Top 20 Online Master’s of Early Childhood Education Programs for 2019

Anyone interested in childhood development and/or in helping disadvantaged children achieve their potential will find value in obtaining a master's in early childhood education online. An online master's degree in early childhood education opens doors to a number of broad or specialized career options in education, as well as to other fields like social services, medicine, communications, government, and even business. At least some level of higher education is required for entry into any of these potential positions, but in order to reach an advanced role, it is highly likely that you will need to earn your online early childhood education master's.

To enter a clinical or therapeutic position, for example, you will need to have obtained advanced certification, while a master's or a doctorate will be required for any administrative roles. Graduates in this field often go on to work in pre-schools, public/private schools, programs for special needs children and adults, community centers, rehabilitation facilities, religious organizations, mental health agencies, department/retail stores, and many others.

Featured Online Schools

What Are the Best Online Master's of Early Childhood Education Programs?

Featured Online Schools


Champlain College Burlington, Vermont

Champlain College’s early childhood education master’s degree online is a flexible program designed for students concurrently employed in a relevant position. This program focuses not only on education needed to teach young students, but also on creative strategies designed to make the classroom more fun. Many courses discuss the importance of imagination and play in the development of young minds, and coursework is developed accordingly. The college’s Master of Education in Early Childhood Education consists of 36 total credit hours and requires a short residency experience during a student’s first year in the program. This residency program takes place over four days and is held during one of two NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) Conferences.


Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Nova Southwestern University offers an online master’s of early childhood education degree with a concentration in prekindergarten/primary education. This program is designed to prepare graduates to work with children ages three to eight. As part of obtaining this online master’s in early childhood education, students are required to complete fieldwork either through volunteering or employment at a relevant institution. Thirty-six total credit hours are required to graduate from this program. You are granted the flexibility to complete your coursework completely online or in a hybrid format. Many NSU campuses offer this degree program, and classes are the same both online and on campus.


University of Dayton Dayton, Ohio

The online early childhood education program at the University of Dayton is a transdisciplinary course; the school believes that a diverse background of knowledge and experience is crucial for education, especially in the ability to teach others. This transdisciplinary program brings students and working professionals from various backgrounds together to share their expertise for the benefit of young children. To gain admittance, you must have obtained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and have three letters of recommendation from professors or employers in a relevant field. If an applicant’s undergraduate GPA is below 2.75, a passing score from a MAT or GRE test is also required for admission.


Northwestern College Orange City, Iowa

Northwestern College's online master's in early childhood education is 33 credits and can be completed in five or six semesters, or about two years. The cost-competitive curriculum is delivered completely online and features personalized attention and innovative instruction that is immediately applicable to the classroom. The early childhood M.Ed. focuses on the education of children from preschool to grade three. This online program meets the professional standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and prepares educators for career advancement in early childhood classroom teacher, administrator, specialist, or consultant roles. Courses are offered in 8-week sessions that enable students to balance coursework with their home and classroom responsibilities.


University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, Alabama

The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers several options for students seeking their online master’s in early childhood education; you are given the option of undergoing a traditional or alternative master’s program in either early childhood education or early childhood and elementary education. The traditional degree coursework is focused on core knowledge and skills needed to be a teacher, while the alternative program explores diversity and literacy in-depth, among other subjects. To complete the traditional program, you will be required to complete 31-34 credit hours while the alternative program requires 49-58 credit hours.


University of North Dakota Grand Forks, North Dakota

University of North Dakota’s master’s in early childhood education online program has flexible start dates in fall, spring, and summer. This online master’s degree in early childhood education is geared to be completed in two years and courses are 100% accessible online. Throughout your coursework, you will have access to class materials, teachers, and other students via a virtual classroom. Regardless of your place of residence, UND’s online programs charge only in-state tuition to all students. By graduating with your online master’s in early childhood education from UND, you will be equipped to work in public/private elementary schools, child care/development centers, and more.


Concordia University St. Paul, Minnesota

Concordia University - St. Paul’s online master’s degree in early childhood education consists of 33 credit hours, each course lasting approximately seven weeks. The program awards a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in Early Childhood Education. As this program is designed for students who are already employed as a teacher of young students, earning an MA in early childhood education online at CUSP does not grant licensure.


West Chester University of Pennsylvania West Chester, Pennsylvania

West Chester University of Pennsylvania has an online master’s of early childhood education degree program that can be found in the department of early and middle grades education; this degree prepares students to teach children from preschool to grade eight. WCUP is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Though this online master’s in early childhood education program is offered 100% online, students are still expected to be involved in field education, i.e. you will be required to have some hands-on involvement with child education during your time of study.


