If you’re a teacher or staff member in a childcare center or preschool and haven’t gotten a degree or teaching certificate yet, it’s likely that you’re weighing the pros and cons. Or, if you’re considering a career in early childhood education, you’re probably wondering what you’ll need to do to prepare. Here are some questions—and answers--that may help.

1. What are the career prospects for people with degrees in early childhood education?
According to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for teachers in pre-kindergarten institutions will increase 26% by the year 2016, and the demand for kindergarten teachers will grow by 16%. This represents 115,000 new jobs in the next 7 years. In addition, the new administration has pledged significant funding increases and new initiatives for early childhood programs.

2. Can I have a rewarding career in this field without a degree?
While today there are many individuals working in preschools, childcare centers, and other early childhood education institutions without degrees or teaching certificates, the requirements are changing. Recent legislation mandates that half of Head Start teachers must have degrees by 2013, and other institutions are following this trend. Degreed teachers generally earn larger salaries and have more employment opportunities.

3. Why should I choose a degree in early childhood education rather than “elementary ed?”
If you’re interested in teaching children from birth through third grade, a degree in Early Childhood Education will equip you with the knowledge and skills you’ll need to help young children during this critical time in their development. This is the time when children “learn to learn,” and early childhood degrees focus supporting emotional, cognitive, and motor skill development—all needed to prepare the child to learn basic reading and math skills. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has established five standards for early child development:

- Promoting Child Development & Learning
- Building Family and Community Relationships
- Observing, Documenting, and Assessing Young Children and Families
- Teaching and Learning
- Becoming a Professional

4. Where can I find an affordable program that will allow me to keep working and take care of my family while I am in school?
For working adults with busy schedules and family responsibilities, trying to get a degree from a traditional college or university can be difficult. You might want to consider an online degree program. Western Governors University, a nonprofit, all-online university, has just launched its B.A. in Early Childhood Education program. Part of WGU’s NCATE-accredited Teachers College, the new program uses an academic model that allows students to utilize experience and prior education to demonstrate competency in the required knowledge and skills. Mentors work with students to create individually tailored academic programs. Unlike many online universities, WGU’s tuition is affordable—roughly the same as a state school. And, because the programs are individualized, students can accelerate their time to completion based on the time they have to commit to their studies.

5. If I choose an online program, will I really get an education that’s as good or better than what I would get from a traditional brick and mortar college?
With graduates in nearly all 50 states, WGU is the only all-online Teachers College with NCATE accreditation. A recent survey of employers indicated that more than 90% of them would be willing to hire additional WGU graduates. WGU programs are recognized by leaders in education.

Author's Bio: 

Patrick Patridge is the vice president of marketing at Western Governors University, where he is responsible for the university's marketing and enrollment of students.