It’s not too difficult to understand the appeal of a career in early childhood education. Professionals in this field are shaping the lives of future generations. Early childhood educators often speak about how emotionally rewarding and fulfilling their work can be. Many careers in the field, however, require a college degree, such as the Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education or the Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education from University of Arizona Global Campus. But which degree should students choose?

“There are several significant differences between the two programs which should be reviewed and carefully considered by potential students,” said Dr. Tamecca Fitzpatrick, Program Chair for the Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education at the University of Arizona Global Campus. “If a student is trying to decide which program best aligns with their professional goals, they should consider program completion time and their potential career path.”

Let’s take a look at completion time. To earn the associate degree, students must complete 67 credits. The Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education, however, requires students to complete 120 credits, which will take about twice as long (students may be able to shorten the duration of either program by transferring in approved credits from previous education, work, and life experiences).

Also, certain career paths associated with the bachelor’s program may require additional licensing requirements after graduation. Licensing procedures vary state to state, but they may include extra coursework, student teaching experience, and testing.

This brings us to one of the major differences between the two programs: career options after graduation. “Many students will seek the degree that is relative to the requirements of the position that they seek,” said Dr. Nichole Rich, who serves as the Program Chair for University of Arizona Global Campus Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education program.

If a student wishes to pursue a career as a teacher, they will need to have a bachelor’s degree (as well as additional certification or licensure).* An associate degree, however, may suffice for students who want to pursue careers as a daycare provider, camp counselor, recreation coordinator, or teacher aide. Students are encouraged to investigate job requirements prior to selecting a degree program.

The fact that the bachelor’s program requires almost twice as many credits to complete as the associate program points to another big difference between the degrees: the depth of material covered in the curriculum. “It is not that more information is learned, but rather that concepts and perspectives continue to be investigated at the bachelor’s level in order to prepare students for roles that require deeper application and knowledge of early childhood education,” Dr. Rich explained.

Indeed, the curriculum for both the associate and bachelor’s programs cover core topics such as child development, diversity, literature, and movement and motor activities. The associate’s program curriculum includes many areas of general education too, including algebra, government, logic, ethics, English composition, informational literacy, and environmental science.

Students in the bachelor’s program, on the other hand, are able to take 29 credits of electives and 52 credits of general education courses that they can use to explore other topics that interest them. Therefore, the major course requirements for the BA in Early Childhood Education stick closely to early childhood education topics, including nutrition and health for children, language development in young children, early childhood curriculum and methods, collaboration with parents, and the administration of early childhood education programs. The bachelor’s program also offers students a capstone course where they will be asked to demonstrate mastery of the program’s subject matter with a final project and exam.

To add further depth to the degree, the bachelor’s program also includes an optional specialization in Infant and Toddler Care. Students who opt for the specialization will learn more about the social, emotional, developmental, and educational needs of infants and toddlers.

The bottom line is that both the associate and bachelor’s programs in Early Childhood Education offer students a comprehensive learning experience. When choosing a degree program, students should consider their ultimate career ambitions and proceed accordingly. But, as Dr. Rich noted, “No matter what path students choose, a degree in either program will help to prepare a student for work in the field.”

For more information about on-time completion rates, the median loan debt of students who completed the Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education program, and other important information, please visit our disclosures page.

* An online degree from the University of Arizona Global Campus does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state. If you want to become a classroom teacher, contact your state's education authorities prior to enrolling at the University of Arizona Global Campus to determine what state-specific requirements you must complete before obtaining your teacher's license. The University of Arizona Global Campus graduates will be subject to additional requirements on a state-by-state basis that will include one or more of the following: student teaching or practicum experience, additional coursework, additional testing, or, if the state requires a specific type of degree to seek alternative certification, earning an additional degree. None of the University of Arizona Global Campus online education programs are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), which is a requirement for certification in some states. Other factors, such as a student's criminal history, may prevent an applicant from obtaining licensure or employment in this field of study. All prospective students are advised to visit the Education Resource Organizations Directory (EROD) and to contact the licensing body of the state where they are licensed or intend to obtain licensure to verify that these courses qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits in that state prior to enrolling. Prospective students are also advised to regularly review the state's policies and procedures relating to licensure as those policies are subject to change.

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