Online Associate's Degree in Education

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While most teaching professions require a bachelor's degree, associate degrees in education are indeed a quicker alternative to entering the education field. "Becoming an educator is an amazing career," says Roberta Martel, an Associate Professor and Program Coordinator for the Associate in Arts in Teaching at Leeward Community College in Hawaii. "The rewards are great," she continues, "when we understand that we have the ability as effective educators to make a positive impact for the future."

For prospective students that would like to make a difference, but are unsure where to start, earning an associate degree in education could be a good first step. There are many professional opportunities for graduates with an associate degree. Martel notes, "Students who graduate with their AAT degree are considered 'highly qualified' and are ready to enter the workforce as para-educators." Para-educators, Martel says, include part-time teachers, educational assistants, and para-professional tutors. Other career possibilities with an associate in education include preschool teaching, working in childcare, serving as a teaching assistant or helping a librarian as a library technician.

About the Expert

Roberta Martel is an Associate Professor and Program Coordinator for the Associate in Arts in Teaching at Leeward Community College in Hawaii.

Associate Degree Programs in Education

Students may select from a variety of two-year programs in education, with a majority designed for those desiring to continue into a teacher preparation bachelor's program at a four-year university. The degrees most commonly pursued by para-educators and library technicians include:

  • Associate of Arts in Education (AAT)
  • Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education (AAEE)
  • Associate of Science in Library Technology (ASLT)

During the 2012-2013 school year -- according to the National Center for Education Statistics -- more than 30,000 associate degrees were awarded in the following fields:

Area of Study Degrees Conferred
Education 18,759
Early Childhood Education and Teaching 7,182
Teaching Assistants/Aides 4,498
Library and Archives Assisting 159
Library and Information Science 22
Grand Total 30,620

In addition to traditional campus-based programs, many universities -- such as Leeward Community College -- are starting to offer online associate degree programs in education. Online programs are meant to be complementary, matching the academic rigor of their campus-based counterparts. "Student learning outcomes are the same for campus-based classes as they are for online delivery," Martel comments about the Leeward Community College program. In turn, online classes offer flexibility to students who can't make it to campus full-time. She even points out that some classes are offered in hybrid formats (blending online and on-campus instruction) that affords students the "flexibility of online instruction with in-class support throughout the semester."

Curriculum and Courses for Associate Degrees in Education

Professional goals influence the type of program a student should choose. For individuals pursuing careers as certified educators, they should select an associate degree in education that is designed to transfer to a baccalaureate program. For those seeking direct entry into the workforce, they may want to consider a degree with greater flexibility, such as an associate in early childhood education. Below is a snapshot of the Associate of Arts in Teaching and the Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education.

Associate of Arts in Teaching: Traditionally a two-year program of study that requires approximately 60 credit-hours of study to complete. These programs provide students with a strong foundation before entering a bachelor's program of study, says Martel. Classes are divided between core education coursework, education electives, and general education courses. For example, some of these classes in Martel's program include the following:

  • Classroom management
  • Foundations of education
  • Developing language and literacy
  • Educational psychology
  • Educational media and technology

"The courses that AAT students take as freshman and sophomores are those that are typically taken in the junior year," Martel shares. In turn, the AAT degree allows students to seamlessly transfer to the next level. In addition to classwork, students in AAT programs are also required to complete fieldwork in the classroom at the elementary, middle or secondary level. Field experience may include both observation and real-world teaching experience.

Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education: Like the AAT, this degree also requires approximately 60 credit-hours of study to complete. These programs are designed to prepare graduates to work in variety of educational settings, working with children and youth. Although curriculum varies by program, students learn about healthy child development, child care program planning and development, and theories of early childhood care and education. Example courses include the following:

  • Child development and growth
  • Role of the early childhood educator
  • Children's play and learning
  • Language development and literacy

Students may also be required to complete an in-person practicum with the ultimate goal of being prepared to earn the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential, the most widely recognized professional certification in the field.

Career Paths with an Associate Degree in Education

More than 2.2 million people are employed as para-educators, library technicians, and childcare workers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS projects double digit growth for several of these occupations. Below is a table

Occupation Total Employed Average Salary Job Growth
Childcare Workers 582,970 $21,710 14%
Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education 352,420 $32,040 17%
Teacher Assistants 1,192,590 $26,000 9%
Library Technicians 94,260 $33,490 12%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014

For students considering completing a bachelor's program in education, they can use the table below to compare the career outlook and potential salaries at each educational level.

Occupation Total Employed Average Salary Job Growth
Elementary School Teachers 1,353,020 $56,830 12%
Middle School Teachers 630,620 $57,620 12%
High School Teachers 1,041,940 $59,180 6%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014

Choosing the Right School

Prospective community college students have multiple educational avenues to consider -- both professional degrees and degrees designed specifically to transfer into bachelor's degree completion programs. When reviewing programs, students may want to check for articulation agreements before enrolling. Students that desire to transfer to a four-year university should check to see if their school has signed an articulation agreement with that institution. For example, Leeward Community College has articulation agreements with the University of Hawaii Manoa, the University of Hawaii - West Oahu, and Chaminade University of Honolulu.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Preschool Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Teacher Assistant, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/teacher-assistants.htm#tab-4
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Library Technician, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/library-technicians-and-assistants.htm
  • National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational and Employment Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Childcare Workers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/childcare-workers.htm

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