Best Online Master’s Degrees in Early Childhood Education (ECE)

An online master’s degree in early childhood education can develop the skills you need to prepare the youngest members of society for a bright future. Find the best programs for both current and aspiring educators and get answers to your key questions in this guide.

Early childhood educators help very young children learn valuable lessons in social skills, communication, and discipline. These skills are the backbone to lifelong learning, and early childhood educators shape the programs that help children flourish. If you have a passion for influencing young children, obtaining a master’s in early childhood education online is a solid choice, whether you’re an aspiring teacher looking to become certified or a current educator looking to further expand your knowledge or move into this field.

This guide highlights top colleges offering online master’s degree programs in early childhood education to help you find the best one for you. It also provides information on paying for your degree, discusses the benefits of online learning, and overviews potential careers and salaries. If you plan to start an online master’s program in early childhood education, keep reading to learn valuable information.

College Spotlights: Best Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education (ECE) for 2021

The best master’s in early childhood education online programs are affordable, flexible, and accredited. Some programs offer certification, while others focus on enhancing skills for administration and postsecondary teaching. Programs vary significantly among schools, and the ones included in this guide give a comprehensive picture of what is available. The three schools highlighted below represent the top-rated schools but be sure to check back for a preview of our full rankings arriving later in 2021.

University of North Dakota

The early childhood education Master of Science from the University of North Dakota is a non-licensing degree that prepares students for addressing the educational needs of children under eight through careers in public and private schools, head start programs, and child care centers. It leads to employment as administrators, directors, curriculum specialists, and postsecondary teachers. This completely online program takes about two years to complete its 32 credit hours.

The program operates with the belief that every child is a born learner, and teachers must be open-minded observers who develop curriculum with the child in mind. It teaches educational methods emphasizing young children in the context of their family, culture, and community.

This early childhood M.S. also offers an online national director credential for early childhood administrators. Accreditation includes the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

University of West Alabama

The University of West Alabama offers both a Master of Education in early childhood development, which does not include licensure and a Master of Education in early childhood education, P-3, including licensure. Both programs take about a year, consist of 34 credit hours, and cost $429 per credit hour.

While the programs overlap in their course offerings, the M.Ed. P-3 is for educators seeking a master’s education along with a class A professional educator certificate. Educators seeking roles as childcare center directors, family support specialists, or early childhood consultants often pursue the certification option. The non-certification M.Ed. is for educators who are seeking a master’s-level education to enhance their early childhood careers but do not need certification.

Both degree options include a mentor collective. This program enhances online learning by linking students with mentors who help them keep up with expectations, network, and develop professional and leadership skills.

Erikson Institute

The online Master of Science in early childhood education from the Erikson Institute is unique among the other programs featured in this guide through its offering of seven different concentrations: bilingual/ESL, cross-concentration, early childhood STEM, language and literacy, leadership and advocacy, social and emotional Learning, and special education.

This program provides a deep understanding of learning for children under age 8. It also considers how their families, communities, and culture affect their development and success. It is suitable for those already experienced in an early childhood setting.

This 30-credit-hour program does not lead to licensure. Its fully online format takes 20 months of full-time study and three years of part-time study. Cost is $1,135 per credit hour, and session start dates are fall term for full-time and fall, spring, or summer terms for part-time. The Erikson Institute is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Advantages of Earning an Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education

Most early childhood educators choose this field to positively impact the lives of young learners. Along with knowing you are making a difference, there are additional advantages of earning an online master’s degree in early childhood education.

  1. Increased Responsibility and Influence

    Higher credentials mean roles with increased responsibility. Educators with a master’s degree in early childhood education can serve as preschool directors and childcare center administrators and manage entire programs. With this increased responsibility comes greater influence and a chance to impact the educational future of whole generations.

  2. Job Security

    As the field of early childhood education thrives and remains crucial to a child’s growth, the demand for qualified early childhood educators increases. That means job availability and job security, especially for those with high skill levels like those acquired through a master’s degree.

  3. Flexibility for Working Professionals

    Online learning allows professionals who work full time to earn advanced degrees through convenient and flexible programming. They let you still work and avoid disrupting your life.

    Tied into these benefits is the potential for significant salary increases. Together, these advantages make earning a master’s in early childhood education online a logical step for those passionate about educating young children.

What You’ll Learn in Master’s in Early Childhood Education Online Programs

Master’s in early childhood education online degree programs vary significantly among schools. Not only are there various degree types and customization options, but the course content is wide-ranging as well. The best programs, such as the curriculum for Liberty University’s online master’s of education in curriculum and instruction – early childhood education, offer core courses covering the essential elements of early childhood education. These include childhood development, current issues in early childhood education, behavior management, and leadership and supervision in education. Some popular courses are described below to illustrate the range and possibilities found within these programs.

