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2023 Best Online Early Childhood Education Degrees

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 5/30/2023
2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Early Childhood Education Badge

An online bachelor's in early childhood education teaches students strategies for instructing and educating children from infancy to fifth grade. Many parents or guardians work time-consuming jobs while leaving their young children in the care of educators and caregivers. This creates tremendous job opportunities for those who enjoy working with these age groups. Early childhood education students learn how to create curriculums, develop inclusive teaching practices, and effectively interact with their future students. Degrees in child development or elementary education may lead students to similar career opportunities as teachers and social service workers. 

View our methodology for more details about our list or learn more about OnlineU.

2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Early Childhood Education Badge
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#1 Wilmington University

  • Salary Score: 88
  • Median Starting Salary: $41,661
  • Locations: New Castle (DE)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Wilmington University (WilmU) is a private university offering an online Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education (Preschool) requiring 121 credit hours. If studying full time, students can complete this program in four years. All students are accepted into WilmU, with 45% earning a degree.

At WilmU, students use the Canvas learning management system (LMS) to access their courses, which are taught completely online. As a whole, the curriculum for this program is designed for teaching roles that do not require a license, with a focus on subjects surrounding theory, psychology, and child development. Students may also choose from concentrations devoted to specific age groups. Required courses include Instructional Technology, Health and Physical Education, and Applied Behavior Analysis and Classroom Culture. Graduates may earn career opportunities as non-licensed educators.

#2 St. Petersburg College

  • Salary Score: 86
  • Median Starting Salary: $41,290
  • Locations: Clearwater (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

St. Petersburg College (SPC) is a public college that offers an online Bachelor of Science in Educational Studies and Community Leadership - Early Childhood Education requiring the completion of 120 credit hours. Typically, students graduate within four years while studying full time.

All online courses at SPC are taken through the Brightspace LMS. This allows students to study entirely online, with some courses delivered asynchronously. This online degree focuses on developing the skills to educate children from infancy through four years old. It's best for students who aim to pursue a non-school educational career. Among the major requirements are the following classes: Sociology of Education, Comparative and International Education, and Education and Public Policy in the United States. Additionally, students must complete an internship with 240 contact hours. Upon graduation, students are prepared to become after-school educators and childcare facility workers.

#3 St. Catherine University

  • Salary Score: 82
  • Median Starting Salary: $40,477
  • Locations: Saint Paul (MN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

St. Catherine University (St. Kate's) is a private, Catholic university that offers a Bachelor of Science/Arts in Early Childhood Education with Licensure. This online degree requires 78 major credits, which can generally be completed in two to four years. Ultimately, this depends on transferable credits and a student's study schedule.

Brightspace is the main LMS used by St. Kate's students. They can complete courses 100% online, with most courses being delivered asynchronously. This degree is all about developing the professional skills needed for students to earn a teaching license. The majority of required credits are devoted to the core curriculum, including classes such as Early Childhood Education Accreditation and Standards, Effective Practice in Early Childhood Education, and Infant and Toddler Methods and Materials. A 14-week teaching experience is also required, which students can complete at schools near their community along with one-week intensives each summer on campus. Jobs for graduates may be available as elementary school teachers.

#4 Arizona State University

  • Salary Score: 82
  • Median Starting Salary: $40,436
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arizona State University (ASU) is a public institution with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Early Childhood Studies requiring 120 credit hours. The average completion time for this degree is around four years for full-time students. ASU also offers a Bachelor of Arts in Education in Educational Studies – Early Childhood. Of all the students that apply to ASU, 73% are accepted, and 52% of enrolled students graduate.

ASU students use Canvas as their LMS, where courses are delivered fully online and on a flexible timeline. The core curriculum for this program teaches students about childhood development and includes courses designed for professionals with existing children's education experience. Some required classes include Building Leadership Skills; Cognition and General Knowledge of Science, Math, Logic, and Reasoning; and Intentional Teaching. Students must also complete an approved work or volunteer placement. Career opportunities for either degree include child care worker, preschool director, and preschool teacher.

