Earning your master’s degree in early childhood education is a big commitment. Be sure the program you choose is a worthwhile investment.

Experts in early childhood education are desperately needed.

These professionals work in schools, child care facilities, community youth programs, and much more.

While pursuing a master’s degree is a great career move, it’s also a major expense. We created this ranking to help you find a program that makes financial sense.

What are the options for a master’s degree in early childhood education?

On-campus programs are an excellent option, but online programs can be a better fit when budget is a priority. Online programs are often more affordable than in-person programs, and many don’t charge a fee for out-of-state students.

Most online degree tracks also allow you to keep working a full-time job, making it easier to keep up with your existing financial obligations.

It’s important to note that this ranking focuses on advanced degrees, so a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite. You can take a look at our Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Elementary Education if you’re a prospective undergraduate student.

How much can you earn with a master’s degree in early childhood education?

Here’s how PayScale breaks down the most common job titles and average annual salaries for people who hold an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education:

  • Elementary School Teacher: $46,082
  • Director (Preschool): $43,054
  • Special Education Teacher (Preschool, Kindergarten, or Elementary School): $43,963
  • Child Care Center Director: $52,851

What can I do with a master’s degree in early childhood education?

Some graduates may work as a preschool or primary grades teacher. Others may become a program director or administrator for a child care facility, non-profit agency, or community organization.

Certain programs can help you become qualified to teach community college classes relating to early childhood development.

What are the requirements for a master’s degree in early childhood education?

Some programs may have specific cutoff points for undergraduate GPA or GRE scores. Nearly all programs will require a statement of purpose and several letters of recommendation from people who can speak to your ability to succeed as an early childhood professional.

What are the most affordable online master’s degrees in early childhood education?

In this ranking, we’ve included master’s degree programs in Early Childhood Education and closely related disciplines, such as Educational Psychology, Child and Family Studies, and Youth Development. Any of these programs can lead to a fulfilling career working with young children.

To create our list, we investigated tuition costs and financial aid availability. Data was sourced from individual college websites as well as the IPEDS database and U.S. News & World Report.

1. University of North Carolina at Greensboro


A member institution of the prestigious University of North Carolina system, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is home to an exceptional School of Education. With nearly 100 full-time professors, the School of Education serves 1,500 students through five undergraduate programs and 15 graduate programs. These renowned degree tracks include a Master of Education in Education and Development for Birth through Kindergarten, which is available fully online.

Program Features

Graduate students at UNCG can choose between a concentration in Early Childhood Leadership and Program Administration or a concentration in Early Childhood Leadership and Advanced Teaching Licensure. The Advanced Teaching Licensure program is designed for students who already hold a professional or initial teaching license to earn advanced certification. The course of study for this concentration may include electives such as:

  • Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Policy
  • Applied Theories and Principles of Parenting
  • Diversity and Inclusive Early Care and Education
  • Assistive Technology for Inclusive Education


After completing the program, graduates will be prepared to find a career as a community college instructor, early childhood consultant, inclusion specialist, early childhood program director, and more. The programs at UNCG were recently ranked number 31 in U.S. News & World Report’s list of the Best Online Graduate Education Programs.


2. West Virginia University


West Virginia University has earned the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation. This distinction, which recognizes exceptional impact through both community and global initiatives, is granted to just 6 percent of all universities. WVU’s commitment to real-world impact is front and center in its Master of Arts in Educational Psychology program.

Program Features

WVU’s M.A. in Educational Psychology features an optional emphasis in Program Evaluation and Research or in Child Development and Family Studies. (The program is also available as a general track.) For the Child Development and Family Studies emphasis, students will complete 33 credit hours in topics such as statistics, research methods, and developmental psychology. Specific course titles for this track include:

  • Socio-Emotional Development of Children
  • Comparative Study of Family
  • Theories of Child and Adolescent Development
  • Socialization Processes


The M.A. in Educational Psychology from WVU requires students to earn six credit hours in a research-based thesis. The thesis will include an extensive literature review, the development of a research design, data collection or the use of faculty data sets, and an in-depth analysis and discussion of the results. Graduates of the Child Development and Family Studies track have been hired as child care program directors, instructors at four-year colleges, curriculum specialists, and more.


3. University of South Florida


Washington Monthly ranked the University of South Florida 46th among all public universities nationwide for social mobility, research, and civic engagement. With over 50,000 students, USF is one of the most diverse institutions in the state. The online programs at USF are consistently recognized for excellence by U.S. News & World Report, including the University’s graduate programs in teacher education (ranked 36th nationwide).

