Associate’s degree in education

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Introduction to education

Many people find themselves gravitating toward education because of their love of learning and compassion for children. A good teacher can make all the difference in a child’s life. Quality teachers are not only educated, but fair, caring, and respectful. Effective teachers are an important factor for student learning because they motivate, collaborate, and educate students to become the best versions of themselves. An associate’s degree in education gives students the foundational knowledge needed to work in the education system. Earning a degree in education allows you to learn about the discipline, gives you transferable skills, and assists you in finding a career path that is right for you.  

What do I need to apply?

Before being admitted into an associate’s program you will need to meet a few basic requirements. An online application can be filled out on the school’s website where you will find enrolment requirements. Most schools require a high school diploma or GED, and a copy of your official identification. When you apply at a community college, most applications are processed within 24 to 48 hours.   

If you are applying to an associate’s program at the university level, there may be additional requirements. Your transcripts with a minimum GPA of 2.0, standardized test scores like the ACT or SAT, letters of recommendation, and personal statement are generally required.  

Online and offline study formats

With the growing availability of school resources and the presence of laptops being commonplace, traditional face-to-face learning is not the only way students earn degrees. Online education has become increasingly popular in recent years, and many schools are offering it as a study option. Online education gives students flexibility and control over their education. Additionally, some coursework is completed with a hybrid component. This combines traditional and online education to fit the needs of students. The availability of these courses and programs will be dependent on the institution, but it is definitely not too difficult to find programs offering online associate degrees in education

Does my university need to be accredited?

Accreditation agencies put into place by the U.S. Department of Education ensure that higher education institutions are meeting or exceeding their standard of excellence. This establishes continuity between institutions and creates a vetting system for those who do not meet their standards. Graduating from an accredited university shows other academic institutions, employers, and licensing and certification agencies that the education you received has properly prepared you for the next level of academia or employment. The U.S. Department of Education website allows users to check a postsecondary institution’s accreditation. 

What will I learn?

The coursework in this 2-year program introduces you to the educational, social, and developmental aspects of teaching. It can equip you with the foundational knowledge needed for introductory careers in the education or child development field.  

Introduction to education

This course examines changes the education system has undergone throughout history including government involvement, law, and historical trends. It will cover issues facing all levels of education, major controversies in contemporary education, and how historical events have impacted teaching and learning. 

Observation and assessment

A course in observation and assessment covers the behind-the-scenes work teachers do to ensure their students are receiving the most from their lessons. Different observation techniques are introduced – and followed by lessons that teach students when to use them, and how to assess the data collected to adapt future lessons for optimum student achievement.  

Health, safety, and nutrition

The importance of good nutrition, safety procedures in a classroom, and overall health are imperative to know when working in the education field. Teachers and early years educators need to have a basic understanding of the benefits of good health, safety, and nutrition on development, plus the detrimental effects it can have when ignored.

Infant and toddler

Especially if you’re interested in pursuing a career in the preschool setting, an infant and toddler course is essential. This course focuses on development in the first 2 years of life which is when the brain and body undergo many dramatic developmental changes. You will learn about milestones, developmentally appropriate practices, and healthy learning environments.  


A vital part of any education program is the fieldwork component. This pairs classroom knowledge with hands-on experience. At the associate level, this will typically involve classroom observations of licensed teachers. The observation hours, locations, and requirements are determined by the professor.  

Certificate opportunities

Students who want to expand their knowledge about a particular area in education may be interested in certificate programs. There are several certificates available to students at the associate level which can better prepare them for employment opportunities.  

plus-circleInfant and toddler certificate  

Infants and toddlers require special attention, and therefore, some employers require the completion of an infant and toddler certificate for employment. It will cover socialization, developmentally appropriate lessons and environments, and curriculum design. In addition, students learn about current and historical theoretical approaches to early childhood practices, and how to become early childhood advocates.  

plus-circleAssociate teacher certificate  

The completion of this certificate will ensure employers that the student meets the requirements for employment in a private or publicly funded childcare program. It focuses on the knowledge and training needed to work with infants to school-aged children, and includes an introduction to principles, observation procedures, and documentation practices.  

plus-circleMaster teacher certificate  

This certification qualifies you to be a master teacher or a supervising teacher in early care and education programs. It will cover topics like child and adolescent development, outside influences on development, observation, assessment, curriculum development, diversity in education, and children with special needs. 