#5 National University

  • Salary Score: 77
  • Median Starting Salary: $39,572
  • Locations: La Jolla (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

National University (NU) is a private university that hosts an online Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Development. In order to receive this degree, students must complete 180 quarter units, which is typically done within four years. NU also offers a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education, which features both academic skills along with social and emotional development in young children. NU's acceptance rate is 55%, with 34% of students earning a degree.

Online students at NU use Blackboard to complete their coursework, which is delivered remotely in a blended asynchronous and synchronous format. The curriculum for the childhood development degree prepares students to become professional teachers through various education methodologies, strategies, and essential knowledge. There are a number of required courses, such as The Growing Child: Zero to 8, Early Cognition, and Play as Pedagogy. Graduates may find employment as preschool teachers and childcare workers.

#6 Northern Arizona University

  • Salary Score: 72
  • Median Starting Salary: $38,858
  • Locations: Flagstaff (AZ)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Northern Arizona University (NAU), which is a public school, offers two online programs for students interested in early childhood education. The Bachelor of Applied Science in Early Childhood is a degree completion program designed for students who want to work with young children in childcare facilities or family services agencies. The curriculum covers subjects such as childhood development, program development, family and community relationships, and communications. The Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Childhood is a flexible program that allows students to take an interdisciplinary approach to studying early childhood education. With an advisor's approval, students combine courses in early childhood development with courses in communication, language or science, and computer literacy. Neither program is designed to lead to teacher certification.

At NAU, online students access their coursework through the Canvas learning system.

#7 University of Wisconsin - Whitewater

  • Salary Score: 71
  • Median Starting Salary: $38,711
  • Locations: Whitewater (WI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Wisconsin (UW) - Whitewater is one of the state's public universities. It offers an online Bachelor's in Early Child Care and Education for those who want to work in childcare, preschools, or family services organizations. Requiring the completion of 120 credit hours, this non-licensure program is geared for working professionals who have already earned at least one credential.

UW - Whitewater delivers its asynchronous online courses through the Canvas learning management system. The school has an 83% acceptance rate and a 63% graduation rate.

#8 Florida International University

  • Salary Score: 71
  • Median Starting Salary: $38,688
  • Locations: Miami (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Florida International University (FIU), a publicly run school, offers an online Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education with an early childhood development track. The program's curriculum includes several courses on each of the following subjects: foundations of education, teaching methods and curriculum development, human development in young children, families and communities, and literacy and language. Students must complete 120 credit hours to graduate.

FIU online students use the Canvas learning platform to access course materials and participate in group discussions and learning activities. Each student is paired with a personal success coach, who provides guidance and support.

#9 Indiana Wesleyan University Online

  • Salary Score: 70
  • Median Starting Salary: $38,639
  • Locations: Marion (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Indiana Wesleyan University is affiliated with the Wesleyan church. This private, nonprofit college offers a fully online Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education that prepares graduates for teaching licensure. Online students take courses in curriculum development, literacy, classroom management, and special education, all taught by early childhood professionals. The program also includes multiple field internships so students can gain work experience and practice what they're learning in real-world settings.

Indiana Wesleyan delivers its asynchronous online courses in five- to eight-week sessions, using the Brightspace learning platform. The school also offers tutoring, library, and other student services for online learners.

#10 Saint Leo University Online

  • Salary Score: 70
  • Median Starting Salary: $38,620
  • Locations: St. Leo (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Saint Leo University is a private, nonprofit institution affiliated with the Roman Catholic church. The school offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies - Early Childhood Development. The 120-credit hour program is designed to prepare graduates to work in either licensed classroom teaching roles or in other childcare and learning settings. Students can choose one of three areas of specialization: education and children, education and adolescents, or education and early childhood development. Graduation requirements include several fieldwork learning experiences.

At Saint Leo, online learners use the Desire2Learn learning management system. Saint Leo offers academic and technical support for distance education students.