Program Features

The renowned Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health (MSCABH) from USF offers both a thesis track and an applied (non-thesis) track. The applied track provides the opportunity for students to work part-time in a position relating to a child or adolescent behavioral health issue. The thesis track allows students to design, conduct, and defend an original research project. Both tracks require coursework such as:

  • Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health
  • Cultural Competency in Children’s Mental Health
  • Evaluation and Research Methods in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health
  • Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Policy


Students will declare whether they plan to pursue the thesis track or applied track at the time of application. GRE scores are required for students applying to the thesis track, but not for students applying to the non-thesis track. For both of these options, a comprehensive exam is also required.


4. University of Southern Mississippi


The University of Southern Mississippi is known for a rich diversity of academic programs, some of which are offered nowhere else in the country. USM is one of just ten schools nationwide to offer a Bachelor of Science in Ocean Engineering, and it’s also one of only 36 institutions to hold accreditation in all four areas of the arts. The online Child and Family Studies program is another one of USM’s unique courses of study. This degree is ideal for working professionals who are interested in issues that affect children and families.

Program Features

The Child and Family Studies graduate program is designed for part-time students. Typically, students will take seven credit hours during their first semester and six credit hours in every subsequent semester. By following this schedule, students can earn their degree in two calendar years. The curriculum for the degree requires 37 credit hours in courses such as:

  • Educational Research
  • Family Advocacy
  • Adolescence and the Family System
  • Advanced Child Development


Applicants to the Child and Family Studies program must submit GRE scores. A minimum GPA of 3.25 on the last 64 hours of undergraduate coursework is required for regular admission. Based on 2018 tuition rates, the total estimated cost for this degree is $15,766.


5. Stephen F. Austin State University


Offering more than 120 areas of study, Stephen F. Austin State University is an independent, public university with a main campus in Nacogdoches, Texas. The University serves a student body of almost 13,000. The master’s degree program from SFASU focuses on the sociological and psychological factors influencing behavior in children under eight years old.

Program Features

The online Master of Education in Early Childhood Education from SFASU has a 36-credit hour curriculum. Students have the option of following the standard degree path, or they may opt for the thesis track. Through the thesis track, students will replace six credit hours of coursework with six credit hours of research. Coursework for this program will cover topics such as:

  • Child development
  • Research
  • Curriculum and instructional strategies
  • Leadership


Classes identified as online courses may require up to three campus visits during the semester. Students are encouraged to contact the department offering the class if they have any questions about the in-person requirements for specific distance learning courses. SFASU also offers online programs leading to a Master of Education (Standard Elementary Program), an M.Ed. with All-Level Professional Reading Specialist Certification, an M.Ed. in Special Education, a Master of Music in Music Education, and more.


6. University of Northern Colorado


Colorado State Normal School was established in 1890 as a teachers college. In 1970, after 80 years of growth, the school adopted its current name: the University of Northern Colorado. Today, the University offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in a comprehensive array of academic disciplines, but teacher education remains a primary focus. The highly regarded College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at UNC is a recent winner of the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award.

Program Features

Students can earn the Master of Arts in Special Education: Early Childhood in two years. The program requires 36 credit hours. Coursework for this degree is available on-campus in Greeley, in a hybrid format through the Denver campus, and fully online. Candidates for the M.A. degree may take classes such as:

  • Typical and Atypical Early Child Development: Application to Early Childhood Special Education
  • Research, Policy, and Advocacy in Early Childhood Special Education
  • Learning Environments and Cultural Considerations
  • Scientifically Based Literacy Interventions


The Special Education: Early Childhood program is available leading to a master’s degree, or as a non-degree licensure track in early childhood special education or both early childhood special education and early childhood education. UNC is the leading institution in Colorado for graduates employed as teachers.


7. University of Colorado Denver


Two of the four campuses of the University of Colorado system—CU Denver and CU Anschutz—work in collaboration to present CU Online. The extensive distance learning opportunities offered through CU Online provide the same rigorous, intensive education that the traditional University of Colorado campuses are known for. CU Online presents a number of highly ranked graduate programs, such as a Master of Arts in School Library, a Master of Arts in Information and Learning Technologies, and a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education.

