Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Guide

An online associate degree in early childhood education (ECE) is an ideal way to start a career pathway toward working with young children in educational and childhood development environments. These degrees are often available through community colleges, and the best programs prepare students to be able to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program at a four-year college or university. Some community colleges will also offer the option to transfer into bachelor’s degree programs at the same school; however, this is not yet overly common.

Students who complete an associate degree can begin working in entry-level or support positions. The level of responsibility will depend upon state educational requirements and the unique requirements of each employer for working with young children. Online associate degrees in early childhood education are flexible so that program participants can continue working while pursuing higher education or caring for family members at home. The best colleges and universities will be regionally accredited.

Is an Online Associates in Education Right For You?


The benefits of an online associate degree in early childhood education are extensive. For one, students typically pay significantly less money per credit to achieve degree completion for an associate over a bachelor’s. It also only takes two years to finish an associate degree, which results in faster entry into the job market. This leads to students being able to begin working and earning real world experience before others. In fact, many people choose to finish an associate degree, begin working in ECE, and continue their education toward a bachelor’s degree after they gain some experience.

Individuals who have an associate degree earn more money than those without any degree or a high school diploma. The online programs provide flexibility to work while taking courses or caring for family members and most reputable associate ECE programs offer transfer pathways to four-year online programs that result in saving both money and time.


While an ECE associate degree is a profoundly beneficial way to enter the field in a shorter period of time, it does lack many of the benefits a bachelor’s degree is able to provide. It’s important to understand that many states are beginning to require even early childhood educators to possess a bachelor’s degree and state licensure. Today, it is still possible to find career advancement with an associate degree; however, this is rapidly changing.

Individuals without a bachelor’s degree will be limited in career opportunities and stifled in pay. Those with a bachelor’s degree often make $20,000 or more a year over someone with an associate degree. An associate degree in ECE might also prevent individuals from participating in certifications that boost professional skill development and increase pay. And, most online associate degrees do not provide extensive experiential learning opportunities for those who learn more effectively with hands-on experience.

Certificate Vs. Associate Online

A certificate in early childhood education can serve several unique purposes. In some cases, certificates are basic skill development programs to enhance career opportunities without completing a specific degree. These certificates can be used toward degree credits for some colleges and universities.

In other circumstances, early childhood education certificates require at least an associate degree to enroll. ECE certificates with these requirements are often professional development or credential certifications. In these cases, program participants will qualify for promotions and higher pay and professional organization certifications are also available as a way to specialize within the field.

An associate degree in ECE is typically necessary for the most basic, entry-level positions within early childhood education. These degrees take more time than certificates and cost more money. And an associate degree is a requirement to apply for bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education.

What Types of Associate Programs are Available Online?

A variety of online associate degree programs are available in early childhood education. The most common associate degrees in ECE are the associate of arts degree in early childhood education or the associate of applied science in early childhood education. An AA in early childhood education degree is most commonly used as a transfer degree pathway. This means that students who complete an AA in ECE can relatively easily transfer to a four-year bachelor’s degree program. These degrees typically feature more general subjects.

The AAS degree in early childhood education often provides a more specialized degree pathway. These online ECE associate degrees feature a more practical educational approach rather than a theoretical approach. Program participants for these degrees often choose to begin working upon graduation; they may also move directly into bachelor’s degree courses or begin to gain invaluable work experience. However, an AAS degree may not be ideal if you plan to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program. This will depend greatly upon the college or university you attend and its curriculum.

What are the Admission Requirements?

The admission requirements for an online associate degree in early childhood education will vary from college to college. Some higher learning institutions will have conditional, provisional, and full admission program requirements. Conditional requirements might refer to technology capabilities, time availability, and course expectations.

As part of the provisional requirements, all students will be required to have a high school diploma, or the equivalency of a GED, with a minimum GPA. Those who wish to attend a community college will often have lower GPA requirements to meet than those who choose larger, better known online colleges and universities with associate degrees in ECE. Provisional requirements may also include the passing of a student orientation program.

And full requirements will also vary by higher learning institution, such as a successful IELTS or TOEFL score and approval of transfer credits by the school. Keep in mind that most schools simply have a GPA requirement and that extracurricular activities, relevant work experience, and community service can all play an influential role in admittance, as well.

How long does it take to earn an Associates in Education Online?

The length of time it requires to complete an associate degree in early childhood education online is generally around two years for full-time students. Many students choose to work or care for family members while completing such programs and, as a result, it can take anywhere from two and one-half years to six years as a part-time student. Be sure to check with the college regarding time restrictions on degree completion to prevent losing credits or money in the process.