Biola University La Mirada, California

At Biola University, you can expect to earn your master of arts in teaching with a concentration in early childhood education after 30 credit hours of study. This program consists of three key parts: fundamental coursework, a concentration focused on early childhood coursework, and a capstone project based on field research/experience. You can expect to earn your degree in as little as 18 months.


Texas A & M University Commerce, Texas

Texas A&M University - Commerce has a diverse offering of master’s degrees in this field; you may earn a Master of Science, Master of Arts, or Master of Education in the concentration of early childhood education. Each course in any of these programs is concluded with an examination consisting of 50 multiple choice questions; you must earn a grade of at least 70 to pass and continue on to take your next course. TAMUC focuses this master’s program on the education of young students in both public and private school settings, preparing graduates for broad future career options.


Georgia Southern University Statesboro, Georgia

Georgia Southern University’s online Master of Education in Early Childhood Education consists of 36 credit hours of study. The program was designed for students already certified with a Professional Level Four Certificate in Early Childhood Education. To apply, you must have earned a relevant bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and be fully certified to teach in the state of Georgia. In order to remain in the program, you must maintain a GPA of 2.50 or above.


Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, Arizona

Through its College of Education, Northern Arizona University offers a fully online Master of Education in Early Childhood Education. The online master’s degree in early childhood education program allows you to choose from three different concentrations: early childhood teacher, early childhood leadership, and early childhood national board preparation. All work toward the completion of your master’s degree must be done within six years of your admission, and you must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. This degree requires 30 credit hours and gives you the option to complete fieldwork for credit.


Mercy College New York, New York

Mercy College’s online master’s of early childhood education focuses on education for students in preschool through second grade. Located in New York, this college ensures that its program is focused on demands required for New York educator certification. To earn your MS alone, you will take 39 credits of coursework pertaining to the various areas of study required to teach young children. Additionally, MC offers a number of certifications you can earn in addition to your degree; these certifications include: early education - birth to grade two, early education - birth to grade two, childhood education - grades 1-6 (dual certification), and more. To obtain any one or more of these certifications, you will need to take additional classes and credits.


University of South Alabama Mobile, Alabama

The University of South Alabama offers an online master’s of early childhood education program. To earn your degree, you will undergo 30 credit hours of coursework. To apply for this program, you must already be working as a teacher and have a Class B Professional Early Childhood Certificate. Additionally, you must have passing scores on either a MAT/GRE or on the Early Childhood: Content Knowledge Praxis Exam II. USA offers concentrations in art education P-12, elementary education, secondary education, collaborative education K-12, educational leadership, and more.


University of Colorado Denver Aurora, Colorado

The online master’s of early childhood education program at the University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus is intended to prepare teachers with the knowledge to meet needs of young students from all backgrounds. While this course is available fully online, UCD/AMC prioritizes student-teacher interaction and caps each class at a maximum of 25-30 students. You are also allowed to hybridize your education by taking classes both online and on campus; coursework does not differ between brick-and-mortar and distance learning methods.


Saint Ambrose University Davenport, Iowa

Saint Ambrose University offers a master of early childhood education program that focuses on training students on how to best interact with children; studies have proven that teachers with more specialized learning in child education are observed to be more attuned to the needs of their students. This online master’s degree in early childhood education degree program requires a capstone project with roots in community outreach. To complete your master of early childhood education degree at SAU, you will need to complete 33 credit hours and maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0.


Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, Louisiana

Northwestern State University of Louisiana offers a master of arts in teaching and professional studies program focused on early childhood education and grades PK-3, through the school’s ENSU Global Campus. This online master’s in early childhood education degree meets requirements and standards of the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). To complete this program, you will undergo 39 semester hours, including a one-year teaching internship. This program is offered fully online; coursework for this online program is the same as is offered to on-campus students.


Jacksonville State University Jacksonville, Alabama

Jacksonville State University gives students the option to earn certification as an education specialist in addition to earning a Master of Science in Education. JSU’s master’s of science in education program offers multiple concentrations in childhood education: early childhood education, elementary education, early childhood special education, reading specialist, and a collaborative program for K-6 and 6-12 Special Education. In completing this online master’s degree in early childhood education program, you are eligible to take a fifth year, as well as earn your teacher’s certification. To gain admittance, you must have already obtained a bachelor’s teacher certification from an accredited institution. Each of these programs consists of 30-40 required credit hours.


University of West Alabama Livingston, Alabama

The University of West Alabama offers an online master’s of early childhood education program. In order to gain admittance, you must have already met all requirements for entry into the college’s school of general studies; you must also have already earned your bachelor’s in education or hold a professional educator certification. This online master’s in early childhood education program consists of 34 total credit hours, and students must maintain an average GPA of 3.0 or above in all classes in order to graduate.