Popular Courses

  • Foundations of Education

    Foundations of education courses focus on psychology, research, social, and curriculum foundations. They examine historical, philosophical, cultural, race, class, and gender influences on early childhood curriculum. Foundations of education courses may also explore educational standards and trends and help students develop personal, educational philosophies.

  • Curriculum Design

    These courses focus on curriculum design and analyzing curriculum sources and models to critique and create appropriate curriculums. Students apply critical thinking skills to their work with young children and consider all aspects of the classroom to determine developmentally appropriate curriculum design.

  • Language Development

    A course in language development looks at language and cognitive development in children. Methods for teaching spelling, pronunciation, and vocabulary are introduced, as are the ways children acquire language through classroom observation. Students in these courses learn to develop lesson plans oriented around writing and reading for kindergarten and preschool-age students and often experiment with integrating new technology.

  • Technology in Teaching

    These courses evaluate educational software and websites. They use instructional design principles and procedures to create technology-integrated educational materials. Courses studying technology related to the early childhood classroom examine how to support the curriculum through new, developmentally appropriate learning environments.

  • Capstone Project or Practicum

    Many online master’s degree in early childhood education programs require a capstone project or practicum. These culminating projects allow students to demonstrate what they have learned in their degree coursework and through professional and field experience. Collaboration with faculty is often a part of capstones/practicums, and some also require written proposals.

Ways to Customize Your Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education

Customizing your online master’s degree in early childhood education involves choosing among three different degree types: Master of Education (M.Ed.), Master of Arts (M.A.), and Master of Science (M.S.). There is some overlap among these degrees and each leads to multiple career options. Some programs also offer customization through supplemental certifications and concentration options. Some even offer licensure, but some do not. Check individual programs as combinations of these factors are unique to each school’s offering.

  • Master of Education (M.Ed.)

    Graduates from M.Ed. programs typically become administrators, program directors, or curriculum directors. M.Ed. degrees generally focus on the administrative side of early childhood education. Those who are already early childhood teachers, have another certification or are simply interested in early childhood education pursue M.Ed. degrees like that offered by the University of Toledo.

  • Master of Science (M.S.) in Education

    An M.S. in education is primarily focused on the scientific implications within early childhood education. Graduates may teach, do research, work in public policy, or obtain doctorates. An M.S. generally focuses on the practical skills that allow educators to evaluate educational practices and create solutions and strategies.

  • Master of Arts (M.A.) in Education

    M.A. programs generally focus on contemporary theories and research and prepare educators to either stay in the classroom or move into administration. One example is the early childhood Eeducation M.A. at Texas A&M Commerce, which includes a thesis and a foreign language requirement. Concordia St. Paul also offers an early childhood education M.A.

  • Supplemental Certifications

    An example of supplemental certification comes from Texas A&M Commerce where, in addition to their M.Ed. for certified teachers, M.A. with thesis, and M.S. degree for those seeking initial certification, in early childhood education, four optional certifications are also offered. These certifications are available for those with a Texas teaching certificate. They include bilingual education (Spanish), English as a second language (ESL), gifted and talented, and special education.

  • Concentration Options

    Many of the degree programs discussed in this guide offer customization through electives in a variety of areas. The Erikson Institute takes a different approach by offering seven concentrations in its online M.S. in Early Childhood Education. The specific curriculum you follow along with your field placement is tailored based on the concentration you choose.

  • Licensure or Non-Licensure Programs

    Mixed in the above options for customizing your online master’s degree in early childhood education are licensure and non-licensure programs. Non-licensure programs are for educators pursuing careers outside the public school system, and graduates do not receive state teaching certifications. The University of West Alabama, along with many other schools, offer both certification and non-certification programs, but many only offer one or the other.

Accreditation for Online Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education Programs

When researching master’s in early childhood education online degree programs, be sure to check their accreditation. Accreditation happens at regional and national levels and is a voluntary standard ensuring the quality of schools (institutional accreditation) and programs (specialized accreditation). The main national accreditation agency for education master’s degrees is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. However, there are other quality accreditation agencies, including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Visit the Regional and National Institutional Accrediting Agencies list provided by the U.S. Department of Education for more information on these agencies. All the schools featured in this guide have appropriate accreditation, and many have both institutional and specialized accreditation.