Most colleges require 60 course credits to complete an online early childhood education associate degree. Most courses are valued at three credits; therefore, students must complete around 20 courses with an appropriate cumulative GPA to graduate. Some schools will allow up to 16 transfer credits to count toward the final course count. Generally speaking, online and in-person ECE associate degrees take the same amount of time. The time is entirely dependent upon the student.

What Can I Do with an Associate Degree in Early Childcare Education?

- Daycare or Childcare Provider

A daycare or childcare provider can expect to take on a supervisory role for monitoring children between the ages of six weeks and thirteen years. Each position will have unique roles and responsibilities. It’s possible to work in both formal settings or privately for individual families. A love of children will be necessary to be successful. The average pay is $10.18 per hour.

- Camp Counselor

Camp Counselors have numerous responsibilities in various environments. These early childhood education careers require a genuine love of the area for which they are counseling and an energetic personality. Many types of camps exist today, from STEM to outdoor adventures. Individuals will plan, organize, implement, and supervise a variety of activities. It may also be necessary to be able to administer basic medical care in the case of accidents or emergencies during activities. The average pay is $9.86 per hour.

- Recreation Coordinator

A recreation coordinator works for any number of employer types including afterschool programs, religious organizations, non-profits, and others. All individuals will be in charge of the planning, organizing, managing, and initiation of activities. These coordinators will also be responsible for overseeing the staff, services, and operations. The average annual salary is $40,020.

- Infant/Toddler Caregiver

Infant and toddler caregivers might work in the home of a client, at a dedicated childcare center, for a corporation with childcare, or many other environments. It will be the responsibility of the individual to be able to care for babies and young children who cannot care for themselves. Roles and tasks might include assistance in various areas such as bathing, eating, going to the bathroom, playing, changing clothes, and much more. The average pay is $11.15 per hour.

- Teacher Aide or Assistant

A teacher’s aide is also referred to as a teacher’s assistant and provides any support necessary in the classroom. This might be instructional, clerical, or both. The tasks assigned to the aide or assistant are entirely up to the teacher and all actions are supervised by the teacher. If an aide is studying to become a teacher, this information will be reported back to the instructors of the degree program. The average pay is $11.52 per hour.

How to Choose the Right Program for You

Before making a final decision on the right online associate degree in early childhood education, it’s important to consider a number of aspects. Employers care about accreditation; the type of accreditation tells the employer the quality of education a student has received before even speaking to the candidate. Regional accreditation is the most reputable. Programs can also be accredited by reputable professional organizations. Ideally, the individual program and the college or university as a whole would both be highly acclaimed and accredited.

Establish a budget. Each program will have different tuition rates. It’s important to establish a budget and select the right school within one’s financial limitations. Don’t forget to include whether or not additional funds will be available if you plan to work a paying job. And remember that grants and scholarships don’t have to be paid back. Some schools offer more of these types of financial aid than others.

It’s especially critical to consider the option of transferring to a four-year program either upon graduation or in the future. Some early childhood education degree programs are more conducive to transferring seamlessly to a four-year program than others. And other programs will require that students take additional courses to meet the basic requirements of a four-year program, which results in more time and money spent. Individuals who choose online ECE associate degrees with well-established transfer pathways will often have an easier time transferring in the end. And don’t forget to look at the school’s real-world experience opportunities, career services and alumni network. Some schools are superior at job placement over others.

Associate Program Sample Courses

The following is an example of the type of courses one might expect in an online associate degree program in early childhood education:

  • Introduction to Early Childhood Education
  • Growth and Development of Children
  • Developmentally Appropriate Practices in Early Childhood Education
  • Children's Play and Learning
  • Introduction to Communications
  • Professionalism and Growth in the Early Childhood Field
  • Skills for Early Childhood
  • Natural and Physical Sciences
  • Family, School and Community
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Humanities
  • Communications
  • Cultural and Linguistic Diversity
  • Problem Solving in Early Childhood Studies

Online Colleges Offering an Associate in Early Childhood Education

Arizona Western College

At Arizona Western College, students can select from a variety of associate degrees and certificates in early childhood education. It’s even possible to complete an early childhood education child development credential preparation course and students can specialize in infant and toddler education, family childcare education, and preschool education.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Associate of Arts Degree in Elementary Education - Early Childhood Emphasis
  • Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education
  • Certificate in Early Childhood Education
  • Certificate in Family Childcare Education
  • Certificate in Infant and Toddler Education
  • Certificate in Preschool Education
  • Early Childhood Education Child Development Credential Preparation

