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Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education

Are you looking for a career that can change lives for the better? Do young children — with their constant curiosity, endless energy, and joy in simple things — delight you? If so, a career in early childhood education may be a fulfilling and personally rewarding choice for you.

An associate degree in early childhood education prepares you for entry-level jobs in childcare and education. It provides you with a foundation of knowledge that can help you become an effective professional working with young children during their formative years. Getting an associate degree will also help you get a feel for whether a career in early childhood education is something you wish to pursue further. If so, an associate degree can serve as a stepping stone toward a four-year degree.

On this page you’ll learn about:

  • Jobs you can get with an associate degree in early childhood education
  • Career outlook and growth potential
  • Salary
  • Early childhood education degree programs
  • Continuing your education

What Jobs Can You Get With an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education?

Although you can’t become a licensed teacher with just an associate degree in early childhood education, there are a number of interesting and in-demand jobs that you can get with the degree. Below are descriptions of the more common jobs that are typically available to you.

Preschool Teacher

Requirements to work as a preschool teacher can vary depending on the employer and location. It may be possible to get a job as a preschool teacher with an associate degree, but be aware that some positions within public school systems may require a bachelor’s degree in education.

Preschool teachers usually work with pre-kindergarten children ages three to five. They provide instruction that is designed to promote social, intellectual, and physical development. They use tools such as questioning, active listening, and observation to teach and monitor progress. The ultimate goal: to establish a solid foundation for learning and prepare a child to enter elementary school.

Preschool teachers may work in child day-care centers, elementary or secondary schools (state, local, and private), or in the home. Their days are filled with a variety of tasks. Most of their time is spent helping students learn through play and interactive activities. They may use storytelling, rhyming, and acting games to improve language skills and vocabulary development, introduce scientific and mathematical concepts, and advance social skills. Preschool teachers also often perform more perfunctory tasks such as serving snacks and supervising rest time.

Teacher Assistant

Teacher assistants (also called teacher’s aides, instructional aides, and paraprofessionals) work under the supervision of a certified teacher. As the teacher introduces new concepts and material to a class, the teacher assistant helps reinforce the lessons by working with small groups and individual students. Some teacher assistants may also help teach English to children whose primary language in the home is one other than English.

Getting an associate degree and working as a teacher assistant is a great way to determine whether a career in education is right for you. Observing other teachers and gaining experience working in a classroom setting provide a sound foundation for success if you decide you want to follow this career path.

Childcare Worker

Childcare workers play an important role in supporting children’s emotional and social development, in fostering understanding and acceptance of others, and in developing positive self-concepts. They work in childcare centers, private businesses, individual households, group homes, schools for the handicapped, and other childcare institutions. They oversee play, assure child safety, communicate with parents or guardians about observed behavior, and perform other tasks as assigned by their employer.

Childcare workers need a high level of perceptiveness and good active listening skills, as well as the ability to communicate effectively with children, parents, guardians, educators, healthcare providers, and others.

Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education Salary and Career Outlook

How much you can earn and the potential to advance your career can vary significantly depending on your position, place of employment, and geographic location.


Following is salary information about three occupations that you might pursue with an associate degree in early education.


Preschool Teacher

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2017 preschool teachers earned a median annual wage of $28,990, or $13.94/hour, with salaries ranging from $19,970 to $54,780.

Top employers of preschool teachers included local, state, and private schools; individual and family services; religious, civic, and other organizations; and child day care services.

The top-paying states for preschool teachers in May 2017 were:

StateMean Annual Wage
New York$44,310
District of Columbia$41,630
New Jersey$40,110


Teacher Assistant

In May 2017, the median annual wage (half the workers earned more than that amount and half earned less) for teacher assistants was $26,260. The lowest 10% earned less than $18,460, and the highest 10% earned more than $39,780.

The top employers of teacher assistants were local public school systems, private schools, and childcare services.

The top-paying states for teacher assistants were:

StateAnnual Mean Wage
District of Columbia$34,320


Childcare Worker

The median hourly wage for childcare workers (half the workers earned more than that amount and half earned less) was $10.72 in May 2017. The lowest 10% earned less than $8.41 and the highest 10% earned more than $15.76.

The top industries employing childcare workers were local school systems; religious, civic, professional, grant-making organizations, and similar entities; and childcare services.