2023 Best Online Early Childhood Education Degrees

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 Wilmington University 88 88 $41,661
# 2 #2 St. Petersburg College 86 $41,290
# 3 #3 St. Catherine University 82 $40,477
# 4 #4 Arizona State University 82 $40,436
# 5 #5 National University 77 $39,572
# 6 #6 Northern Arizona University 72 $38,858
# 7 #7 University of Wisconsin - Whitewater 71 $38,711
# 8 #8 Florida International University 71 $38,688
# 9 #9 Indiana Wesleyan University Online 70 $38,639
# 10 #10 Saint Leo University Online 70 $38,620
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What Is a Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education Degree?

Early childhood education refers to both the teaching and care of children up to the age of eight. Early childhood education professionals typically find employment in daycare centers, private and faith-based nursery schools, and private and public schools up to the third grade. Individuals who earn bachelor's degrees in early childhood education are qualified to assume better-paying teaching positions than preschool teachers and possibly administrative roles in schools.

The coursework in an early childhood education program is designed to train educators to teach the fundamentals, like language development, beginner math, and literacy skills. early childhood education students discover how to create learning and play activities that assist children in developing personal and social skills, and they learn about child health, hygiene, and nutrition. Programs should also help graduates prepare for any kind of student teaching experience and exams required to earn a license or credential needed to work with children.

If you're interested in studying early childhood education, you'll find that there are several types of degrees available in this field, both on campus and online. For example, some schools offer a Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Child Development program or a Bachelor in Elementary Education: Early Childhood Education. There are also Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in early childhood education. The curriculum for a BA degree often includes several arts and humanities courses, while a BA program may include more math and science courses.

Future educators may also want to check out our collection of affordable teaching degree rankings: Most Affordable Early Childhood Education Degrees, Most Affordable Elementary Education Degrees, Most Affordable Education Degrees

Degree Requirements

Whether you're earning your early childhood education bachelor's degree on campus or online, you must complete approximately 120-124 credit hours. Some courses may require you to participate in field experience, such as on-site classroom observation. If you're planning on a career that requires state licensure, you may also need to complete one semester of student teaching.

If you attend school full time, you may complete the graduation requirements in four to five years, but if you're a part-time student juggling school with work and other commitments, you may need additional time. Some online schools offer accelerated programs, which you may be able to finish in approximately three years if you're willing to take on a heavier course load. 

Early Childhood Education Courses

Early childhood education programs are designed to ensure that graduates understand normal and exceptional childhood development, develop effective teaching strategies for young learners, and master classroom management. Although BS and BA programs differ in emphasis, many online child education degrees feature similar core courses, including the following:

Child Development

This course investigates how young children's brains and bodies grow during their early years. Topics may include childhood learning, thought processes, emotional range, and reactions to challenges. The environment's role in a child's development — including familial and cultural expectations — is a key theme when discussing these issues.

Early Childhood Learning Environments

Enrollees discover how to create learning environments where children feel comfortable, encouraging them to reach their learning potential. Professors may discuss sensory stimuli, movement and play, and unconscious bias in the classroom.

Early Literacy and Reading

Students learn established methods for teaching new readers. Coursework may cover children's literature and how to choose culturally sensitive material for different reading levels. The discussion topics may also include language acquisition, literacy development, and age-appropriate instructional methods.

Standards-Based Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

This course covers some of the tools teachers use in curriculum development. Enrollees learn both state and district standards to understand how lessons fit into broader curricula. During this process, each student creates multiple lesson plans, which are distributed to classmates for constructive feedback.

Admission Requirements

Depending on the admissions format of the colleges you've chosen, you may want to submit your applications as early as a full year preceding the fall semester when you plan to start taking college classes. Some colleges are more selective and accept fewer applicants than others, and the most selective of these often set earlier deadlines.

When you're submitting your online application, you may be asked to supply one or more of the following items:

  • Official high school or GED transcripts, usually with a GPA of at least 2.5
  • Scores from college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT 
  • A personal essay 
  • Recommendation letters from teachers, coaches, supervisors, or other mentors
  • A list of extracurricular activities, including jobs and volunteer activities

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education Degree?

