Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Courses, career paths and expert advice for teaching young learners

Early childhood educators play an integral role in the social and cognitive development of children. Early childhood degree programs provide future teachers with a theoretical foundation in child development as well as hands-on experience in the classroom. Explore degree programs and potential careers in early childhood education in this guide. It includes information on what to look for in a program, what courses students can expect to take, and the relevant job growth and salary data.

Top 10 Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Chaminade University of Honolulu Honolulu, HI
Muskingum University Concord, OH
Boston University Boston, MA
Ball State University Muncie, IN
Saint Xavier University Chicago, IL
Colorado Christian University Lakewood, CO
Long Island University Brookville, NY
Barry University Miami, FL
Xavier University Cincinnati, OH
University of Alaska Anchorage Anchorage, AK

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Best Early Childhood Education Programs: 2017 Rankings

OUR METHODOLOGY+

To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:

  • Accredited at the institutional level
  • Private nonprofit or public school
  • Minimum of 1 bachelor’s or master’s degree in subject area for 4-year schools
  • Minimum of 1 associate degree or certificate program in subject area for 2-year schools

Schools were then scored on factors such as:

  • Cost & Financial Aid
  • Number and variety of program offerings
  • Student-teacher ratios
  • Graduation rates (4-year schools only)
  • Placement and support services offered
  • Academic/Career counseling services
  • Employment services
  • Loan default rates

These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or "bang for your buck" of a college or degree program.

While there are many early childhood education degree programs available, some provide more value to students than others. To help students make good choices, we have ranked schools based on the quality of their faculty members and campus facilities, strength of student-teacher ratios, and affordability of tuition. Follow the link below to review the best programs for early childhood education.

Chaminade University of Honolulu View School Profile Honolulu, HI 36%

Students that are studying at the undergraduate and the graduate level have the chance to pursue their interests in early childhood education at Chaminade University of Honolulu. In the span of four years, a student has the ability to complete their degree program and secure the career that they have been working towards. The early childhood education curriculum encompasses all necessary concepts that will apply to work in the education field, including leadership courses, developmental theory, and even courses covering children’s literature. Students attending Chaminade may choose to live in their state-of-the-art on-campus housing, allowing them to spend more time focusing on school and less time commuting there.

Muskingum University View School Profile Concord, OH 50%

Achieving a career in early childhood education is made simple at Muskingum University. Muskingum offers a large variety of academic programs, including a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Students studying in this program will refine their communicational abilities, as well as develop a greater understanding of the developmental process in children ranging in ages from infancy through age twelve. A bachelor’s degree can lead to any number of careers, but may also prepare students to enter into graduate level work, further qualifying them for a well-paying position post-graduation. Muskingum supports its students through a number of academic services, including financial aid coverage, counseling, and academic advisement.

Boston University View School Profile Boston, MA 58%

Offered at both the bachelor’s level and the masters level, Wheelock College’s early childhood education program prepares students to become a valuable member of the childhood education workforce. Students will work closely with professors with several years of experience working with children ranging in age from infancy up until twelve years old. One of the primary benefits of studying at Wheelock is that it allows early childhood education students to combine their undergraduate and graduate level program as well as earning their ECE PreK-2 licensure in their fifth year of study. Wheelock students have the option to make use of the campus’ housing facilities, allowing for greater access to their academic community.

Ball State University View School Profile Muncie, IN 57%

Ball State University offers a large selection of degrees that emphasize different areas of early childhood education. Whether students are looking to complete a single degree in early childhood education, or progress through a dual degree program to specialize in special education, BSU provides its students with the necessary attention to ensure success. Students will also have the option to spend their non-academic time by attending one of the several on-campus events that are hosted by BSU. Student organizations are also an excellent way for students to fill their time: these include student government, Greek life, and special interest groups.

Saint Xavier University View School Profile Chicago, IL 54%

For student who hope to begin educating children up to the third grade, earning a degree in early childhood education from Saint Xavier University may be a highly valuable pursuit. Over the span of four years, students will have the opportunity to work with experienced faculty members who have the goal of developing the skills students need to effectively teach elementary-age children. Several of SXU’s degree programs include online courses in addition to those held in the traditional in-class environment. Online learning may be beneficial for students with time constraints, or students who live far away from the SXU campus.

