If you’re looking to begin or advance your career in early childhood education, one of these master’s degrees could be your next step.
The specialists who work in early childhood have to be well-versed in the social, cognitive, and behavioral health of young children. That's no easy task.
A graduate degree program can provide the theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience to help you become a more effective early childhood educator.
What kind of master’s degree in early childhood education should you get?
Graduate programs vary widely within the field of early childhood. Many programs offer specializations in disciplines such as Early Childhood Mental Health, Family Advocacy, Program Administration, and other fields that intersect with early childhood development.
If you know you'd like to focus on earning licensure as a classroom teacher, pay a visit to our ranking of the Most Affordable Online Master of Arts in Teaching Degrees.
How much money do people with a master’s degree in early childhood education earn?
For graduates with an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education, here’s what PayScale lists as some of the most common job titles and the average salaries for each one:
- Elementary School Teacher: $46,113
- Preschool Director: $41,855
- Child Care Center Director: $52,851
What can you do with a master's degree in early childhood education?
After graduating with your master’s degree, you may find work as a preschool or elementary school teacher, child development researcher, educational consultant, child care center director, or nonprofit manager.
What are the requirements for a master’s degree in early childhood education?
Depending on which program you choose, graduation requirements may include a comprehensive exam, a written thesis, or an action research project.
Many graduate programs lead to licensure, certification, or an endorsement. For these programs, students will typically be expected to complete in-person clinical experiences in addition to their online coursework.
What are the most affordable online master’s degrees in early childhood education?
For this ranking, we’ve included Master of Arts degrees, Master of Science degrees, and Master of Education degrees. We’ve also included degrees in Early Childhood Education as well as closely related fields, such as Child or Youth Development.
How do we decide which programs make the cut? Our information comes from reputable sources such as U.S. News & World Report and the IPEDS database, as well as individual college websites. We look at published tuition rates and financial aid availability to determine which schools are the most affordable.
We hope this ranking helps you find a graduate program that aligns with your professional interests, your goals, and your budget.
1. University of North Carolina at Greensboro
The Graduate School at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is composed of seven disciplinary units, including the renowned School of Education. The NCATE-accredited programs at UNCG include academic options at every level, from undergraduate programs and licensure-only tracks to doctoral degrees. UNCG’s M.Ed. in Birth through Kindergarten Interdisciplinary Studies in Education and Development offers two concentrations: Advanced Teaching Licensure and Program Administration.
The program at UNCG is offered through an online, synchronous format. All students in the same class will sign on at designated times, allowing them to interact with classmates and professors in real time. Class meetings are scheduled one night a week at 5:00 PM to 6:50 PM. Core coursework for this M.Ed. degree includes:
- Inclusive Family-Centered Practices in Early Childhood
- Screening/Assessment in Inclusive Early Childhood Services
- Leadership and Mentoring in Educating Young Children
- Advanced Curriculum in Early Childhood Education
In addition to the synchronous class meetings, some classes will incorporate fieldwork components. Students in the Advanced Licensure concentration with a license in any area besides Birth through Kindergarten will be required to complete a full-time, eight-week student teaching placement. Through nearly 100 named scholarships, UNCG’s School of Education grants more than 220 individual awards based on financial need or academic merit.
2. West Virginia University
According to the Center for World University Rankings, West Virginia University ranks among the top 1.5 percent of universities in the world. Total enrollment in the WVU System—which includes Potomac State College, WVU Tech, and the main campus in Morgantown—is over 31,000. In addition to world-class residential programs, WVU also offers a wide range of innovative distance learning programs in fields such as Elementary Education, Mental Health Counseling, and Early Childhood Special Education.
The online Master of Arts in Special Education offers five specializations: Applied Behavioral Analyst, Gifted Education, Multi-categorical Special Education, Severe/Multiple Disabilities, or Early Childhood Education. This program is available as a degree-only track, or as a certification track leading to initial licensure or an add-on endorsement. For the master’s degree with certification track, the following courses are required:
- Family/Professional Collaboration: Developmental Disabilities
- Behavior Guidance/Support: Early Intervention
- Instructional/Assistive Technology
- Typical/Atypical Development: Early Intervention
Through the certification track, students can earn licensure in Preschool Special Needs for prekindergarten through kindergarten. To qualify for regular admission, students must have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. For both West Virginia residents and non-residents, the 2017-2018 cost per credit hour for this online program is $561.