Degree cost and financial aid

The average cost of a 2-year associate degree is $3,770 at public institutions. 

The pursuit of a higher education degree doesn’t need to be a financial burden. Financial aid in the form of scholarships, awards, grants, and loans is available to help students pay for school. One of the most popular options amongst college students is Federal Student Aid. A free application is filled out online and based on financial need, aid is distributed to those who qualify.  

Career options

A 2-year associate degree will open up several introductory-level career options in the education and early years field. Whether you want to work in a public school, private preschool, or early years center there is something for you. Depending on where you want to work, graduates are qualified to work as lead teachers in early educational settings, assist in a public school classroom, or direct a childcare center.  

The first 5 years of life are full of wonder, growth, and magic. A preschool teacher aims to harness their students’ wild imaginations and give them an engaging and fun education. Preschools can be private or state-funded. Because of the research in the last 20 years outlining the importance of early years education, large companies like Google, Nike, and Facebook now offer on-site childcare for their employees. This gives preschool teachers more flexibility in where they can work and who they work for.  

The average salary for a preschool teacher in 2020 was $31,930. 

When juggling lesson plans, teacher conferences, and meetings, teachers often need additional help in their classrooms. Teaching assistants help licensed teachers with grading papers, giving instruction, student questions, and lesson preparation. They may also be asked to help students who need additional help, to manage classroom behavior, assist with planning activities, and complete records.   

The average salary for a teaching assistant working at an elementary or secondary school is $27,950 annually.  

An important figure in any early years center is the director. They supervise preschool teachers and childcare workers, establish policies, communicate with parents and teachers, and develop educational curriculum and standards for their center.  

The average salary for a childcare center director was $49,160 in 2020.  

Continuing education

The higher your education level, the more advanced your knowledge becomes, which in turn opens more specialized career options. With an associate’s degree in education, there is a myriad of different academic routes you can take depending on your interest. Many students continue their education to become certified teachers able to teach at a public school in the state they are licensed. 

Bachelor’s degree in education

Earning a bachelor’s degree in education arms you with the academic knowledge and skills needed to work in the public school sector. This program will advance your knowledge of human development, teaching strategies, quantitative and qualitative research, and classroom management tactics. If you’re interested in becoming a licensed teacher, then you will need to take this alongside or before a credential program to qualify you for employment.  

Bachelor’s degree in elementary education

According to the BLS, the projected job outlook for kindergarten and elementary education teachers is expected to rise 4% between 2018 and 2028. In this bachelor’s degree in elementary education program, you will focus on teaching practices, methods, and research that have shaped the elementary education system. An understanding of curriculum development, classroom management, and assessment techniques will give students the knowledge needed to become adequate kindergarten and elementary school teachers.  

Licensing requirements will vary depending on which state you plan to teach in. All 50 states require some form of additional qualifications before stepping foot into a public school classroom.  

Bachelor’s degree in special education

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 14% of all public school students ages 3-21 received special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A need for patient, kind, and educated individuals to teach children and adults with special needs is imperative. A bachelor’s in special education program can teach students about low and high-incidence disabilities, adapting curriculum to fit student needs, understanding different disabilities, and learning about evidence-based research in the field.  

National Education Association (NEA) 

With over 3 million members, the NEA is devoted to shaping education to become a more inclusive environment. They bridge the gap between parents, educators, and policy makers to create strategic direction for all students.  

The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) 

This is the only national organization dedicated to meeting the needs of special education teachers and students. They provide resources, networking opportunities, and publications to expand educators’ knowledge after academia to enhance the education of children and adults with special needs.  

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) 

The AFT is a teachers’ union of professionals that commit themselves to advance fairness, democracy, economic opportunity, and high-quality public education for all students and their families. Most are early care educators, public school teachers, healthcare professionals, and higher education educators.