Although you can work as a childcare worker without a bachelor's degree, you'll need to complete a four-year program in early childhood education or elementary education to become a licensed teacher of young children. You may also be interested in pursuing a graduate degree to develop specialized teaching abilities, move into administrative roles in education, conduct research, or work in academia.

Further Education

After earning a bachelor's in early childhood education, the value of continuing your education at the graduate level depends on your career goals. If you aspire to the highest paying leadership positions in education, you may need an advanced degree.

Master's in Early Childhood Education

Master's in early childhood education programs are designed to help students deepen their understanding of the educational, emotional, and social needs of young children. Courses often cover advanced topics in pedagogy and the use of technology. Earning a master's degree may allow you to command a higher salary in your current role, and it may qualify you for leadership and administrative positions, such as preschool director or elementary school principal.

Master's in Education

Master's in education programs are designed to improve your teaching abilities and enhance your understanding of curriculum development, assessment and measurement, and pedagogy. Having a master's degree may allow you to increase your salary, and it may open the door to leadership roles. Some programs may also offer you the opportunity to focus on a concentration, such as learning design, technology in education, or English as a second language.

Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

You have two options when it comes to earning a doctorate in early childhood education. A Doctor of Education (EdD) with a specialization in early childhood education prepares you for high level leadership positions, such as a school district administrator. The focus of an EdD program is often on the practical application of theory and research. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Early Childhood Education prepares you for a career in academia, often involving teaching educators at the college level and conducting original research. 

Similar Pathways

Your bachelor's degree in early childhood education can also be used as the foundation for other graduate degrees designed to prepare you for specialized roles in the field. 

While many master's degrees in the field of education focus on the practice of teaching, a master's in educational leadership explores topics of interest to educational administrators and policymakers. These include cultural diversity, curriculum design, assessment, collaborative leadership, and legal and ethical issues in education.

A master's program in elementary education is designed for new or early career elementary school teachers who want to deepen their understanding of curriculum development and enhance their skills in classroom management. 

With a master's in physical education, you'll be able to work with students in all grade levels (K-12). While teaching students how to participate in group sports, such as basketball and softball, you'll introduce students to the benefits of health and fitness.

A master's in secondary education is a good choice if you'd prefer to work with middle school and high school students. In addition to courses on adolescent psychology and teaching strategies, you'll also take courses on teaching the specific subject you've chosen, such as English, algebra, or biology.

Special education teachers work with students who have learning disabilities or behavioral issues that may negatively impact their ability to learn. In a master's program in special education, you'll learn to modify lesson plans and develop teaching strategies that help young learners achieve academic success.

Early Childhood Education Careers

The term “early childhood education” is broad, encompassing a variety of career options. The connecting thread is a desire to help children learn during their most impressionable years as they discover who they are and how they relate to others. Many graduates go on to become kindergarten and elementary school teachers, who are the highest paid professionals in the early childhood education field. Others become preschool teachers, childcare center directors, teaching assistants, or childcare workers.

Do you see yourself working with children in a learning environment? Learn more about becoming a teacher and teaching careers

Financing Your Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education

A bachelor's degree is a significant investment, so you may want to consider how much you're willing to pay before selecting an early childhood education program. It's also worthwhile to consider the degree's return on investment, or ROI. This figure can be determined by comparing the total cost of earning the degree — tuition, books, and other expenses — to your potential lifetime earnings. Salary data from the BLS, listed below, may help you with your calculations.


As indicated by our list of the best online early childhood education bachelor's degrees, tuition fees vary. According to a 2022 report from the College Board, however, average annual tuition fees range from $10,940 for four-year public schools to $39,400 for four-year private schools. The College Board also suggests budgeting an additional $1,240 annually for books and other supplies. One way you might be able to reduce the cost of your degree is to study online, which eliminates room, board, and transportation expenses.

Financial Aid

Whether you're earning an early childhood education degree on campus or through distance learning, you may be eligible for federal, state, and private sources of financial aid. Be sure to submit a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify for financial assistance. After your application has been reviewed, you'll be notified by letter if you qualify for financial resources from the federal or state government or from your school itself. 

