Early childhood education is important business. While many parents rely on ECE educators to keep their child happy and safe during the workday, research increasingly shows that those preschool hours are vital to creating healthy, happy, and successful adults. Some economists have shown that, when communities invest in ECE, they reap a 15% return on that investment. Thus, pursuing a degree in ECE will not only let you work with pre-k students and very young children, it will also provide added benefits for whatever community you choose to be a part of.
During your time in college, you will learn much about child development, curriculum building, and vital topics such as nutrition and the importance of exercise. Once you graduate, you can move on to focus on a specific learning modality, either before or while working for a school that specializes in Montessori or Reggio-Emilia. Since you'll have two years of college you could even choose to later complete a four-year baccalaureate degree.
There's no better time to get started than the present. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about an associate degree in early childhood education.
Education Degrees & Career Paths
- An associate degree in early childhood education can be a great way to launch a teaching career. This approach allows you to get to work in only two years, and you'll have completed the core coursework for a bachelor's degree. Though you can't receive a state teaching license, you can work as a credentialed teacher in a preschool or a private kindergarten.
- Your state might also acknowledge your associate degree and allow you to earn a paraprofessional license. That credential will allow you to work in a public-school classroom as a teaching assistant. Paraprofessionals can work exclusively with special needs children or as general assistants in larger classrooms. Thus, your associate degree can pave the way to valuable experience in a great job.
- The downside to only having a two-year degree is that you will still need a bachelor's degree to attain a full teaching license from your state. Though you may be able to start working as a preschool teacher, your career might be capped at that level since your two-year degree isn't likely to allow much upward mobility. Teachers with a bachelor's degrees, or even master’s, are more likely to rise into supervisory positions, including lead teacher.
- Since your status isn't likely to improve very much, you are unlikely to see your salary improve, either. Furthermore, if you decide to start your own preschool, you might not be able to secure the best business loan with a limited education. Furthermore, your clients will likely prefer to find a school that is run by someone with a higher degree and higher-status experience.
Certificate Vs. Associates in Early Childhood Education
A certificate in early childhood education is a good preliminary credential to have on your resume. If your goal is to work as an educator and you are eager to get to work immediately, you can earn a certificate in a single year. Depending on your local community college, or online college, you could start working on a certificate right away.
Unlike an associate degree, certificate programs often are exclusively focused on ECE and thus you won't need to take any core curriculum classes, such as algebra or composition. You can focus on what matters most to you and quickly add a valuable credential to your resume in no time at all.
However, you need to remain aware of the fact that a certificate will not prepare you to move forward and earn your bachelor’s degree. Unlike an associate degree, which is basically the first two years of the curriculum at a four-year college, you will have to start from the beginning to earn a bachelor’s, even if you earned you certificate with flying colors.
What Early Childhood Education Associate Degrees are Available?
- Associate of Science (AS):
Though this degree might be less common for early childhood education, it will reflect not only two years of hard work but also a focus on research and social science data.
- Associate in Applied Science (AAS):
This degree is very similar to an AS degree. It can sometimes be distinguished by a focus on practical processes and outcomes rather than peer-reviewed scientific data. For that reason, credits from an AAS program can sometimes be harder to transfer.
- Associate in Applied Arts (AAA):
Much like an AAS degree, an applied arts degree focuses on practical matters you are likely to face in the workplace. You are less likely to encounter peer-reviewed research and you might find that some credits are harder to transfer to a bachelor's program. However, discuss this matter with your admissions counselor or department head to determine the actual facts related to any specific program.
- Associate of Arts (AA):
This is a more typical degree that is likely to be easy to find in nearby community colleges. If you earn an AA degree you will likely have an easier time transferring to a four-year program and achieving a bachelor's degree. Regardless, if your goal is to eventually complete a baccalaureate degree, you should discuss your plans with an academic adviser who will help you plan your academic career accordingly.
Admission Requirements to Enter an Associates Program
Community colleges often operate on an open enrollment policy. Thus, you can often sign up for classes without having to undergo the competitive admissions of other colleges. However, if you intend to attend a four-year college for your associate degree, you may have to provide full high school transcripts as well as SAT or ACT scores.
However, most two-year programs will have some minimum standards for admission. You should be able to show that you graduated from high school or that you achieved a general equivalency degree (GED.) Upon admission, you may also be asked to take competency exams so that the school can place you in appropriate classes. This means that you may need to take remedial courses so you can brush up on core skills like math and writing prior to diving into your degree program.
How long does it take to earn an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education?
Associate degree programs for early childhood education are typically structured so that you can graduate in two years. That assumes full-time enrollment and that you stay on track with your required courses. However, most two-year programs assume that you will take a break in the summer. Thus, if you attend classes even as a part-time student during the summer you may be able to finish in less than two years. This is a great option to consider, since summer terms tend to be less popular and might allow you extra time with your instructor. Try to take whatever steps you need to finish in two years or less. That way you can launch your career as soon as possible.
Potential Careers in ECE with an Associates
- Preschool Teacher:
Your associate degree in early childhood education will help you launch a career as a preschool teacher. Though this position doesn't necessarily require a degree, you can use it to apply to those programs that have more advanced curriculum, such as Montessori schools or those using the Reggio-Emilia approach. The average salary for this position is $32,300.
