Building a career in education is a noble career path that allows individuals to spark an interest that inspires young people to pursue life-long learning.
Second only to parents, teachers and other school support staff are essentially the most important part of a child’s development. Actually, a Harvard study discovered that one good teacher can increase a young person’s cumulative lifetime income by $80,000! As the economy recovers and society begins to place a greater emphasis on student achievement, there’s expected to be a large demand for hiring a half-million more teachers to lead classrooms across the United States.
The path towards becoming a teacher can vary by state, but often involves earning at least a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and passing certification exams. Having spent a significant amount of time in the classroom during practicum and student-teaching is also mandatory. Going on to earn a master’s or doctoral degree can be helpful for teachers wishing to obtain teacher leader positions, specialize their skills, or assume school administrative roles too. Online education degrees are becoming increasingly popular for full-time working teachers, but they aren’t for everyone. Traditional campus-based programs may reign supreme for future educators who thrive when forming in-person connections, collaborating alongside peers, receiving one-on-one attention, and being motivated by a stricter class schedule.
Ranking the Best Traditional Education Degrees
In crafting our program ranking for the top brick and mortar schools offering traditional education degrees, we began by focusing on those accredited by the National Council on Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Having this evidence-based approval shows that the school has successfully maintained quality and continuous improvement for PreK-12 teaching. From there, we narrowed down our options by looking for schools with recognition from the U.S. News and World Report survey for great education degree programs. Preference was also given to universities that had high rankings from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) for either elementary and/or secondary education. In forming their reports, the council looks for important criteria like curriculum standards, content knowledge, student teaching experiences, classroom management, and graduation data.
Since tuition can be stifling today, we took into consideration a school’s affordability in forming the finalized program ranking and eliminated any universities with very high tuition rates or low levels of financial aid. Other significant education degree factors we took into account were faculty credentials, campus learning facilities, school district partnerships, awards received, student support services, job placement, student-faculty ratio, and world-class learning opportunities. Schools with a wide variety of education degree options were given preference to suit virtually all career interests in teaching. Without further ado, it’s our pleasure to present the following top 10 traditional education degree programs in America.
As a founding member of the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), the University of Wisconsin – Madison is a flagship comprehensive public land-grant and sea-grant institution with very high research activity. Since 1848, UW-Madison has been based on a sprawling 936-acre urban campus in the state’s capital city along the banks of Lake Mendota. Enrolling more than 43,200 students in 20 distinct schools, UW-Madison is ranked as the 47th best university and 13th top public school in America by the U.S. News and World Report. UW-Madison was named in the top 10 nationally for scholarly productivity by the Chronicle of Higher Education. In fact, UW-Madison even received five excellence stars as the 37th best college globally from the QS World University Rankings.
Accolades for the UW-Madison don’t stop there because the School of Education has a prestigious reputation for being the #1 best education school among public universities in the United States. Nine of the School’s education degree programs have been highlighted in the top 20 of their field by the U.S. News and World Report. Fully approved by the NCATE, the School of Education is dedicated to preparing certified professional educators who become nationally prominent in their specialty. There’s also a unique emphasis on global education, which has led to affiliations with study abroad teaching programs in over 60 countries. Beyond its iconic red doors, the UW-Madison School of Education operates nine academic departments covering virtually all traditional education areas.
Featuring small class sizes with a faculty-student ratio of 17:1, UW-Madison has seven initial teacher licensing programs for undergraduate students in Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, World Language Education, Art Education, Music Education, and Physical Education. There’s also a plan to start a master’s degree program with certification in Secondary Education for graduates in 2015. Certified teachers can attend UW-Madison to earn their Master of Science for Professional Educators (MSPE) degree in a hybrid format of online and face-to-face learning. An M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction is available to specialize in Curriculum Development, Educational Leadership, Instructional Technology, Early Childhood Education, or Reading Education. Advanced on-campus students may also join the Doctoral Research Program (DRP) to prepare for careers in educational research.
Enrolling more than 12,600 students, Vanderbilt University is an elite comprehensive senior private research institution initially named in honor of shipping magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt back in 1873 following the Civil War. Vandy is positioned on a beautiful 330-acre urban campus within a national arboretum in Nashville along Tennessee’s Cumberland River. The U.S. News and World Report has ranked Vanderbilt as the 16th best university and 11th top value school with the nation’s 8th best undergraduate teaching. Along with been named #1 by Princeton Review for “Happiest Students,” Vandy was crowned 15th in Lumosity’s “20 Smartest Colleges in America.” Vanderbilt University is also named the 88th best college in the entire world by the Times Higher Education.