3. University of South Florida
More than 37,000 undergraduate students and 10,000 graduate students attend the University of South Florida. U.S. News & World Report ranks USF’s online graduate programs in teacher education 36th in the nation. One of these acclaimed programs is a versatile degree track leading to an M.S. in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health (MSCABH).
Within the MSCABH program, students can choose from four concentrations: Developmental Disabilities, Leadership in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health, Research and Evaluation, and Youth and Behavioral Health. For their culminating experience, students may choose to complete either six credit hours of thesis research or six credit hours in a clinical experience. Of the 39 credit hours required for this degree, 12 credit hours will be earned in an academic core that is the same for all four concentrations. This academic core includes:
- Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health
- Cultural Competency in Children's Mental Health
- Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Policy
- Evaluation and Research Methods in Community Health
All candidates for the MSCABH must successfully complete a comprehensive exam at the end of their program. Numerous graduate certificates are also available through fully online programs, such as an Academic Advising certificate, an Exceptional Student Education certificate, a Reading Endorsement, and many others. Each year, USF’s College of Education awards more than $400,000 in scholarships.
4. University of Southern Mississippi
At the University of Southern Mississippi, graduate students can join a diverse community of 15,000 students representing all areas of the United States and 74 countries worldwide. Southern Miss offers traditional programs through its Hattiesburg campus and its Gulf Park campus, and online programs through a robust distance learning division. The wide variety of available online degree programs includes Dyslexia Therapy Education, Instructional Technology, and Child and Family Studies, among many other options.
The master’s degree in Child and Family Studies requires a minimum of 37 credit hours. Candidates for this degree may choose between a six-credit hour thesis, or a practicum worth either three or six credit hours. For both the thesis track and the practicum track, the following coursework will be required:
- Family Advocacy
- Theories in Child and Family Studies
- Advanced Child Development
- Educational Research
Southern Miss waives out-of-state fees for non-resident students in fully online degree programs. Full-time status for graduate students starts at nine credit hours per semester. Once students reach full-time status, they can take up to 13 credit hours per semester at no additional cost. As of spring 2018, the cost per credit hour is $451. For online graduate students taking a full course load in both the fall and spring semesters, the average tuition cost is $8,218.
5. Stephen F. Austin State University
With more than 120 areas of study, more than 500 full-time faculty members, and nearly 13,000 students, Stephen F. Austin State University is a thriving community of undergraduate and graduate scholars. The University is renowned for its child development research initiatives: The Early Childhood Research Center at SFA is the only center of its kind in Texas. Both on-campus students and online students can enroll in the acclaimed Early Childhood program at SFA.
The Master of Education in Early Childhood Education program is designed to help students become highly qualified specialists in working with children birth through age eight. The classes for the degree are offered in half-semester formats. This flexible degree track requires 36 credit hours, and students will be able to choose the pace at which they move through the course sequence. Degree candidates will take classes in topics such as:
- Child development
- Curriculum and instructional strategies
- Assessment and evaluation
- Leadership and research
Approximately 100 students are enrolled in the M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education program at SFA each semester. Most students complete this degree track in two calendar years. The average financial aid package awarded to SFA students is $12,677.
6. University of Northern Colorado
Established in 1890, the University of Northern Colorado began as a teacher’s college with 96 students. Today, Northern Colorado offers more than 200 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral academic programs. The University remains a leader in teacher education to this day: The College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at UNC is a winner of the highly prestigious Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award.
The Master of Arts in Special Education: Early Childhood is a flexible program designed to accommodate the demanding schedules of working professionals. Coursework for the 36-credit hour program can be taken through face-to-face instruction at the Greeley campus, fully online, or through a combination of the two formats with the hybrid Denver + Online track. The curriculum for this degree includes courses such as:
- Typical and Atypical Early Child Development: Application to Early Childhood Special Education
- Scientifically Based Literacy Interventions
- Learning Environments and Cultural Considerations
- Assessment, IEP Development, and Instructional Planning
Among the recipients of the Colorado Department of Education's Teacher of the Year award, nearly one-third are alumni of UNC’s College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has designated UNC’s School of Special Education as a Center of Excellence three times. Northern Colorado has awarded a total of $134 million in financial aid.
7. University of Colorado at Denver
The University of Colorado at Denver is home to the largest graduate school of education in the state of Colorado. Through CU Online, students can work with the same nationally distinguished faculty that teaches in CU Denver’s residential programs. Graduates of CU Online’s Early Childhood Education program will be prepared for successful careers in educational settings, child care centers, early intervention programs, family support organizations, and home-based programs.
The Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education requires 36 credit hours, and most students complete the program in two to three calendar years. The curriculum incorporates 225 clock hours of clinical experience. This program may lead to licensure or an add-on endorsement in Early Childhood or Early Childhood Special Education Specialist (birth to age eight). Coursework for this degree may include:
- Curriculum in Early Childhood Education
- Language and Literacy in Young Children
- Research in Schools
- Basic Statistics
There is no distinction between CU Online courses and on-campus courses: Local students are welcome to take any of their courses through either format according to their personal schedule and preferences. Ninety-five percent of students in the online Early Childhood Education program continue working full-time while pursuing their degree. For out-of-state students taking exclusively online courses, the 2017-2018 tuition rate is $448 per credit hour.
8. North Dakota State University
Money Magazine ranks North Dakota State University first among all colleges and universities in the state. Through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA), NDSU offers a fully online Master of Science in Human Development and Family Science. This degree is available with concentrations in Family Financial Planning, Gerontology, and Youth Development.
The Youth Development degree from NDSU is a thesis-optional program that requires 36 credit hours, including a practicum experience. Graduates of the program will be prepared to serve in a variety of roles in 4-H Clubs, nonprofit organizations, community recreation programs, and similar settings. Students will have a broad array of elective options, including courses such as:
- Understanding Normative Behavior in Immigrant and Minority Youth
- Contexts and Settings of Youth Development
- Promoting Positive Mental Health in America's Youth
- Brain Development
The pacing of the Youth Development program is flexible. By taking nine credit hours in the fall and spring semesters, full-time students can earn the degree in two years. Students with full-time jobs will likely want to take only three or six credit hours per semester. NDSU has one of the highest student return-on-investment ratios among all public research universities, according to a College ROI Report from PayScale.
9. Missouri State University
Designated a Community Engaged University by the Carnegie Foundation, Missouri State University has also been named to the President's Honor Roll for Higher Education Community Service. The culture of service is a key trait in all of Missouri State’s academic programs, particularly those in teacher education and child development. The graduate program in Early Childhood and Family Development can lead to a career in child care, public or private schools, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and more.
While all of the coursework for this program is available online, students may choose to complete some of their electives on campus. Students enrolling in four courses per term can finish this degree in three semesters. However, candidates are only required to take one course per term, allowing for a high level of flexibility for students with families or full-time jobs. Available coursework for this degree includes:
- Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Programming and Policy Issues for Early Childhood Settings
- Children and Families in a Diverse Society
- Advanced Human Development Studies
Missouri State’s College of Education awards approximately 60 scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students in education or child and family development programs each year. Regardless of Missouri residency, the 2017-2018 tuition rate for this degree is $285 per credit hour.
10. Michigan State University
One of 62 member institutions of the elite Association of American Universities, Michigan State University is an internationally recognized research institution. The World Reputation Rankings from Times Higher Education places Michigan State among the top 100 universities globally. MSU offers a rich variety of online and hybrid tracks, with academic options in fields such as Applied Behavior Analysis, K-12 Educational Administration, and Youth Development.
The Master of Arts in Youth Development is offered through a collaboration between the multi-institution Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance and Michigan State’s College of Social Science. This degree track is available exclusively online, and does not feature a thesis. The program requires 36 total credit hours, including 28 credit hours of required coursework. Classes in this required core include:
- Administration and Program Management
- Community Youth Development
- Program Design, Evaluation, and Implementation
- Youth Professionals as Consumers of Research
Michigan State also offers a fully online Master of Arts in Education. This degree offers six specializations, with tracks available in Literacy Education, P-12 School and Postsecondary Leadership, Science and Mathematics Education, Special Education, Sport Coaching and Leadership, and Technology and Learning. Money Magazine ranks MSU number 30 in the nation among Best U.S. Colleges for Your Money.
11. University at Albany, State University of New York
Offering over 150 undergraduate programs and 125 graduate programs, the University at Albany, SUNY is a highly respected institution in the thriving Capital Region of New York State. UAlbany is among “America’s Best Public Colleges,” according to recent rankings from Forbes. In 2017, U.S. News & World Report ranked UAlbany’s School of Education eighth among the nation’s best online graduate education programs.
The program at UAlbany culminates in a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education. For in-state online students, the program can also lead to New York professional teacher certification in the area of Early Childhood Education (birth through grade 2). For both the certification track and the degree-only track, students must already hold initial teaching certification to qualify for admission. Coursework for this program may include:
- Language Acquisition
- Science for Children
- Teaching Mathematics in Elementary Schools
- Strategic Intervention to Prevent Literacy Difficulties
The Early Childhood Education program is offered both online and on campus. Online students may only enroll part-time, with no more than two classes per semester. Because of this, online students will not qualify for the per-term tuition rate, and will instead be charged the per-credit-hour rate. Students at UAlbany may also pursue an M.S. in Childhood Education through a fully online program.
