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The 10 Best Masters in Early Childhood Education

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is expected to grow 6% through 2024 — average — which amounts to about 88,000 jobs with median pay at $55,500. Still, like the rest of the workforce, early childhood teachers are learning to adapt to an increasingly complex, fast-paced, and connected world, which means new pedagogical approaches, the advent of widespread education technologies, and highly diverse, multicultural classrooms. Unfortunately, nothing is getting easier for teachers.

Still, it remains among the most rewarding and popular occupations; there were 100,000 education graduates from 2013-2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (a slight decline from 2009-10, but still a significant percentage overall). At the master’s level, the MEd is the most in-depth, varied, and in-demand education degree (and consequently the most popular). And while each school’s MEd is unique, most prepare students for both day-to-day teaching skills — including instruction and curriculum, class management, etc. — in addition to administrative concerns, including community relations, policy, leadership, and more.

For their flexibility and affordability, many students are opting for online MEds — perhaps only outnumbered by online MBAs — so we’ve compiled our top 10 below for your convenience. Several offer licensure, certification, and endorsement options, but keep in mind that these are on a state-by-state basis.

Methodology

  • Affordability (1/3): the out-of-state (if applicable) tuition per credit hour cost of the program.
  • Flexibility (1/3): the number of options—including acceptance of prior college credits, self-paced learning initiatives, accelerated courses, and number of specializations—that allow students to complete a program at a pace of their choosing.
  • Student Support Services (1/3): an institution’s rank for providing student support service such as digital library assistance, virtual office hours, and access to career services.

1. Kennesaw State University


Founded in 1963, Kennesaw State, has a student enrollment of about 34,000, making it the third largest school in Georgia. (In 2015, Kennesaw merged with Southern Polytechnic State University.) Ranked among the top Tier 2 schools in the country by US News, the school’s 21:1 student-to-faculty ratio supports a vibrant, collaborative educational setting that balances individualized learning with peer-to-peer course work. A third of all classes consist of fewer than 20 students, and just 12% have 50 or more.

Designed for students already holding certification, Kennesaw’s online MEd in Early Childhood Education consists of 36 credits, including studies in Educational Research and Prospectus, Essentials of Technology Strategies, Research and Implementation in the Classroom, Integrated Models of Instruction, Trends and Issues in Science for ECE, and Diversity and Global Education. Several endorsements are available: Elementary Reading, ESOL, Gifted, Online Teaching, Teacher Leadership, and Leadership Preservice, which qualifies students to enter a PL-6 Performance Based Leadership Program. Following a cohort model, the schedule coincides with public school calendars in order to accommodate; students complete the program in just 13 months. Support services include tech assistance, tutoring, a writing center, advising, and more.

2. Concordia University-Saint Paul


Concordia University-Saint Paul, founded in 1893, is a private liberal arts school with a total enrollment of about 4,400, divided evenly between undergraduate and graduate students. Ranked Tier 1 among Midwest universities, Concordia is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and has close connections throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, providing internship opportunties at major employers and governmental and nonprofit agencies. The university’s 16:1 student-to-faculty ratio supports a dynamic learning environment that combines personalized instruction with collaborative education. Three-quarters of all classes have fewer than 20 students, and none have more than 49. CSP reports 92% of students find employment of pursure advanced degrees after graduation.

Concordia’s online MA in Education with an Early Childhood Education Emphasis consists of 33 credits. Core requirements include Education Research & Applications, Effective Research Writing, Curriculum & Instruction, Observation and Assessment, Play: Theory and Applications, Diverse Classroom, Ethics for Educators, and Legal and Legislative Issues, among others. All students must also complete a comphrensive research capstone to demonstrate mastery of material. Courses deliver in accelerated 7-week sessions and are designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate adult learners. In particular, students will focus on educatational strategies and best practices, following the the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) standards for advanced professional preparation. Applicants should have earned at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. (Note: this is a non-licensure program.)

3. Arizona State University


Founded in 1885, Arizona State University has a total enrollment of 52,000. Ranked as the #1 Most Innovative School in America by US News, ASU has also been ranked by Forbes, Money, The Daily Beast, US News, and the Wall Street Journal for academics. The university regularly ranks among the top research funding schools in the country, emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach, and, with a 23:1 student-to-faculty ratio, is home to a dynamic and vibrant educational community, combining collaborative learning with individualized instruction: 40% of classes have fewer than 20 students, and less than one in five have more than 50.