Program Features

The online M.A. in Early Childhood Education (ECE) requires 36 credit hours. Most students complete the program within two to three years. Students in an online program will be required to attend a three-day seminar in Denver each summer. Coursework for this program may include:

  • Research in Schools
  • Curriculum in Early Childhood Education
  • Language and Literacy in Young Children
  • Basic Statistics


The required practicum for the ECE degree incorporates 225 clock hours of supervised fieldwork. This program offers an optional license (or endorsement, for licensed teachers) for Early Childhood Special Education Specialist for birth to age eight. The ECE program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as well as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).


8. San Diego State University


San Diego State University is ranked in the top 70 among all public universities nationwide, according to a recent publication from U.S. News & World Report. The University has also been ranked among the nation’s top 25 institutions in terms of ethnic diversity. This inclusive and high-achieving atmosphere makes SDSU an ideal choice for graduate students in business, the sciences, communications and media, and teacher education. The School of Education at SDSU is ranked number one among all institutions in San Diego County and among all California State Universities.

Program Features

San Diego State offers a number of fully online programs, including a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership with a Focus on Technology (PreK-12) and a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling. The Educational Leadership program includes 10 total courses and can be completed in 15 months. Coursework for this degree includes:

  • Methods of Inquiry
  • Visionary Leadership
  • School Improvement Leadership
  • Professional Learning and Growth Leadership


Numerous additional certificate and professional development programs are available through fully online tracks. Options include a Professional Certificate in the Development of At-Risk Students, a Professional Certificate in Cultural Competence for Educators, and a Reading and Literacy Added Authorization. SDSU also offers a Master of Science in Child Development through an on-campus program.


9. North Dakota State University


With a total enrollment of over 14,000, North Dakota State University is an outstanding example of a mid-sized public university. The National Science Foundation has ranked numerous NDSU programs in the top 100 nationwide, including programs in physical sciences, chemistry, agricultural sciences, social sciences, and psychology. NDSU offers an exceptional Human Development and Family Science program, with an available emphasis in Youth Development.

Program Features

NDSU’s online Youth Development program culminates in a Master of Science degree. This course of study prepares graduates to work in 4-H clubs, faith-based organizations, youth correctional facilities, non-profit organizations, community recreational programs, and more. Students in this program will complete 36 credit hours, and most earn their degree within two to three years. Required coursework for the Human Development and Family Science master’s degree includes:

  • Community Youth Development
  • Youth in Cultural Contexts
  • Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation
  • Administration and Program Management


The M.S. in Human Development and Family Science is also available with an emphasis in Family Financial Planning or in Gerontology. These programs are part of the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA). Additionally, online programs are available leading to an M.S. or M.A. in Community Development and an M.Ed. in Family and Consumer Sciences Education.


10. Missouri State University


Missouri State University offers over 100 different graduate programs. Sixteen of these renowned degrees can be earned fully online. With a student body of roughly 26,000, the Missouri State system is the second largest university in the state. The University provides a student-centered environment and a strong focus on creative collaboration for candidates pursuing the Master of Science in Early Childhood and Family Development.

Program Features

The flexible curriculum for the Early Childhood and Family Development degree allows students to choose one-third of their classes through elective coursework. Students can take just one course per term, or, if they take four courses per term, they can earn their degree in three semesters. Sample courses for this degree include:

  • Inquiry in Early Childhood and Family Development
  • Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Programming and Policy Issues for Early Childhood Settings
  • Children and Families in a Diverse Society


While all of the courses for the degree are offered online, local students are welcome to take some of their electives face-to-face according to their schedule and preference. This degree track does not lead to licensure or certification. The base tuition cost for both Missouri residents and non-residents is currently $285 per credit hour for online courses.


11. Michigan State University


A number of undergraduate and graduate programs at Michigan State University have earned exceptional rankings from U.S. News & World Report: The organizational psychology and rehabilitation counseling (education) programs have both been ranked number one nationally. Even more impressive, the graduate programs in elementary education and secondary education have been ranked number one in the nation for 23 consecutive years. Michigan State exemplifies its commitment to excellence in teacher education through the Youth Development degree track.

Program Features

Offered fully online, Michigan State’s Youth Development program culminates in a Master of Science degree. This degree track is only available online, and it does not require a thesis project. Candidates for the degree will earn 36 credit hours, including 28 hours in a designated Youth Development core. Required coursework includes:

  • Foundations of Youth Development
  • Adolescents and Their Families
  • Youth in Cultural Contexts
  • Program Design, Evaluation, and Implementation


The Youth Development degree is offered through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA), a consortium that includes Michigan State and five other institutions. In addition to the Youth Development degree, MSU students may also earn a Master of Arts in Family Community Services through a fully online track. A Master of Science in Child Development is available to on-campus students.