Colorado Christian University View School Profile Lakewood, CO 40%

At Colorado Christian University, students are able to complete their bachelor’s degree in early childhood education while also earning their licensure. Students also have the opportunity to complete their teaching licensure separately in a 69 credit post-baccalaureate program. CCU’s programs prepare students to education children at any age up to third grade. Students will receive the knowledge required to successfully manage a classroom and develop an age-specialized curriculum. Students transferring from another institution of higher education may be able to utilized their previously earned credits in their new degree program. Student tutoring helps to keep CCU learners on track and happy in their individual programs.

Long Island University View School Profile Brookville, NY 42%

By studying in Long Island University’s early childhood education program, bachelor’s students will acquire the necessary skills to make a difference in elementary school-aged children’s lives. Students in this program will have the opportunity to explore a variety of specialized areas of study, including history, English, mathematics, and social sciences. Students will also be able to further customize their degree program by selecting the age group they wish to work with. LIU courses are taught by faculty members who have spent a large portion of their professional lives working in the same field for which they teach. Most classes at LIU are small in size, allowing as much one-on-one time students may wish to have with their teachers.

Barry University View School Profile Miami, FL 41%

A bachelor’s degree in education earned at Barry University can have a number of specializations, ranging from infancy and early childhood education to special education. The goal of Barry’s education program is to prepare students to help future children meet their goals and excel in their education while also experiencing their curriculum in a fun and creative way. Several online options are available at Barry University, making school work more convenient and accessible. Most credits offered at Barry are transferable, allowing students to take their education with them if they have to transfer to a new school for any reason.

Xavier University View School Profile Cincinnati, OH 78%

Xavier University offers an undergraduate degree in early childhood education that can lead to a large selection of career opportunities in the education field. Students will learn the importance of helping to develop their students’ personal skills, as well as their level of education. The comprehensive curricular plan that encompasses the early childhood education program has led to a 99 percent rate for students taking their state exams. Students will take courses throughout their program that applies the knowledge they’ve learned, giving them the hands-on experience that breeds success. Average class size at Xavier is 20 students, ensuring no student will be forgotten.

University of Alaska Anchorage View School Profile Anchorage, AK 26%

The early childhood education department at the University of Alaska Anchorage offers programs at a variety of levels, including undergraduate certificates, an associate of applied science degree, a bachelor of arts degree, and even a post-baccalaureate certificate. UAA’s early childhood education program utilizes a combination of theoretical in-class study with practical applied learning opportunities, allowing for full development of their educational abilities. If a student is in need of financial aid coverage, they may be eligible to apply for federal aid, grants, or one of the several UAA scholarships. Students may get to know one another by interacting through one of UAA’s numerous student organizations.

California University of Pennsylvania View School Profile California, PA 54%
Johnson University View School Profile Knoxville, TN 62%
Converse College View School Profile Spartanburg, SC 54%
SUNY Buffalo State View School Profile Buffalo, NY 48%
Saint Mary's College of California View School Profile Moraga, CA 59%
Canisius College View School Profile Buffalo, NY 68%
Cincinnati Christian University View School Profile Cincinnati, OH 37%
Marshall University View School Profile Huntington, WV 44%
Endicott College View School Profile Beverly, MA 72%
Loyola University Chicago View School Profile Chicago, IL 70%
The University of Alabama View School Profile Tuscaloosa, AL 67%
Rhode Island College View School Profile Providence, RI 43%
Pace University View School Profile New York City, NY 56%
University of Maine at Farmington View School Profile Farmington, ME 58%
Vanderbilt University View School Profile Nashville, TN 92%
Louisiana Tech University View School Profile Ruston, LA 47%
SUNY College at Potsdam View School Profile Potsdam, NY 51%
Heritage University View School Profile Toppenish, WA 16%
Madonna University View School Profile Livonia, MI 36%
Wright State University View School Profile Dayton, OH 40%
Eastern Nazarene College View School Profile Quincy, MA 48%
Idaho State University View School Profile Pocatello, ID 31%
Northern Arizona University View School Profile Flagstaff, AZ 49%
American International College View School Profile Springfield, MA 39%
Lesley University View School Profile Cambridge, MA 46%
Concordia University-Saint Paul View School Profile Saint Paul, MN 47%
University of Alabama at Birmingham View School Profile Birmingham, AL 48%
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill View School Profile Chapel Hill, NC 89%
Eastern Michigan University View School Profile Ypsilanti, MI 37%
Clarks Summit University View School Profile South Abington Township, PA 52%
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College View School Profile Saint Mary of the Woods, IN 62%
Lincoln University View School Profile Lincoln University, PA 37%
Mercyhurst University View School Profile Erie, PA 68%
Yeshiva University View School Profile New York City, NY 84%
Concordia University-Nebraska View School Profile Seward, NE 63%
Chatham University View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA 59%
St. Catherine University View School Profile Saint Paul, MN 59%
University of Alaska Southeast View School Profile Juneau, AK 10%
Maryville University of Saint Louis View School Profile Saint Louis, MO 70%
National Louis University View School Profile Chicago, IL 44%