ASU also has a top-ranked school of education – 11th overall, and 4th among public universities – offering an online MEd in Curriculum and Instruction (Early Childhood Education, K-3) that consists of 30 credits (10 classes). Designed for both working teachers and aspiring professionals (a certified MEd is available for 45 credits), the program includes online coursework, applied activities, and in-person clinical experiences to create an in-depth curriculum grounded in both theory and real-world practice, covering early childhood pedagogy, community collaboration, technology, administration, policy analysis, and advocacy. Courses deliver in accelerated 7.5-week blocks and are highly flexible to accommodate a variety of students. Graduates can be found in roles like Preschool Teacher, Child and Family Social Worker, School Psychologist, and Education Administrator; and 93% of ASU’s teacher’s college earn employment after graduation.

4. California University of Pennsylvania


California University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1852, is a public institution with an enrollment of 7,850, ranked highly by both US News and Princeton Review. All CUP programs build on a unique foundation combining hands-on activities, fieldwork, clinical practice, student teaching, and research, and the school’s 21:1 student-to-faculty ratio helps to support a vibrant, tight-knit learning community with room for one-on-one instruction and peer-to-peer education. Nearly a third of all classes consist of fewer than 20 students, and just 11% have 50 or more. The university’s robust career services center works hard to place students and graduates in high-profile positions through its wide alumni network.

Cal U offers three potential online programs of interest: ECE master’s with certification (33 credits); ECE master’s only (33 credits); and an ECE certificate for 24 credits. Common classes include Early Childhood Curriculum & Assessment, Literacy Development, Special Topics in Early Childhood Education, Leadership & Management in Early Childhood Settings, and Advanced Psychology of Learning, among others. Each program includes embedded practicum work to develop teaching and classroom management skills, and students progress through on a cohort basis, allowing for collaborative opportunities. (Note that courses are still asynchronous for maximum flexibility.) All programs are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and aligned National Association for the Education of Young Children standards.

5. Portland State University


Founded in 1946, Portland State University has a total enrollment of about 27,500, including 6,000 graduate students. Ranked 9th in the region for innovation by US News – thanks in part to its award-winning University Studies curriculum – Portland State’s 21:1 student-to-faculty ratio promotes a dynamic and collaborative educational setting that balances personalized instruction with peer-to-peer learning. A third of classes consist have fewer than 20 students, and less than 16% have 50 or more. Among the most diverse universities in the country, Portland State has also expanded its career services, academic advising, and sustainability efforts in recent years.

PSU’s decade-old online program offers a master’s in Early Childhood, with an emphasis in Inclusive Education and Curriculum & Instruction, totaling 45 credits. Core requirements include Foundations in Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Child Development in Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Issues in Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Action Research Proposal, and Action Research Project Implementation. From there, students customize the degree through one of four specializations – Constructivism in Early Childhood Education, Early Childhood Special Education, Infant Toddler Mental Health, Distributed Pathway – plus 9 elective credits. While the licensure is not available, students may tailor their program to receive an endorsement if they already hold certification. All course work is highly flexible, and students follow any curricular sequence fits them (non-cohort). The program is aligned the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and Division for Early Childhood (DEC).

6. Georgia Southern University


Founded in 1906, Georgia Southern is a public university with a total enrollment of about 20,500. Ranked among the top Tier 2 schools in the South, Georgia State’s 21:1 student-to-faculty allows for both individualized instruction and collaborative learning opportunities. A quarter of classes have fewer than 20 students, and just 11% have more than 50 – good numbers for a university of its size. Emphasizing academic distinction, excellent teaching, research, and student success, it is accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Georgia Southern’s high-ranked education school offers an online MEd in Early Childhood Education (P-5), totaling 36 credits, which can be completed in as little as one year. Course requirements include Effective Curriculum and Instruction in Elementary Schools; advanced STEM content; Seminar in P-5; Learning Theories and Applications; Educational Research; and Cultural Issues: ESOL. Designed for students who hold a Professional Level Four Certificate or equivalent in ECE, proposed program outcomes are: proficiency in subject areas; ability to plan and implement learning strategies for diverse learners; effective skills in student assessment and analysis; and commitment to the knowledge, skills, diversity, and technology of ECE. For those interested, online MAT and Ed Specialist tracks are also available.

7. Capella University


Specializing in online education since 1993, Capella University has 40,000 students enrolled from 50 states and 61 countries around the world. Most Capella students attend courses on a part-time basis, and Capella designs all course work to accommodate working professionals and adult learners. Half of students are enrolled in master’s programs, a quarter are in doctorate or EdS programs, and a quarter are enrolled in bachelor’s degrees. In particular, Capella aims to develop students’ practical skill sets for applicable, market-based needs; all faculty keep close connections to industry leaders to keep curricula ahead of the curve.

