Associate’s Degree in Education
Earning an associate’s degree in education is an option for anyone considering a career in the classroom. There are distinct advantages to starting with an associate’s degree, and for many students, it’s an accessible entry point into the education field. Use this in-depth overview to decide if an associate’s degree in education is ideal for you.
What Types of Degrees are Available?
You may have also heard of an associate’s degree in teaching, however, the curriculum is essentially the same. But no matter your passion, students have the option to pursue specialized education degrees tailored to their interests and career priorities:
- Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education: This path focuses on the skills and strengths that teachers need to work with infants, toddlers and kindergarten-age students.
- Associate’s Degree in Paraprofessional Education: This path focuses on the training that teacher’s assistants need to support students and teachers alike.
- Associate’s Degree in Elementary Education: This path provides a broad introduction to elementary education that is suitable for instructors at all grade levels.
- Associate’s Degree in Secondary Education: Some colleges offer a 2+2 program where students complete a two-year associate’s degree and then complete two more years of bachelor-level coursework to earn a four-year degree. The degree could be in any of the disciplines listed above, or a number of specialized disciplines only available at the bachelor’s level.
What is the Curriculum?
The specific coursework is different in every associate’s in education program, and students have some flexibility over the exact classes they take. Most programs, however, will include these subjects in the curriculum:
- Educational Trends: Students learn about the issues, ideas, obstacles, and opportunities having the biggest impact on education right now.
- Theories of Childhood Development: Coursework focuses on how children develop and how to best support and guide that development.
- Education Fundamentals: The basic principles of education are covered including lesson planning, classroom management and student engagement.
- Introduction to Elementary Education: Instruction is focused on the unique features of elementary education, early childhood education, paraprofessional education, etc.
- Math Education Fundamentals: Since elementary instructors are responsible for teaching every subject, they receive specific training in math education.
- Education Technology: The technologies that are used in today’s and tomorrow’s classroom are discussed and demonstrated.
- Liberal Arts Coursework: In addition to educational coursework, students take liberal arts classes focused on history, art, math, science, psychology, and many other subjects. Specific classes may be required, but students can typically choose some or all of the elective classes they take.
What is Required to Enter a Program?
It’s important to check with the schools you are interested in because every institution sets its own requirements for entry. Most commonly, students are asked to complete an application and submit either an official high school transcript or GED certificate. Students who have completed some post-secondary education must submit transcripts for that coursework as well. As part of the admission process, students may also have to pay a small fee, complete additional paperwork, and arrange scholarship and financial aid options.
What is Required to Complete an Associate’s in Education Program?
Again, the exact requirements vary depending on the degree program, but almost all associate’s degree students must earn at least 60 credit hours. The average student takes two years to earn those hours, but it may be possible to abridge or extend the timeline depending on the student’s priorities.
Some programs also include a practicum, which is an opportunity to work hands-on in a real classroom. Students are required to spend a certain number of hours working under the supervision of an actual teacher and handling the same responsibilities. This experience is invaluable because it brings the lessons of the classroom to life and gives aspiring teachers in-depth classroom experience.
Is an Associate’s Degree Enough to Teach?
It is essential to understand at the outset that an associate’s degree in education is not enough to become a licensed teacher. Every state has minimum requirements for licensure, and in every state, a bachelor’s degree is mandatory. For many students, however, an associate’s degree is a starting point rather than a finishing point. It may not provide a direct springboard into the classroom, but it does help to kick-start a career in education.
What Can You Do with an Associate’s Degree in Education?
There are a number of exciting and in-demand jobs that students can begin working as soon as they complete a degree program, or even start while they are still in school.
- Teacher Assistant: These professionals work in classrooms with licensed teachers helping to supervise students, provide one-on-one instruction, prepare learning materials, and complete other assigned duties.
- Preschool Teacher: Depending on the state and the responsibilities of the teacher, it may be possible to work with very young students after earning an associate’s degree in education. Often, these teachers work in child care centers rather than traditional schools.
- Child Care Worker: These workers range from daycare providers to babysitters to live-in nannies. There may be no or only minimal education requirements to work in one of these positions, but having any degree in education gives candidates an advantage over other applicants.
- Tutor: People often become tutors because they have expertise in a subject rather than experience with teaching. Tutors who have both or have a demonstrated ability to impart information are the most in demand.
What is the Job Outlook?
That depends on what career path you choose to pursue:
- Teacher Assistant: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects demand to grow eight percent by 2026 and add 109,500 new teacher assistants to the 2016 total of 1,308,100. The median pay in 2016 was estimated to be $25,410 per year.
- Preschool Teacher: By 2026, there will be 10 percent more preschool teachers than the 2016 total of 478,500. The projects 50,100 new teachers to enter the field. The median pay for preschool teachers was $29,970 per year in 2016.
- Childcare Worker: This is a huge field according to the BLS, with 1,216,600 workers in 2016. By 2026, that figure will grow by eight percent and add 84,300 new workers. The median pay in 2016 was $21,170 per year for part-time childcare workers.
Why Earn an Associate’s Degree in Education?
No matter what your long-term career goals are, there are good reasons to consider earning one of these degrees at the outset:
- Lower Tuition Costs: It’s typically cheaper to complete basic coursework at the associate’s level and then transfer into a bachelor’s program with core requirements already completed. There are some programs that are specifically designed to make the jump up as seamless as possible.
- Less Up-Front Investment: If you are on the fence about spending your career as a teacher, it makes more sense to complete an associate’s degree first. That way, you are introduced to the concepts, coursework and classroom setting without having to commit to an expensive and time-consuming bachelor’s degree. If you choose to continue, that is great, and if you do not, then your up-front investment is minimal.
- More Time to Explore: Similar to the previous point, if you are unsure about what type of education field you want to specialize in, an associate’s degree gives you an introduction to one subject but also the freedom to redirect your focus at the bachelor’s level. Going straight into a bachelor’s program may offer less flexibility.
- Right for Some Students: If your ultimate goal is to become a preschool teacher, nanny, tutor, or childcare worker, it’s not necessary to invest extra in your education. Additional degrees may be an asset over the long-term, but they are not a requirement to start working and start earning.
- Extra Options Available: Lots of different schools offer an associate’s degree in education, both in person and online. This option gives students a larger number of schools to choose from and more selectivity when it comes to tuition, financial aid options, curriculum, location and other considerations.