Educators can work with students of any age. The following graphic shows the degrees that are similar to early childhood education and what grades educators are preparing to teach when they enroll in these programs.

  • Early Childhood Education
    Grades: Preschool to 3rd grade
    Ages: 0 to 8
  • Elementary Education
    Grades:Kindergarten to 6th grade
    Ages: 5 to 12
    READ MORE
  • Secondary Education
    Grades:6th to 12th grades
    Ages: 13 to 18
    READ MORE
  • Special Education
    Grades: Preschool to 12th grade
    Ages: 0 to 22
    READ MORE

Early Childhood Education Degrees by Level

Students in early childhood education degree programs learn about the needs of young learners and develop an appreciation of how they develop cognitively, emotionally, socially and physically. Undergraduate programs prepare students to enter the field and receive a teaching license, while graduate degree programs are geared toward those already working in the field who are looking to advance their careers or transition into college-level teaching or education research. This section explains what students can expect from early education programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION ASSOCIATE DEGREES

Type of Schools:
Community colleges, online schools

Time to Complete:
Two years, full-timer

Career Opportunities:
Preschool teacher, child care worker, camp counselor, recreation coordinator, infant/toddler caregiver

Students in this program learn about the development of young children and the research-based strategies that educators use to teach them. In addition, these programs discuss how to use age-appropriate and culturally sensitive instruction methods in the classroom. Prospective students must have a high school diploma or its equivalent before enrolling.

The coursework in early education associate degree programs is designed to provide a foundation that students can use to earn higher-level degrees or obtain entry-level positions after graduation. The following are examples of classes that can be found in associate degree programs.

INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Provides an overview of early childhood education, including its history and current trends in the field. In addition, students learn about the laws that govern how educators work.

EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
Students examine strategies for working with special needs children in the early education classroom. Topics include physical impairments, types of learning, behavioral problems and exceptional development.

CHILD GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
Explores the genetic and environmental factors that influence the development of young children. Developmental milestones from birth to age eight are also discussed.

EARLY CHILDHOOD LITERACY
Students learn the best practices for teaching preschool children how to read, write and communicate.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION BACHELOR’S DEGREES

Type of Schools:
Four-year colleges and universities, online schools

Time to Complete:
Four years, full-time

Career Opportunities:
Preschool teacher, teacher assistant, recreation worker, child care worker, camp counselor

Prospective early childhood education bachelor’s degree students must first earn a high school diploma. Bachelor’s programs teach students how to create an appropriate curriculum for early learners, assess the needs of students and monitor their progress, and help families support their children’s education needs. Toward the end of the program, students must serve as student-teachers in a real classroom to earn the degree.

Students earning early childhood education bachelor’s degrees learn the skills they need to teach young children reading, writing and math by leveraging their understanding of how children develop cognitively, emotionally and physically. The following descriptions provide an overview of some of the courses found in bachelor’s programs. 

ISSUES IN EDUCATION
Providing information on how to address common challenges early childhood educators face, Issues in Education looks in-depth at topics such as classroom management and learner accountability.

EARLY CHILDHOOD CURRICULUM PLANNING
Students learn how to incorporate student-teacher interactions, caregiving and play into the classroom as they explore curriculum-development strategies appropriate to young children.

FAMILY, SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY
Explains the underlying factors that influence the ways children learn and the ways educators work. It includes information on how teachers can partner with their students’ families to deliver a quality education.

CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
Students learn about types of children’s literature and how to select media that align with children’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION MASTER’S DEGREES

Type of Schools:
Four-year universities, online schools

Time to Complete:
Two years, full-time

Career Opportunities:
Adjunct instructor, family education center director, education coordinator, preschool director, preschool lead teacher

Master’s degree programs in early childhood education build on the previous education and work experience students have gained and help them become experts in a general topic in the field. In addition to learning advanced concepts, students also learn about seminal early education research, as well as gain practice in original or secondary research. Schools generally require applicants to earn a minimum of a 2.5 GPA in their undergraduate programs and take the GMAT or GRE to gain entry into a master’s program.

Early childhood education master’s degree students learn advanced concepts in the field that can help them get high-level jobs. Some examples of courses in these programs are below.

INTRODUCTION TO EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH
This course familiarizes students with how education research is conducted, including commonly used qualitative and quantitative methods.

PLAY
Students learn about the importance of play in a child’s development. Professors relay information on how children play both with each other and alone.

HISTORY OF SCHOOLING AND CURRICULUM FOR PRE-K TO GRADE 3 PROGRAMS
This class explores the political, social, historical and legal foundations of the early education field in the United States.

LEARNING THEORIES AND INSTRUCTION
Students survey different evidence-based learning theories and the practical classroom applications of each. Course topics may include motivation, the social context of learning, and classroom problem-solving techniques.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION DOCTORATE DEGREES (PHD, EDD)

Type of Schools:
Four-year universities, online schools

Time to Complete:
Three to five years

Career Opportunities:
Advocacy specialist, early childhood administrator, education researcher

To be admitted into an early education doctoral degree program, applicants are expected to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in education and to take the GRE or GMAT. Students in these programs can prepare to become education researchers, school administrators, educational consultants and college professors. Programs allow students to pursue a concentration, which gives them expertise in a specific area of early childhood education.

To move up in their careers and become experts in a certain area of early childhood education, students in doctoral programs take advanced coursework, such as the classes listed below, before conducting original research.

TRENDS, ISSUES AND RESEARCH IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Students analyze findings in early childhood education research and how they apply to the classroom. Research topics covered include political, legal and social issues educators face.

EARLY WRITING: COGNITION, LANGUAGE AND LITERACY
This course explores how early learners acquire writing skills. Students review the latest research in this area.

PSYCHOSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD
Students study how children relate with others and develop individual identities.

MODELS OF ASSESSMENT
Students in this course can expect to learn about the types of assessments used to evaluate students and design curricula.

Early Childhood Education Programs: Pre-Enrollment Checklist

Not at early childhood education programs are the same. After narrowing down your school options, it’s important to follow a checklist such as this to determine which school will best fit your educational needs and set you up for a future career.

  • Accreditation
    To ensure they receive an education that positions them to receive a teaching license in their state, students should look for programs accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. This organization certifies that early childhood education degree programs are delivering a quality education that meets industry standards.
  • Opportunity to pursue specializations
    Students interested in working with a specific student age group, such as preschool-aged children, can benefit from programs that offer specializations because they allow students to become very knowledgeable on a specific topic, which can open up job opportunities.
  • Classroom experience
    While education theory provides the foundation for becoming a successful teacher, it is important for students in early childhood education programs to receive as much hands-on experience as possible. To that end, students should look for degrees with strong field networks so they can both observe real-life teachers in the classroom and teach their own classes.
  • Faculty interests
    While researching early education programs, prospective students should look for faculty members who specialize in their areas of interest. For example, those who want to specialize in day care education can benefit from programs that have faculty members who have run day care centers.
  • Research opportunities
    Students interested in becoming education researchers should look for programs that provide opportunities to conduct original studies. This will allow them to contribute to others’ research or conduct their own.

Careers & Specializations for Early Childhood Education

Early education graduates learn skills — such as working with students in the classroom, conducting assessments, and collaborating with parents — that can be used in several different jobs. The following are examples of careers graduates may pursue:

BROWSE CAREER PROFILES

Preschool Teachers

Preschool teachers help children under the age of five learn subjects such as reading, writing and science by instructing them on skills like letter and number recognition. Professionals must be able to tailor their curriculum and teaching styles to accommodate young children.

Job Growth (2014-2024)
7%

Median Annual Salary (May 2015)
$28,570

Typical Education
Associate or bachelor’s degree, depending on the employer; some states require a Child Development Associate credential

Child Care Workers

Child care workers are responsible for meeting young children’s basic needs, including feeding and bathing them, changing their diapers and playing with them. In addition, these professionals also pay attention to children’s developmental progress and help them explore their environment. Child care providers work closely with parents to ensure students are developing emotionally, socially and cognitively.