The top-paying states for childcare workers were:

StateAnnual Mean Wage
District of Columbia$32,330
New York$27,770

Career Outlook

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in early childhood education, the good news is that the early childhood education field is anticipated to have an employment rate above the national average. This may be due in part to the fact that people understand the important role early childhood education plays in establishing a good foundation for future learning.

The potential for employment is best in states with growing populations and large numbers of young families. According to census.gov, the top states in percentage growth from 2017 to 2018 were Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Florida, Washington, Colorado, Texas, and North and South Carolina.

Following are outlooks for specific jobs in the area of early education.


Preschool Teacher

Jobs for preschool teachers are projected to grow at a rate of 10% from 2016 to 2016, which is faster than the average for all other occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information for states that have the highest number of jobs for preschool teachers per 1,000 jobs in the given area. This data reveals that states with the highest employment level in this occupation are:

State Employment/1,000 JobsAnnual Mean Wage
New York 3.70$44,310
Illinois 3.48$31,750
California 3.11$36,760
Texas 2.94$34,800
Florida 2.54$27,340


Teacher Assistant

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of teacher assistants is projected to grow 8% from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all other occupations. State and federal funding for education programs may impact growth.

States with the highest employment level in this occupation are:

State Employment/1,000 JobsAnnual Mean Wage
New Jersey 13.89$28,790
New York 13.66$29,500
Illinois 10.28$27,470
California 9.73$34,290
Texas 7.30$23,520


Childcare Worker

The overall job outlook for childcare workers is expected to be favorable. Parents who work will continue to need the assistance of childcare workers, so demand for childcare workers should remain strong—although growth in the number of stay-at-home parents may somewhat reduce demand.

States with the highest employment levels for childcare workers are:

State Employment/1,000 Jobs Annual Mean Wage
New York 4.37$27,770
Texas 4.21$21,570
Pennsylvania 4.11$21,940
Florida 4.06$22,330
California 3.51$27,670

Getting Your Degree in Early Childhood Education

If you decide to pursue an associate degree in early childhood education, you’ll need to complete at least 60 credits of college courses, which usually takes two years as a full-time student.

Programs typically require general courses in math, science, history, and communications. Your early childhood curriculum will include child development classes in which you learn about topics such as the stages of a child’s emotional, physical, and intellectual development; the development of motor and language skills; and child behavior and psychology. Courses may include a mix of theory and practical experience.

Examples of the types of classes you might take include:

  • Principles of education: Provides historical, philosophical, legal, and sociological principles of education; may include an overview of current issues and terminology in the field of education
  • Theories of learning: Discusses different learning styles and aims to help you understand how children learn
  • Child psychology: Focuses on human development and why children behave and think the way they do
  • Classroom management: Typically provides an overview of instructional approaches, methods related to the different approaches, and materials you will use in the classroom
  • Children’s learning and play: Gives you insight into how children learn to play and the effect play has on a child’s development
  • Observation / assessment: Provides instruction on the use of assessment tools (such as observational-based documents), shows you how to analyze assessment data, and explains how you might use the results to refine teaching strategies; these types of classes often have a hands-on component

Early Childhood Education Associate Degree Online

In addition to traditional on-campus associate degree programs at junior colleges and universities, it’s possible to take early childhood classes online. Some programs advertise that you can complete an associate degree in early childhood education 100% online, but you should be aware that some courses may require field experiences within your community. Some schools assist students in setting up and coordinating these experiences, while others leave that responsibility up to the individual.

The flexibility online classes provide can be important if you need to work while you pursue your degree. Online classes may also enable you to re-watch lectures at your convenience and learn at your own pace. However, some people find that they miss the social interactions and ability to meet face-to-face with their instructors and other students. Others discover that they lack the self-discipline needed to successfully complete an online program. Only you can decide whether an online program will work for you.

Continuing Your Education After Getting an Associate Degree in Early Education

Once you’ve earned an associate degree in early childhood education and gained some real-world experience, you’ll be able to make a decision about whether you want to advance your career by continuing your education.

The next step is usually to obtain a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Having this degree can open the door to a number of careers: public school preschool or kindergarten teacher, childhood center director, consultant, family support specialist, consultant, and many others.

Many teachers, in order to gain knowledge, increase their pay, and advance their career, continue on to get a master’s degree in the area that most interests them.

Written by Gwen Duzenberry

Gwen Duzenberry has a master’s in reading education and an MBA in project management. In addition to developing training materials for Fortune 500 companies, she worked in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and technology before becoming a freelance writer (x number of years ago).

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