Capella’s MS in Education with an ECE specialization consists of 46 credits. Core requirements include Standards-Based Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment; Assessment and Improvement of Instruction; Classroom Management Strategies; and Exceptional Children in the Early Childhood Setting, among others. From there, the ECE track covers Infant and Child Development; Early Childhood Learning Environment; Children, Families, and Society; Reading and Literacy Instruction; and a cumulative practicum to demonstrate mastery of material and classroom proficiency. Courses deliver in accelerated 10-week formats, and full-time students can complete the degree in as little 12 months. (Students with previous academic credit may further accelerate course work through the school’s 12-credit transfer policy.) All classes are designed for maximum flexibility, and free one week mini-courses are available for trial. The program is accredited by the NCATE.

8. California Baptist University


California Baptist University, founded in 1950, is a private Christian college in Riverside with an enrollment of 8,500. Among the top 40 schools in the region – with high marks for veteran services – CBU’s 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio allows for the small classroom size of a liberal arts school in addition to a larger school’s vibrant, collaborative learning community. Over half of classes consist of fewer than 20 students, and 40% range between 20-49. Accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), CBU’s Christ-centered curriculum integrates religious concepts and values into each degree.

CBU’s online MS in Education with a specialization in Early Childhood Studies consists of 33 credits and can be completed in as little as 12 months. Core requirements include Learning and Teaching Theories, Curriculum and Development, Educational Research, International and Comparative Education, and Leadership, Worldviews, and Contemporary Issues. From there, the specialization track covers School, Family, and Community Partnerships; Leadership and Supervision; Exceptional Child; and EC Literacy and Language Development, among others. For maximum flexibility, new classes begin every 8 weeks and accelerated delivery options help students return to work as soon as possible. Additional services include career support, online tutoring, tech support, advising, and more.Applicants should have earned at least 3.0 undergraduate GPA.

9. Grand Canyon University


Grand Canyon University, founded in 1949, is a Christian university based in Phoenix with a total enrollment over 75,000, including 61,000 enrolled online. Fortune ranks the university in the top 5 online schools for entrepreneurs, and U.S. News ranks GCU among the best schools in the West. Since 2009, the university has grown at a rapid pace, developed a number of corporate and strategic educational alliances, and become a leader in online education, all of which have reduced operating costs, boosting affordability and maximizing flexibility. As a Christian school, Grand Canyon integrates religious concepts and values across all its programs and has a nationally recognized community service initiative.

Grand Canyon’s online MEd in Early Childhood Education (including initial teacher licensure) consists of 44 credits. Core requirements include Early Literacy Development, Foundations of Early Childhood, Intro to the Exceptional Learner, Student Teaching (Birth to Pre-School; K-3), and Child Guidance, Management, and the Environment. In particular, the GCU curriculum focuses on instructional methods for diverse classrooms, developing classroom engagement and management skills, and curriculum planning/implement for language arts, math, science, health, social studies and the arts. Courses deliver in accelerated blocks and are designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate working professionals and adult learners. Up to 12 credits may be transferred into the program, which typically takes 27 months.

10. Liberty University


Liberty University is a private Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia, leading distance education efforts since 1985, with 100,000 students enrolled in online classes today and 14,000 enrolled on campus. In total, Liberty offers more than 500 academic programs, 250 of which are offered online, designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate working professionals and adult learners. Further, several programs offer intensive, on-campus summer semesters to accelerate course work, and Liberty’s transfer policy allows students with previous academic credit, work/life experience, military service, MOOCs, examinations, and/or portfolios to apply for transfer credit. For a university of Liberty’s size, classes remain small and intimate — a third of all classes consist of less than 20 students, and just 5% have 50 or more — creating a tight-knit learning community.

Liberty’s online MEd in Teaching and Learning includes an Early Childhood Education endorsement. Totaling 36 credits — up to half of which is eligible for transfer credits core requirements cover general pedagogical theory, followed by Advanced Child Development, Current Issues in ECE, Organization and Administration of Pre-Schools, Curriculum and Methods of Early Childhood. From there, students complete the professional block — Behavior Management, Leadership and Supervision in Education — and then have the option to finish either a capstone course or directed practicum to demonstrate mastery of material. Applicants should have earned at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. The program is accredited by the NCATE.

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