What You Can Do With a Master’s in Early Childhood Education

A master’s in early childhood education online program prepares you for teaching and leadership roles in public and private schools, head start programs, and childcare centers. It also develops skills for roles as early childhood curriculum specialists, administrators, and directors. Some programs also prepare you for higher education positions teaching the next generation of early childhood educators. The field of early childhood education holds many opportunities for growth in current positions, but it also has potential for wider-reaching positions with more responsibility and higher salaries.

Five potential careers for graduates of this master’s program are detailed below to give you an idea of the possibilities

Preschool Director

Preschool directors supervise preschool teachers and childcare workers, establish and communicate policies, and help staff communicate with parents. They also prepare budgets, manage funds, and make sure facilities adhere to state regulations. Some preschool programs are independently owned and operated, while others are state-funded.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$30,850 $48,210 $82,590

Source: PayScale, 2021

School Principal

School principals manage school activities and staff, oversee class schedules, develop and maintain curriculum standards, counsel and discipline students, organize professional development, and much more. Principals need a master’s degree to learn the skills necessary to manage staff, create budgets, set goals, and work with parents and the community.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$63,070 $96,400 $148,630

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Education Specialist

An early childhood education specialist must have a teaching license and a master’s degree. They may be classroom teachers or work in upper-level administration in elementary schools. Employment prospects for these specialists are expected to grow, but their salary potential varies wildly based on factors like geographical location and experience.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$33,000 $51,000 $78,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators create school curriculum and plan their implementation. They organize and run teacher training, help with teaching strategy and educational technology, analyze student test data, and more. A master’s degree is required for instructional coordinators, and some public schools also require a teacher or administrator license/certification.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$38,260 $66,290 $103,790

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers teach education and child development courses at colleges and universities. Though some require a doctorate, many schools accept educators with a master’s degree. Responsibilities include planning and executing lessons, evaluating student performance, and advising students on their career paths. Postsecondary teachers also sometimes work on research projects.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$40,480 $79,540 $174,960

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Early Childhood Education

As you research online master’s degree programs in early childhood education, take time to understand the total financial commitment involved before enrolling. Doing so will help you develop a plan for paying for your degree and obtain financial aid. Potential sources of financial aid include federal student loans, Federal TEACH Grants, and external scholarships and grants. Like the Erikson Institute, some schools also offer scholarships and need-based grants, and many schools provide information on state-specific funding sources. Check individual schools’ financial aid information along with our financial aid page for details on potential funding sources.

What Your Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

Concordia University St. Paul

33

$395

$13,035

Arkansas State

30

$317

$9,510

Texas A&M Commerce

36

$3,594 (residents)
$6,897 (non-residents) for 9 credit hours

$14,376 (residents)
$27,588 (non-residents)

FAQs About Online Early Childhood Education Master’s Degrees

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in early childhood education?

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in early childhood education?

In addition to a completed application and application fee, many schools’ admissions requirements are similar to the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution
  • Cumulative minimum GPA (varies by school)
  • English language proficiency
  • Statement of personal, educational, and/or professional goals
  • Resume or CV detailing professional experience
  • Test scores and/or teaching certificate (some schools accept one or the other, some require scores from state-specific tests, and some do not have these requirements)
  • GRE/GMAT scores (not all schools require these)
  • Letters of recommendation

Like the University of West Alabama, some schools also require fingerprint/verification of background clearance, and some also conduct interviews before admission.

How long will it take to finish my master’s in early childhood education online?

Master’s in early childhood education online degree programs allow for personalized pacing, something difficult to find with on-campus programs. Program length is typically 30 to 36 credit hours, and completion time varies. The biggest factor affecting the time it will take you is whether you are part- or full-time. For example, the Erikson Institute estimates 20 months for full-time students and three years for part-time, and Arkansas State says students can complete their degree in as few as 12 months in an accelerated format.

Can I earn a master’s in early childhood education 100% online, or do I need to visit campus?

Yes, you can earn a master’s in early childhood education 100% online and never have to visit a campus. In most cases, on-campus content is mirrored in online content through online lesson modules, video content, virtual libraries, synchronous and asynchronous lectures, and online discussion boards. Additionally, fieldwork requirements, if there are any, can usually be completed locally and often remotely.

Does an online master’s in early childhood education prepare you for initial teaching certification?

Certification indicates an educator has met a certain set of standards, and each state has different requirements for teaching certification. Some online master’s degrees in early childhood education programs result in being eligible for certification (i.e., licensure), and some do not.

Non-licensure programs are for educators planning to pursue careers outside of the public school system, and these programs do not prepare graduates for state licensure/certification. Some schools, like the University of West Alabama, offer both options.