, social skills.

Classroom Management

Courses on classroom management focus on methods and strategies for creating classroom environments that are positive and encourage student learning. This course also teaches students how to manage student behavior within the classroom.

Accreditation of Early Childhood Education Programs

There are several independent organizations that accredit early childhood education and teacher programs and schools. When a program or school receives accreditation, it has proven that it has met specific standards in terms of how it prepares students for professional success. Choosing an accredited program and/or school can also fulfill requirements for financial aid, scholarships, and licensure.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

NAEYC is the only organization that is exclusively dedicated to accrediting early childhood education programs. To achieve NAEYC accreditation, a program must fulfill the following criteria:

  • Must be regionally or nationally accredited by an approved Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) agency
  • Cannot be deemed low-performing through the Title II of the Higher Education Act
  • Must offer an early childhood education or development degree with 18 credits of early childhood coursework
  • Must offer field experiences
  • Must have graduated at least 1 student
  • Must have a dedicated faculty member who holds a graduate degree

Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)

CAEP is a leading accreditation organization that focuses on programs, departments, and schools that lead to teacher certification or licensure. To become accredited by CAEP, a program must provide students with a pedagogical-focused curriculum that covers child development concepts, teaching content areas, assessment methods, and leadership skills among other topics. A program must also offer clinical experiences, strive for diversity, and be dedicated to continually improving.

Career Options with an Early Childhood Education Degree

With a degree in early childhood education, you can pursue a career as a teacher in a preschool or elementary school setting, as an instructional coordinator, or as a childcare center director.

Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers work in child daycare centers, in public schools, or for private organizations. They are responsible for caring for and teaching children who are under the age of 5. Specific teaching duties include teaching children basic concepts, such as counting, identifying colors, and understanding letters and simple words. Preschool teachers also help children develop social skills.

Preschool teachers typically need only an associate degree. However, those working in a public school or for a Head Start program may need a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. Additionally, public school preschool teachers must be licensed, and many states require preschool teachers to earn the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers are responsible for teaching students in kindergarten through 5th grade (or through 6th-8th grade, depending on the state). Many kindergarten and elementary school teachers teach multiple subjects, including, math, science, and language arts. Some teachers specialize in other subjects, such as art or physical education.

Some job duties include:

  • Developing lesson plans
  • Grading assignments and tests
  • Managing a classroom
  • Working with students in groups and one-on-one

To become a kindergarten and elementary school teacher, you must hold a bachelor's degree, usually in elementary education or a related field. All kindergarten and elementary school teachers must be licensed.

Instructional Coordinator

An instructional coordinator specializes in creating curriculums and educational materials and helps other educational professionals implement them. In this role, they are also responsible for:

  • Assessing student data and test scores
  • Recommending teaching materials, such as textbooks
  • Designing procedures for how to teach a new curriculum
  • Training teachers and staff

Instructional coordinators sometimes specialize in one level of education, such as early childhood education. Generally, you will need a master's degree to become an instructional coordinator.

Preschool and Childcare Center Director

Directors of preschool and childcare centers are responsible for managing daycares and preschools. They have a range of responsibilities that include:

  • Overseeing teachers and staff
  • Making employment decisions
  • Creating policies, educational programs, and student activities
  • Ensuring the center follows state laws and regulations
  • Interacting with staff, parents, and children
  • Making financial decisions

A bachelor's degree is the lowest level of education you need to become a preschool and childcare center director; however, you are also required to have significant professional experience in early childhood education.

Job Title Median Annual Salary (2018) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Preschool Teacher $29,780 7%
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher $57,980 3%
Instructional Coordinator $64,450 6%
Preschool and Childcare Center Director $47,940 7%

Salary information provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Professional Licensure or Certification for Early Childhood Education Professionals

All teachers who work in public schools must obtain a state teaching license. Preschool teachers are sometimes required to obtain the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, depending on which state they work in.

Teacher Licensure

Although the requirements for obtaining teacher licensure vary by state, commonly you must:

  • Hold a bachelor's degree
  • Finish a student-teacher program
  • Pass a state background check
  • Pass a general and subject-based teacher exam

It's important that you consult your state's board of education about specific licensure requirements. Generally, you also need to complete continuing education, and some states may require that you earn a master's degree after you obtain licensure and begin your first teaching job.

Child Development Associate (CDA)

The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is administered by the Council for Professional Recognition. This credential is often required for preschool teachers and proves that you have advanced knowledge and skills in early childhood education.

To obtain the CDA credential for a preschool setting, you must:

  • Hold a high school diploma or GED
  • Complete 120 hours of early childhood education training
  • Complete 480 hours of professional experience
  • Create a professional portfolio
  • Be observed in your work setting
  • Pass the CDA exam

After obtaining your CDA credential, you must then renew it every 3 years.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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