Associate Degree Programs in Education

An associate’s degree in education provides the basic skills and knowledge needed to enter the education field and is a good first step toward a career in teaching. An associate degree program in education typically focuses on a specific area of teaching. At the associate degree level, the options to major in are generally centered on early childhood education (usually birth to pre-kindergarten) since most other roles in education, including teaching early childhood education for kindergarten to grade three, require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, many on-campus and online associate degrees in education can help you prepare for support roles in the classroom as well as for transfer to a four-year degree program.

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Reasons to Pursue an Associate Degree in Education

While you must earn a bachelor’s degree in education to be certified as a lead teacher, there are still many reasons to pursue an associate degree in education. The three main reasons are:

1. To get a job. Those who earn an associate degree in education from an accredited school may qualify for paraeducator positions such as teaching assistant/ teacher’s aide. In some states, associate degree holders may qualify for jobs like preschool teacher or substitute teacher. An associate’s in education can also prepare you for entry-level careers outside of public schools, such as Head Start programs, before- and after-school programs, some private schools, and daycares.

2. To explore the teaching career path. An associate’s degree in education can be a good starting point for someone who is interested in teaching but doesn’t yet want to commit to a four-year degree. It can also be a way to explore whether becoming a teacher is right for you. Earning an associate degree can be less expensive than earning a bachelor’s degree due to the reduced coursework (typically 60 credit hours for an associate’s vs. 120 credit hours for a bachelor’s).

3. To prepare for further study and certification. As noted above, while an associate degree generally will not qualify you for certification as a classroom teacher, it can be a stepping stone on that path. Credit hours from an accredited associate’s degree program in education can typically be transferred to a bachelor’s program later. If you are not ready for the on-campus or in-person requirements of a bachelor’s program designed for teacher certification, earning an online associate’s in education designed as a transfer program can be a good option.

Associate’s Degree in Education Majors and Areas of Study

The majors or specializations available with an associate’s in education are somewhat limited compared to higher-level degree programs. The main two associate-level education degree types are paraprofessional programs and programs that are designed as transfer programs leading to a bachelor’s degree. Especially if you are planning on entering the workforce immediately after graduation, the major you choose for your associate’s degree will influence the career tracks you are positioned to pursue. If you are planning on transferring to a bachelor’s program, the major might not be as important (depending on what you plan to do with your degree, and how the credits you have completed might or might not transfer to a new degree plan). Within these two pathways, common majors for an associate’s in education include:

You may also see associate degree programs with majors in subjects like educational technology, library science, and special education. While these degrees can lead to careers from the associate degree level, it is much more common for careers in these fields to require a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree.

Associate in Education Degree Program Options

Along with your choice of major, program format is an important consideration. Most associate degrees in education are traditional, on-campus programs, but there are many online and hybrid programs available that can provide added flexibility. Online programs are also a good way to prepare for a four-year program of study, especially for those who are not yet sure which grade level(s) or subject(s) they may wish to teach. If you are planning to take a transfer program and attend a regionally accredited school, especially one that has transfer agreements with four-year schools for a bachelor’s degree in teaching, classes you take online will generally transfer the same as classes you would have taken on campus.

Online Degree Program Formats

If you are looking for a flexible alternative to on-campus study and researching online associate’s degrees in education, there are numerous programs from which to choose. Similar to an on-campus program, an online associate in education program can typically qualify graduates to become teacher’s aides, work in related instructional support careers, or seek roles in supplemental education programs like Head Start. Keep in mind that paraprofessional programs typically require an internship and/or other field experience, which must be completed in person. If you are attending an online program located in another state, you may still be able to complete this requirement in a school district local to you. It’s a good idea to check with the programs you are considering for guidance on these requirements and to check with your local school district(s) to ensure that internships are available to online students. In order to ensure that your degree is recognized and to ease the transfer process, you should make sure that the programs you are considering are accredited by an agency recognized by the US Department of Education.

Admission Requirements

Specific admission requirements vary from school to school and program to program. However, those interested in earning an associate’s degree in education should have a high school diploma or GED. Some schools and programs may require that applicants meet certain scores on the ACT or SAT exams. Many schools also require placement tests in core subjects like math and English. Prior to working with children in an internship or field experience, students should also expect to complete a health exam and criminal background check. Online associate’s degrees commonly hold similar requirements.

Core Concepts for an Associate’s Degree in Education

Courses in an associate degree program that specializes in education typically involve a combination of core liberal arts and science classes and introductory courses on education topics. Some degree programs also include an internship component in which students can apply what they learn in a classroom setting. Examples of courses you’ll commonly find in an associate degree program include:

  • Basics of Assessment
  • Basics of Curriculum
  • Child Psychology
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Introduction to Child Development
  • Intro to Early Childhood Education
  • Intro to Elementary Education
  • Supervised Field Experience

Top-Rated Associate in Education Degree Programs

The following technical and community colleges with associate degrees in education were ranked in Niche’s Best Community Colleges in America 2024:

  • Foothill College (#3; on campus
  • Las Positas College (#4; on campus)
  • Renton Technical College (#5; online or hybrid)
  • Ogeechee Technical College (#6; on campus)
  • Santa Barbara City College (#8; on campus)
  • Lakeshore Technical College (#9; on campus)
  • Northwood Technical College (#10; on campus)
  • Fox Valley Technical College (#13; on campus)
  • Pasadena City College (#15; on campus)
  • Mt. San Antonio College (#16; on campus)1

Select Associate’s in Education Programs

Traditional Programs

Community College of Philadelphia

Community College of Philadelphia is home to four transfer-oriented associate’s degrees in education: Early Childhood (birth to 4th grade); Middle Level (4-8); Secondary Humanities/Social Studies (9-12); and Secondary Math/Science (9-12). All four programs include field experiences designed to help future paraeducators gain hands-on knowledge through both observation and participation. Students acquire both theoretical and functional knowledge applicable to teaching careers and are well-prepared to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program. To be considered for admission, applicants must take the college’s placement tests and earn satisfactory grades in any required developmental courses. Students must also be able to provide satisfactory criminal history reports and health clearances in order to meet the field experience requirements. Courses offered include Cognition and Learning in the Classroom; Applied Computer Technology; Child Psychology; and Introduction to Special Education and Inclusive Practices.