Job Growth (2014-2024)
5%

Median Annual Salary (May 2015)
$20,320

Typical Education
High school diploma

Preschool & Child Care Center Directors

Directors oversee the operations of preschool and child care centers. This work entails hiring, training and supervising employees; developing education programs; and managing the organization’s finances. In addition, preschool and child care center directors are required to keep abreast of state regulations and maintain compliance with applicable laws.

Job Growth (2014-2024)
7%

Median Annual Salary (May 2015)
$45,670

Typical Education
Bachelor's degree (and credential in some states)

Teacher Assistants – Preschool

Teacher assistants provide instruction to young children under the supervision of licensed teachers. Job duties include enforcing classroom rules, keeping records, maintaining class materials and supporting lesson plans.

Job Growth (2014-2024)
6%

Median Annual Salary (May 2015)
$24,900

Typical Education
Associate degree

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2015)

In-Depth: Preschool Teacher Employment & Salary by State

The salary range of preschool teachers varies depending on the state they work in. The following map shows the annual median wages of preschool teachers in each state along with the employment prospects for teachers.

[Us map]

Essential Skills & Experience for Professionals

  • Professional certifications
    Depending on the state they work in, early childhood educators may be expected to earn professional certifications. Required certifications may include the Child Development Associate (CDA) or the Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credentials.
  • Physical stamina
    Young children have a lot of energy that needs to be channeled. As a result, professionals must have the physical stamina to keep up with their students as they explore their environment.
  • Patience
    Working closely with one child requires a great deal of patience, so those who work with a classroom full of children must have the patience needed to deal with potentially overwhelming situations.
  • Decision-making
    Educators who work with young children need strong decision-making skills to deal with what’s going on in their classroom from one moment to the next. These professionals must think on their feet and make quick decisions about appropriate instruction and discipline.
  • Instruction skills
    Working with early learners requires a specialized set of instruction skills. Professionals need to know how to effectively work in the classroom, as well as how to create lesson plans that are appropriate for young students.
  • Time management
    Teachers must juggle many responsibilities, and when working with early learners, it’s easy to get sidetracked. These workers must manage time effectively while keeping in mind that children can be unpredictable.
  • Active learning
    The education industry is continually changing as pedagogical techniques evolve. As a result, it’s important to have active learning skills in order to keep abreast of the changes in the field and incorporate new theories into the classroom.

Advice from the Field: Expert Interview

What can students expect to learn in an early childhood education degree program?

Although programs vary from state to state and school to school, in general early childhood education students can expect to learn about child development and developmentally appropriate teaching practices. They can also expect to be introduced to teaching and learning theories, and to develop knowledge of curriculum, pedagogy and various types of assessments. Because school-family relationships are critical to successful early childhood programs, students can also expect to learn about working with diverse families in ways that can benefit young children.

How do early childhood education programs differ from other types of education programs?

Education programs that focus on older children usually emphasize cognitive growth and academic progress, while in early childhood education programs the focus is on the development of the “whole child.” In other words, cognitive, social, emotional, linguistic and physical development are all priorities in early childhood education programs.

What skills and qualities do professionals need to be successful in the early childhood education field?

Early childhood educators need to understand the significance of child development and play in young children’s lives. They should have strong background knowledge in child development, early literacy and early childhood instructional strategies. They should be excellent communicators and have the ability to multitask. They should be able to use various types of assessments to monitor student learning and be able to adapt instruction to meet individual learning needs. Additionally, because young children are typically very eager to learn new things and are full of energy, they need patient, caring, intelligent teachers who will support their growth and development in ways that are nurturing and positive.

What advice would you give to those who want to enroll in an early childhood education degree program?

I have three suggestions. First, consider your career goals and decide if a degree in early childhood education can help you reach those goals. Second, talk to early childhood professionals about their work and visit early childhood education facilities as you consider whether entering the early childhood education field might be a good fit for you. Finally, avoid enrolling in an early childhood program simply because you “love kids.” Although early childhood educators should certainly enjoy being around children, educators are paid to teach children and not just spend time with them. It is unlikely that earning a degree in early childhood education will be easy, but for those who enroll in such programs, the rewards are well worth the effort.

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