12. University at Albany, SUNY


Over 125 graduate programs are available at the University at Albany, SUNY. Many of these programs have been ranked among the top 50 nationwide, including those in clinical psychology, library and information studies, sociology, and social work. The renowned School of Education at UAlbany offers a range of acclaimed master’s degrees, including a fully online Master of Science in Early Childhood Education.

Program Features

The degree from UAlbany requires 30 credit hours of coursework. This track can lead to New York professional licensure in Early Childhood Education for children birth through grade 2. (Students are expected to already hold their initial teaching license when they apply to the program.) Candidates for this degree may complete courses such as the following:

  • Early Literacy Development, B-2
  • Strategic Intervention to Prevent Literacy Difficulties
  • Data-Based Decision Making in Literacy Assessment, Policy, and Practice
  • Literacy for English Language Learners


Online students may only enroll in the Early Childhood Education program on a part-time basis, with a maximum of two courses per semester. On-campus students, however, may enroll on either a part-time or full-time basis. UAlbany boasts strong passing rates for its graduates on certification and licensure exams: The University has a 100 percent passing rate for graduates seeking literacy certification on the Literacy CST during the last three years.


13. University of Minnesota Twin Cities


The University of Minnesota Twin Cities enrolls more than 30,000 undergraduate students and over 16,000 students in graduate and professional programs. In 2016, UMN conferred 536 Master of Education degrees, making the University one of the state’s leading institutions for professional teacher education. UMN’s Master of Arts in Applied Child and Adolescent Development offers three tracks: Child Life, Individualized Studies, and Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

Program Features

The M.A. in Applied Child and Adolescent Development is a 32-credit hour program. Each of the three tracks requires 14 credit hours in core coursework and 15 credits within the chosen concentration. Courses within the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health concentration include:

  • Development and Psychopathology in Early Childhood
  • Infant Observation Seminar
  • Early Childhood Assessment
  • Prevention and Intervention in Early Childhood: Practice


UMN encourages applicants to the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health degree program to have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. After completing the program, graduates will be qualified to pursue professional opportunities in social work, psychology, nursing and related disciplines, and early childhood care and education. For the 2018 academic year, the tuition rate for full-time students (with a course load of six to 14 credits) is $8,364 per semester. Financial aid and scholarships are widely available for UMN students.


14. University of Missouri


The University of Missouri includes four campuses, an extension program that encompasses 114 counties, a multi-hospital healthcare network, and 10 distinctive research parks and business incubators. Mizzou also offers abundant opportunities for online learning, with more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs available fully online. One of these online tracks leads to a Master of Arts in Human Development and Family Science with an emphasis in Youth Development.

Program Features

The Youth Development program is presented by Mizzou’s celebrated College of Human Environmental Sciences. The degree track incorporates 36 credit hours. Students will take nine core courses (25 credit hours) and an additional 11 credit hours through electives, an internship, or both. Required coursework for this degree track includes:

  • Foundations of Youth Development
  • Administration and Program Management
  • Youth Cultures and the Cultures of Youth
  • Federal and State Policies That Impact Youth Development


Candidates for the M.A. in Youth Development may choose between a two-credit hour internship or a comprehensive exam as their culminating experience. Graduates of the program will be prepared to work in Boys and Girls Clubs, faith-based organizations, correctional facilities, non-profit agencies, and similar settings. Mizzou’s Youth Development program is part of the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA).


15. University of Nebraska


The 100-plus online degree programs at the University of Nebraska Online are taught by the same expert faculty members who teach at the University of Nebraska’s four traditional campuses (Lincoln, Kearney, Omaha, and the Medical Center). NU Online helps connect prospective degree seekers with the “home campus” where the student’s program of interest is being offered. For the Master of Science in Youth Development, the home campus is the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Program Features

The Youth Development degree requires a total of 36 credit hours. Courses within the track will require students to complete assignments within a specific time frame. However, most classes are asynchronous (meaning that there are no designated class times and students can work through the material whenever they choose). Candidates for this degree will take classes such as:

  • Youth Professionals as Consumers of Research
  • Community Youth Development
  • Youth in Cultural Contexts
  • Contemporary Youth Issues


Applicants to the Youth Development program should have an undergraduate GPA of at least 2.5 (on a 4.0 scale). As of 2018, the tuition cost for both in-state and out-of-state students in this program is $565 per credit hour. NUO also offers an M.S. in International Family Studies and an M.S. in Human and Family Services Administration.

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