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College

The online early childhood certificate and in-person ECE programs center around young children ages birth to five. These programs are ideal for individuals seeking employment in Head Start, school programs, childcare programs, child development, and recreational centers.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Early Childhood Certificate

Casper College

Casper College features an associate degree in ECE. Students who graduate with this degree will have the appropriate preparation to work toward becoming teachers and managers in a variety of employment types. These types include child development centers, preschools, and childcare centers.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education

Colorado Northwestern Community College

Colorado Northwestern Community College prepares students in various areas of child development such as creative skills, cognitive behavior, emotional needs, social interactions, and language. Online programs provide flexible schedules and virtual interactions with instructors and other students alike. Program participants will also have access to clinical work.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • AAS in Early Childhood Education
  • Early Childhood Education Certificate

Des Moines Area Community College

The DMACC early childhood education programs are extensive, including an online ECE certificate. These programs focus on effective communication, assessments, activity programs, creation of healthy and safe environments, and more. Students will also have a chance to participate in lab experience.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Early Childhood Education Certificate

Eastern Wyoming College

Eastern Wyoming College has both an associate degree and certificate online in early childhood and child development. Students must maintain a C grade or higher GPA. Upon graduation, students will be able to work in a number of child-centered work environments including Head Start programs, ECE programs, preschools, and as teacher aides.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Distance Learning
  • Child Development Certificate

Fayetteville Technical Community College

FTCC prepares students in various skills in ECE programs including physical and motor skills, social and emotional development, cognitive and language skills, nutritional needs, care and guidance, and more. Graduates can work for a variety of employers including recreational centers, childcare programs, Head Start, preschools, and more.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Associate Degree in General Early Childhood Education
  • B-K Licensure Transfer
  • Non-Teaching Licensure Transfer
  • Child Care Development Certificate
  • Child Care Professional Certificate

Granite State College

Granite State College centers programs around young children and skill-building, as well as the patterns of child and family development. The AS program in ECE provides a seamless transition to a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and teacher certification. Many program participants have been accepted from alternative backgrounds, such as volunteer training and the military.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • AS in Early Childhood Education

Great Basin College

Great Basin College offers an ECE associate degree featuring skill development to effectively work with young children, families of students, and whole communities. Programs teach curriculum creation, assessment, cultural awareness, and more. Graduates will often go on to work as home daycare providers, childcare center associates, teacher assistants, and more.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Associate Degree Early Childhood Education

Minnesota State College Southeast

Minnesota State College Southeast places emphasis on superior caregiving, diverse settings, ethical practices, and professionalism in each early childhood education program. The job placement rate for students is 100%. Graduates often work as childcare center teachers, family childcare providers, nanny placement agency owners, substitute teachers, child advocates, and more.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • AAS in Early Childhood Education
  • Early Childhood Development Diploma
  • Child Care Assistant Certificate

Northeast Community College

Northeast Community College offers an online AA in ECE so that program participants will be qualified to work with infants and children. Student organizations and special events are available for an enhanced educational experience and a number of scholarships are offered to students with the appropriate qualifications.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • AA in Early Childhood Education

Southwestern Community College

Southwestern Community College features online early childhood education programs centered around family relationships, children with special needs, diversity, curriculum planning, child development and health, safety, and nutrition. Graduates will be able to work with children from birth to age eight in both public and private work environments.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education
  • Early Childhood Education Child Development Credential Preparation

Spokane Falls Community College

Spokane Falls Community College allows students to participate in courses designed to prepare graduates for working with children from birth to age eight. Work opportunities are available for both in-classroom and online programs. Graduates might work in family engagement, infant and toddler care, family childcare, and more.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • AAS in Early Childhood Education
  • AAS -Transfer - Early Childhood Education
  • State Early Childhood Education Certificate
  • State Short Early Childhood Education - General - Certificate
  • State Short Early Childhood Education - Infant Toddler Care - Certificate
  • State Short Early Childhood Education - School-Age Care - Certificate

South Texas College

South Texas College offers an online ECE certificate that teaches program participants about planning activities, physical development, friendship building, social growth, basic child needs, self-esteem, language, culture, and more. Students will also participate in the community and work with the development of children with parents who are employed.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Administration of Early Childhood Programs Certificate

Tallahassee Community College

Tallahassee Community College has a specialized online associate degree in early childhood development, education, and management. This program prepares students to be able to apply for a variety of credentials and certificates upon successful completion such as the Florida Child Care Professional Credential, Director’s Credential, credential renewals and certificates in Renewal and Preschool Specialization, Infant and Toddler Development, and the EC Development Specialization Certificate.

Degrees and Certificates Offered:

  • Early Childhood Development, Education and Management

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