Of the various types of aid you may be offered, grants and scholarships are preferred. These types of gift aid don't need to be paid back, unlike student loans that do need to be repaid with interest. Student loans come from two main sources. Federal student loans offered through the government are generally preferred over private student loans from banks and lending institutions because they tend to have lower interest rates and more accommodating repayment plans.

There are also many private scholarships available, especially for students going into the education field. You'll need to submit separate applications for most of these opportunities. Since some teaching jobs are considered public service, you may also qualify for a federal incentive program, such as Teach for America or the TEACH Grant.

What Else Should You Consider?

Perhaps the most important criterion in selecting an early childhood education program is whether it will help you launch the career you envision for yourself. If you're interested in one of the many education specializations, such as special education or technology, make sure the schools you're considering offer the appropriate courses for your goals. Also, if you're thinking about going to graduate school, choose a program that will prepare you for advanced study. 

A closely related consideration is accreditation, which is granted only to schools that meet the national standards for educational excellence. Many states require teachers and childcare workers to have earned degrees from accredited colleges, so be sure the school you choose meets your state's education requirements. Accreditation is also important if you plan to apply for financial aid or transfer credits to another school. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation each offer a database of recognized schools, programs, and accrediting agencies.

While schools can be accredited on an institutional basis, individual degree programs can be assessed by professional organizations to determine whether the coursework is designed to help students develop specific competencies in a given discipline. The National Association for the Education of Young Children sets the national standard for higher education programs in early childhood education. They work with the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation to accredit bachelor's and master's degree programs. You can use the council's Nationally Recognized Program Search tool to determine the accreditation status of specific programs. 

In addition to these factors, you'll need to decide if you want to pursue an early childhood education degree online. Online programs usually offer greater flexibility than traditional programs because students can engage in coursework, class discussions, and assignments at their convenience. Students with strong time management skills may be better suited for online courses, while students who require more structure may prefer on-campus classes. Online early childhood education programs may also require you to arrange for your own practicums and other field experience at facilities near your home.

FAQs About Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education Programs

Can You Get an Early Childhood Education Degree Online?

Yes, you can get an early childhood education degree online. Many schools offer fully online programs that allow you to complete most of your coursework through an online learning system. You can then complete any fieldwork, practicum, or student teaching requirements at schools and daycare centers near your home.

Why Is STEAM Important in Early Childhood Education?

STEAM is important in early childhood education because it encourages children to learn through exploration and helps them develop valuable skills. The STEAM approach to teaching — which combines the scientific fields of science, technology, engineering, and math with the arts, such as language arts and music — gives children opportunities to practice their critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication abilities.

How Do I Become an Early Childhood Educator?

You can become an early childhood educator in several ways. You might consider gaining some experience first by working as a teacher assistant or childcare worker — two occupations that require only a high school diploma. To qualify to work as a preschool teacher, you will need to earn an associate degree; to work as a kindergarten or elementary school educator or daycare center administrator, you will need a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or a similar subject. Depending on your state's laws and your career path, you may also need to obtain some type of license or teaching credential to work with children.

Why Is Early Childhood Education Important?

The earliest years are some of the most important in the span of human development. Young children need preschool teachers and elementary school teachers — experts in both teaching and child development — to help them develop healthy social skills and a strong foundation for knowledge. Positive experiences during the pre-K years help set up children for success in elementary education and beyond.

What Specializations in Early Childhood Education Can I Take?

Early childhood education majors can focus on several specializations as they're earning their bachelor's degree. Some students may want to concentrate on working with a particular group of children, such as infants and toddlers or children who could benefit from special education. Other early childhood education students may want to prepare for administrative roles or explore the use of educational technology in the classroom.

Bottom Line

For many people, teaching and caring for young children is richly rewarding. However, studies show that preschool teachers and childcare workers often earn low salaries and experience a fair amount of stress. Earning an online bachelor's degree in early childhood education may enable you to command a higher salary, equip you for greater success in the workplace, and position you for other related jobs if you decide to take your career in a new direction in the future.

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