- Educational Paraprofessional:
In this position you will help students learn by providing hands-on assistance. You will work under the lead classroom teacher and may be asked to perform administrative tasks such as making photocopies or preparing the classroom for activities. Some special education paraprofessionals work with a single student all day, every day. The average salary for this position is $20,200.
- Substitute Teacher:
This is a great way to earn a little bit of money while getting your feet wet as a classroom teacher. Not every school district will recognize an associate degree, but many do, especially if you have completed a degree in education. If you are lucky, you might land a long-term position as a substitute for a teacher on maternity leave. The average salary for this position is $26,500.
- Private School Teacher:
Private schools are not required to hire fully licensed teachers, so you might be able to take over an elementary classroom with your associate degree. Your chances for success are greater if you have some special experience or have a specialty that is rare. If you do take on a classroom, you should start thinking of completing a four-year degree. The average salary for this position is $45,000.
Families often want a professional who can not only see to their children's basic needs for transportation, food, and general oversight, but who can offer a more rounded, educational experience for their young ones. Your associate degree will certainly pave the way to this rewarding work. The average salary for this position is $33,000.
Options to Advance
Once you begin your career in early childhood education, you may start to desire advancement. Your first step toward career development should be to do the best job you can in your current situation. If you are working in a preschool, you can work on developing new curriculum or new activities for the children. You might even be able to work your way up to being a lead teacher.
Eventually, it will be to your best interest to return to school for a special certificate or a bachelor's degree. If you choose to enhance your education with a certificate, make sure the courses you take can apply to a bachelor's degree later. A bachelor's degree will provide the most opportunities for you in the long-term. That's because a four-year degree will open the door to full state licensure and a position with a public school. You might even pursue a master's degree and then work as a school administrator or as an educational consultant.
Colleges That Offer a Traditional Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education
Nashua Community College
NCC's early childhood education degree is designed to help you launch a career as a Head Start teacher and is in compliance with the State of New Hampshire DHHS Bureau of Child Development's requirements. This degree will pave the way to a baccalaureate degree, if you choose.
- Early Childhood Education and Teaching - <1-Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Education, General – Associate Degree
- Education/Teaching of Individuals with Speech or Language Impairments – Associate Degree
- Teacher Assistant/Aide - <1-Year Certificate
Laguardia Community College
Long Island City, NY
LCC's early childhood education program is designed to work hand-in-hand with Brooklyn College. Once you complete your two-year degree, you should have no trouble transferring and completing your four-year degree, if you so choose. Since New York requires an associate degree for all preschool teachers, this program is a sure way to launch an education career.
- Associate in Arts – Early Childhood Education
- Teachers Assistant/Aide – Associate Degree
Santa Monica College
Santa Monica, CA
SMC offers two routes to success. If you study early childhood education, you can begin a career in the classroom. Their Intervention Assistant program can also be applied to the classroom environment, but you might also work with special needs children in a wider range of settings. SMC also offers a range of certificate options if you already have a degree or if you are eager to launch a career.
- Associate in Science – Early Childhood Education
- Associate in Science – Early Childhood Intervention Assistant
- Education/Teaching of Individuals in Early Childhood Special Education Programs – Associate Degree & Undergraduate Certificate
Los Angeles City College
Los Angeles, CA
With a degree in early childhood education from LACC, you can choose from a variety of career tracks. You might choose to work with private programs, public programs including Head Start, or after school programs.
- Associate of Arts Degrees in Child Development
- Associates of Science for Transfer in Early Childhood Education
The City Colleges of Chicago are located throughout the city and will help you launch a career where you can help youngsters get the best foundation for later life. Your Associate in Arts degree will form a foundation for a career in Early Childhood Education or Elementary Education, should you choose to complete a four-year degree. Be sure to check out the other city colleges of Chicago, as some of them offer even more variety in associate degrees and certificates.
- Early Childhood Education and Teaching – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Music Teacher Education – Associate Degree
- Teacher Assistant Aide – Associate Degree
- Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language/ESL Language Instructor – Associate Degree
Colleges That Offer Online Associate Degrees in Early Childhood Education
Ashworth is an online school that works with students to ensure that they achieve the success they desire. You can start your early childhood education program at any time and work at your pace until you graduate. They also offer bachelor's degrees as well as certificates.
- Associate in Early Childhood Education
- Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education
Ashford's asynchronous class schedules mean that you can get started on your ECE degree as soon as you are ready. The five-week course schedule means that you can maintain focus on your classes and even take a bit of time between courses, if you so desire. Once you earn your AA degree, you can opt to continue in their four-year program.
- Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education
- Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education
Bryant Stratton College
You can complete a Bryant Stratton degree in early childhood education from one of their three campuses or from your laptop anywhere in the world. Their ECE program aligns with standards created by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Once you graduate, you will be prepared to create curriculum, support childhood learning, and inform your professional decisions with the latest thinking in developmental psychology.
- Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education
After you complete your 64 credit hours at Concordia University, you will have 24 academic hours that will count toward a baccalaureate degree. Your degree can launch a career with a daycare, preschool, or a school district. You might also consider working with community programs, or even starting one of your own.
- Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education
Your online ECE degree from Post University will prepare you to be a culturally sensitive, developmentally aware educational professional. You can complete the degree online or from their Waterbury, CT campus, according to what is most convenient for you. Once you graduate, you'll be prepared to handle any educational environment.
- Associate of Science in Early Childhood Education