12. University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota is a national leader in teacher education and child development research. The Institute of Child Development at UMN has been in operation since 1925, making it one of the oldest research centers for child psychology in the U.S. Through the Twin Cities campus and the Institute of Child Development, UMN offers a fully online Master of Arts in Applied Child and Adolescent Development.
The Applied Child and Adolescent Development program requires 32 credit hours. Three concentrations are available: Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Child Life, and Individualized Studies. The Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health track prepares students for careers in social work, psychology, and early care and education. This track includes required coursework such as:
- Development and Psychopathology in Early Childhood
- Early Childhood Assessment
- Prevention and Intervention in Early Childhood: Principles
- Infant Observation Seminar
The Child Life track includes a 600-hour clinical internship and prepares students to sit for the Child Life Professional Certification Examination and the Association of Child Life Professionals Eligibility Assessment. The Individualized Studies track allows students to customize their degree path with coursework in complementary fields such as juvenile justice, child welfare, education, the arts, advocacy, policymaking, nonprofit management, and more. Applicants with an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 are strongly preferred.
13. University of Missouri
With over 300 degree programs, the University of Missouri is the largest and most comprehensive institute of higher learning in the state. The community of Mizzou includes more than 30,000 students, representing every county in Missouri, all 50 states, and 100 countries worldwide. The University’s distance learning division, Mizzou Online, offers over 100 programs leading to bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and education specialist degrees.
Mizzou Online offers a 36-credit hour program that culminates in an M.A. in Human Development and Family Science with an emphasis in Youth Development. Housed in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, this degree is presented in collaboration with the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance. Available coursework includes:
- Youth, Families, and Technology
- Serving Youth from Small Towns to Big Cities
- Basic Grant Development and Management
- MU Youth Development Academy: Positive Youth Development in Practice
With tuition and fees, the 2018 cost per credit hour is $565. The total cost of the degree program is estimated to be $20,340. Roughly 75 percent of graduate students at the University of Missouri receive some sort of financial assistance to reduce their cost of attendance. The university-wide average financial aid package is $20,307 per student.
14. University of Nebraska
The four institutions that make up the University of Nebraska system—Kearney, Omaha, Lincoln, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center—work together to form University of Nebraska Online (NUO). This collaborative distance learning initiative offers more than 100 academic programs fully online. Through NUO, graduate students have numerous degree options that can lead to careers in early childhood advocacy, policymaking, and program administration.
The Master of Science in Youth Development is presented by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The degree track requires 36 credit hours, eight of which will be earned in a practicum, capstone project, or written thesis. Other requirements for the degree include the following classes:
- Youth Professionals as Consumers of Research
- Administration and Program Management
- Youth in Cultural Contexts
- Youth Policy
Applicants to the Youth Development program must have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. However, students do not need a bachelor’s degree in a field related to Youth or Child Development. NUO also offers programs leading to an M.S. in Human and Family Services Administration and an M.S. in International Family Studies. For both in-state and out-of-state students, the tuition rate for this program is $565 per credit hour as of the 2017-2018 academic year.
15. Capella University
Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Capella University is a primarily online university that enrolls more than 37,000 students all over the world. The University offers industry-relevant and career-centric degrees in fields such as counseling, psychology, public service, and education. The Master of Science in Education program is designed to help educators create developmentally appropriate curriculum, apply standards-based assessment practices, and promote positivity in their classrooms.
The online M.S.Ed. in Early Childhood Education is accredited by NCATE and recognized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The program consists of six core education courses, four courses within the Early Childhood Education specialization, and one practicum-based course. Required coursework for the Early Childhood Education specialization includes:
- Infant and Child Development
- The Early Childhood Learning Environment
- Children, Families, and Society
- Early Childhood Reading and Literacy Instruction
In addition to Early Childhood Education, the versatile M.S.Ed. program offers a wide range of other specializations, including Curriculum and Instruction, Instructional Design for Online Learning, K-12 Studies in Education, Leadership in Educational Administration, Reading and Literacy, and more. The current tuition rate for the M.S.Ed. is $453 per credit hour. For students with a typical number of transfer credits, the cost of the entire degree program will be roughly $20,888.
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