Edinboro University of Pennsylvania Edinboro, Pennsylvania

Edinboro University's online master of early childhood education program is designed for practicing and pre-service teachers working with children from birth through the third grade. The 27-credit degree explores topics like math and science for young children, curriculum development, and play, research, and advocacy. Students must also complete an independent study project that blends their previous coursework with additional research.

To apply, prospective students must have a bachelor's degree and submit transcripts from all regionally accredited institutions previously attended. They also must demonstrate an undergraduate GPA of at least 2.8. Those who fall below this mark can still be admitted by providing their GRE or MAT scores, which are evaluated by an admissions committee.

The university is located in northwest Pennsylvania, just a short drive from the banks of Lake Erie. Edinboro's School of Education is regionally accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Program?

Each online early childhood education master's program carries different requirements and emphasizes different specializations. While one program may focus on play-based learning methods, another may specialize in early childhood special education or in program design. Some programs require a practicum or field experience, which can add time to the degree. Because programs differ, prospective students need to research their top choices.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education

  • Theories of Teaching and Learning: Graduate students research how to apply theoretical frameworks of teaching and learning to their work setting. The class covers biological and psychological understandings of the brain and the application of these theories to early childhood learning situations.
  • Early Childhood Assessment: Educators working with children under the age of eight need assessment tools appropriate for young learners. This class builds skills in evaluating the growth and development of infants, toddlers, and adolescents by preparing graduates to work in daycare, childcare, or preschool settings.
  • Emergent Literacy: Classes in emergent literacy examine the development of literacy skills in young learners from birth to age eight. The coursework may cover both reading and writing, the role of reading and literature in the development of literacy, and current research in the field. Literacy classes benefits educators working at the preschool and early primary level.
  • Child-Centered Learning: Students in child-centered learning courses explore the best methods to facilitate a constructive, child-centered educational environment. Most students cover project-based learning and assessment practices for constructivist curricula.
  • Play in Early Childhood Education: Early childhood educators examine stages of play, play-based learning, and play as a pedagogical tool. Coursework may incorporate the educator's role in facilitating play and designing play-based lesson plans, as well as cultural differences in play. The course prepares classroom educators and program designers.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's in Early Childhood Education?

Earning an early childhood education degree online typically takes two years to complete. However, timeframes vary based on the program requirements, the number of required credits, and the student's full- or part-time status. Earning additional specialties can also add time to the degree.

Some online early childhood education master's programs require a practicum or teaching internship, which can lengthen the program. Others use the cohort learning model, where students enter the program together and complete it at the same time. Programs that use the individual pace model may allow advanced students to complete the degree faster. Accelerated programs let students earn an ECE degree online in one year. However, these programs may not appeal to students who plan to continue working while earning their degree.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Early Childhood Education Prepares For

Certified Child Care Professional
Offered by the National Early Childhood Education Accreditation agency, this designation marks educators who meet the certificate's experience requirements through a licensed childcare provider. The certificate does not require a master's degree, but an online master's in early childhood education fulfills the educational guidelines. Several states require the certification for workers to enter director-level positions at daycare, preschool, or childcare facilities.
Child Development Associate Credential
The Council for Professional Recognition provides this credential to candidates who meet the requirements, including experience working with children from birth to age five. The credential requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in early childhood education and an online early childhood education degree.
State Teacher's License
In many states, earning an early childhood education master's degree online meets the requirements to receive a teacher's license. Some licenses may only apply to teachers working with children under age eight, and in most states, teachers must renew the license periodically by completing continuing education credits. The requirements for a teacher's license vary by state, so educators need to research the process in their state.

Salary Outlook for Master's of Early Childhood Education Graduates

Expected Salary and Minimum Degree Requirements
Occupation Minimum Required Degree Expected Salary
Preschool Teacher Bachelor's $25,730
Preschool Director Master's $39,895
Elementary School Teacher Bachelor's $43,886
Executive Director Master's $74,703
Teacher's Assistant Associate $22,485

According to PayScale and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), students looking to enter the field of early childhood education can expect to earn higher salaries as they further their education. Studies have shown that the more schooling teachers undergo, the better they are able to meet the needs of their students. As a result, if you earn your master's, it is highly likely that you will earn more money in the same position than a candidate holding a bachelor's degree.

What to Expect in a Early Childhood Education Career

A day in the life of a professional in early childhood education may vary greatly based on the line of work. For example, should you choose -- as the major's title may suggest -- to enter the education workforce as a teacher, chances are your day-to-day life would include overseeing children and ensuring that they learn subject matter as well as maintaining responsibility for the students' welfare. After earning your online master's in early childhood education, you would likely be responsible for developing curricula, interacting with students and parents, and demonstrating your ability to work with individuals of all backgrounds. On the other end of the spectrum, if you chose to utilize your degree in the business realm, your responsibilities would most likely be influenced by your expertise in children and development. For example, if you were to work in product development, chances are that you would be called upon for your knowledge of what products can benefit, or be dangerous to, children.