Houston Community College

The Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT) at Houston Community College (HCC) leads students through a curriculum that is designed for transfer to a four-year teaching degree program and preparation for teacher certification in the state of Texas. Courses taken in the AAT, which requires a minimum of 60 credit hours, typically satisfy the lower-division coursework requirements of a bachelor’s degree in education. Courses in the program include Math for Teachers; Introduction to Special Populations; Multicultural Education; and Introduction to the Teaching Profession. To ease the transfer process, HCC maintains articulation agreements with several four-year institutions. HCC also offers a state-approved Accelerated Teacher Certification Program (ATCP) for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree but did not complete formal teacher preparation. HCC has campuses conveniently located throughout the Houston metro area, and select courses may also be offered online.

Vincennes University

Vincennes University offers numerous associate degrees in education that are designed to transfer to four-year programs: an Associate of Science (AS) in Early Childhood Education, an Associate of Science (AS) in Elementary Education, and several distinct Associate of Science (AS) programs in different areas of secondary education, including chemistry, English, and mathematics. The school also offers associate’s degrees in education with focus areas in K-12 art, physical education, special education, and technology. All programs focus on developing in-depth content knowledge as well as proficiency in teaching skills, classroom management skills, and skills for monitoring individual learning. Education courses offered in the AS curriculum include Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence; Initial Experiences in Education; Introduction to Exceptionalities; and Computer Technology for Teachers. Students must also meet the university’s core curriculum requirements, which will typically also transfer towards core curriculum requirements in a bachelor’s degree program.

Online and Hybrid Programs

Indiana Wesleyan University

Indiana Wesleyan University features an Associate of Science (AS) in Early Childhood Education that can be completed online. Students typically focus on taking one eight-week course at a time. The eight-week course rotation also offers the opportunity for new students to begin the course sequence in the fall, winter, spring, or summer quarters. Core courses include Current Issues and Trends in Early Childhood; Emergent Literacy; and Parents, Families, and Communities as Partners. Students additionally complete a service-learning capstone experience. A total of 60 credit hours is required to earn this associate’s degree. After graduation, students may go on to work with children from birth to age eight in paraeducator or paraprofessional roles. Graduates may also seek admission to four-year degree programs as transfer students.

Northampton Community College

Northampton Community College, located in Pennsylvania, offers a hybrid online associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education: Infant to Grade Four. Courses can be completed on a full-time or part-time schedule and students can complete courses online, on campus, or through a combination of methods. Though most coursework is available online, certain fieldwork requirements must be completed in person. For distance students, these requirements can be met at an approved work site or a more local community college program. Core courses that have field/lab work components include Infant-Toddler Development and Learning; Early Childhood Literacy and Language; and Early Childhood Math. Graduates are prepared to work as a teacher or assistant teacher in childcare settings, as well as to transfer to a four-year teaching program in order to earn a bachelor’s degree and qualify for a state teaching certificate.

Richmond Community College

The associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education-Early Childhood Specialist at Richmond Community College is designed to teach students how to successfully work with children from birth to age eight in learning support roles. The coursework for the degree can be completed entirely online. In addition to covering the learning and developmental needs of children, the curriculum focuses on their creative development; physical and motor skills; and physical and nutritional needs. Students are required to earn a “C” or better in all core courses, which include Children with Exceptionalities; Language & Literacy Experiences; and Child Guidance. An early child capstone practicum is also required, which includes an on-site component. With full-time study, the program can be completed in as few as four semesters.

Employment Opportunities for an Associate Degree in Education

  • Childcare Manager/Worker
  • Infant/Toddler Teacher
  • Paraeducator
  • Preschool Teacher
  • School Library Technician/Assistant
  • Special Education Aide
  • Substitute Teacher
  • Teacher’s Assistant/Aide
  • Tutor
  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Question: What are possible associate degree in early childhood education jobs?

    Answer: An associate’s degree in education can qualify you to become licensed as a teacher’s aide or assistant in many states. You may also qualify for other paraeducator jobs or instructional support roles, such as librarian assistant, after-school program educator, or special education aide. Some states also require an associate’s degree to qualify as a substitute teacher.

    Question: What are the skills required to be a teacher?

    Answer: Teachers need a variety of skills, many of which are taught in teacher preparation programs. Teachers must be able to communicate effectively and to work well with a variety of people. Teachers need to be calm and patient and good at working collaboratively. Teachers also must have good presentation skills and basic technology skills.

    Question: Can I transfer from an associate’s program to a bachelor’s program?

    Answer: Yes! In fact, many associate degrees in education are specifically designed for transfer to four-year programs. Such programs may offer perks such as guaranteed admission to a partner university or even reduced tuition if you meet certain benchmarks in your associate’s program. Check with school(s) of interest for details on transfer programs and requirements.

    1. Niche, Best Community Colleges: https://www.niche.com/colleges/search/best-community-colleges/