To be a teacher, particularly of young children, there are a myriad of skills and traits you will need; see the following list for some examples:

  • Clear and concise communication
  • Confidence -- students will need to trust in your ability to lead them
  • Organization
  • Ability to handle conflict -- between yourself and parents/other faculty as well as between students
  • Be able to work well with others
  • Empathy
  • Imagination
  • Adaptability
  • Patience
  • Open-mindedness

Early Childhood Education Professional Organizations

Professional organizations bring together early childhood educators from around the world, providing opportunities to network and share professional experiences. Many also offer the continuing education programs necessary to renew state teaching licensure. Early childhood organizations often hold annual conferences and provide professional development resources. These organizations cater not only to professionals but also to students. Professional organizations provide career services, job boards, and scholarship opportunities.

National Association for the Education of Young Children
The NAEYC promotes high-quality learning for young children and advocates for early childhood educators. The organization also operates state affiliates and provides professional development resources, conferences, and publications.
National Education Association
The National Education Association boasts over three million members, including early childhood educators. The organization advocates for educators and provides research and publications for its members.
Association for Childhood Education International
This association supports the education of children from birth to early adolescence. Members receive awards, scholarships, and resources on the best educational practices.
National Head Start Association
This nonprofit organization advocates for over 200,000 early childhood educators teaching in Head Start programs and provides professional resources for its members.
Division for Early Childhood
Part of the Council for Exceptional Children, the Division for Early Childhood focuses on the development of children from birth to age eight who have developmental delays and disabilities. The organization provides professional development resources for members.

Financing Your Online Master's in Early Childhood Education Program

Many students pay for an early childhood education degree online through scholarships, grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) serves as the first step to learning about federal funding opportunities, including work-study jobs. Some scholarships and grants also require a completed FAFSA. Students who take out direct loans, Stafford loans, or Perkins loans may qualify for loan forgiveness programs that help pay off the loans. In addition to federal funding, early childhood education students benefit from state and local opportunities.

Loan Forgiveness Programs for Early Childhood Education Graduates

Loan forgiveness programs help graduates pay back their student loans. Teachers may qualify for loan forgiveness based on their field or their school. For example, teachers at low-income schools or in high-need fields meet the eligibility requirements for federal loan forgiveness programs. Most programs carry teaching obligations that educators need to meet before lenders forgive the loan. By researching loan forgiveness programs, early childhood educators may successfully discharge their loans in just a few years.

At the federal level, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and the Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation program help teachers discharge their student loans. The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program provides up to $17,500 toward subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans and Stafford loans. Teachers must work for five consecutive years in a low-income school to qualify. The Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation program discharges up to 100% of Perkins loans for educators working in low-income schools or in fields with teacher shortages. Educators may also qualify for loan deferment.

In addition to federal programs, several states offer loan forgiveness programs for teachers and early childhood educators. Online students may qualify in the state where they plan to teach.

Scholarships for Early Childhood Education Students

Scholarships help early childhood educators pay for their degrees, including students earning an online ECE degree. These programs provide thousands of dollars toward a master's in early childhood education online. In addition to scholarships for early childhood education graduate students, students may qualify for several teacher scholarship programs.

Teacher Education Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Montessori Society awards scholarships to students attending an AMS-affiliated teacher education program, which includes some master's programs in early childhood education. Applicants submit a personal statement and three letters of recommendation. Amount: Varies

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Bright Futures Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Awarded by Bright Horizons, the scholarship funds students at two-year and four-year institutions and graduate students. Applicants must be earning an early childhood education degree or a related degree specializing in teaching children under the age of six. Recipients cannot currently work at Bright Horizons. Amount: $1,000

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T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Offered at the state level, T.E.A.C.H. scholarships help early childhood educators earn degrees, including an online master's in early childhood education. The awards fund tuition and books and may provide a stipend. Amount: Varies

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Inspire Our Future Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Awarded by, the scholarship funds students earning early childhood education degrees or other related education degrees. Candidates must submit a 500-700 word essay. Amount: $500

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Early Childhood Educators Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: The scholarship program provides financial assistance for currently employed early childhood educators earning an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree. Only Massachusetts residents qualify for the program. Amount: Up to $9,000

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Applegate-Jackson-Parks Future Teacher Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The National Institute for Labor Relations Research offers scholarships to graduate students majoring in education. Applicants submit transcripts and a 500-word essay on the Right to Work principle as it applies to educators. Amount: $1,000

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To determine the best online master's of early childhood education programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 20 best online master's of early childhood education programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.