With approval by the NCATE, the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt has received recognition for being the 3rd best graduate education school in the country. In particular, Vanderbilt has ranked in the nation’s top five for Education Policy, Educational Administration and Supervision, Educational Psychology, Elementary Education, and Special Education. Peabody College has the mission of fostering a supportive learning environment for developing engaged educators to improve the delivery of education in Tennessee and beyond. Peabody is well-known for hosting the Susan Gray School, which gives students the change to gain research-oriented experience with children with developmental disabilities. There’s also a unique VUConnect program that allows students to network with former Commodores already succeeding in education.
Undergraduate students enrolling in Peabody can obtain their B.S. degree on-campus in majors like Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Child Development, and Early Childhood Education. With the support of 15 research centers, most of Vanderbilt’s programs are designed for graduate students. At the master’s level, traditional students can earn their M.Ed. in Education Policy, English Language Learners, Reading Education, Teaching in Urban Schools, and more. There’s also a part-time M.Ed. in Special Education program with tracks in Behavior Analysis, Severe Disabilities, Modified High Incidence, and Visual Disabilities. For more advancement, teachers can choose to receive their Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in K-12 Educational Leadership and Policy or Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Vandy.
Highly regarded as one of the most prestigious universities worldwide, Stanford University is an elite comprehensive private research institution initially founded in 1885. On a vast 8,180-acre suburban campus near Palo Alto in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley within the San Francisco Bay Area, Stanford is home for more than 15,800 students. Stanford offers a unique no-loan policy that waives tuition, room, and board for families with household incomes below $60,000. The U.S. News and World Report has ranked Stanford as the 4th best university and 4th top value school with the 7th best undergraduate teaching in America. Often named the top “Dream College” by Princeton Review, Stanford is declared the 2nd best college globally within the Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Stanford’s Graduate School of Education is no stranger to high rankings either sharing the rank of the 3rd best education school in the United States with Vanderbilt. Stanford was even named #1 for Education Policy and #1 for Curriculum and Instruction nationwide. With approval from the NCATE, the GSE is a world leader in providing ground-breaking, cross-disciplinary research inquiries to shape innovative changes in educational practices. Its Institute for Research in Education Policy and Practice (IREPP) is renowned for delving deep in investigating and finding solutions for California’s troubled K-12 system. Featuring an acceptance rate of just 5.7 percent, Stanford is highly selective in admitting students into its master’s and doctoral degree programs in over 25 education specializations.
Stanford undergraduate students have the option to minor in Education while making connections to their major program of study or join the GSE Undergraduate Honors Program. With small cohort sizes in a traditional brick and mortar format, the M.A. programs require one year of full-time intensive study. Master’s students can choose to specialize in areas like International Comparative Education, International Education Policy Analysis, Learning and Technology, or Curriculum and Teacher Education. The Standard Teacher Education Program (STEP) leads to teacher certification in either elementary or secondary education. Doctoral students at Stanford can obtain their Ph.D. in numerous areas, including Higher Education, Educational Policy, Elementary Education, Mathematics Education, and Teacher Education.
Standing proudly atop Mount Oread on a 1,100-acre urban campus overlooking the vibrant college town of Lawrence, the University of Kansas is a major comprehensive four-year public research institution first opened in 1866. Educating a total of over 26,900 students, KU operates satellite locations in Wichita, Overland Park, Kansas City, Topeka, Parson, and Salina for convenience to all Kansans. The U.S. News and World Report has honored KU as the 106th best university, 50th top public school, and 24th best college for veterans in the nation. KU is named the 94th best master’s-level institution in Washington Monthly magazine for social mobility, ethics, and community service. The ARWU also placed KU among the top 300 global universities in the world.
There’s over 340 degree programs offered at the University of Kansas, including the high-ranking teacher preparation degrees housed in the KU School of Education. In addition to being accredited by the NCATE for excellence, the School has been distinguished by the U.S. News and World Report as the 17th best education school with the #2 special education program in America. The School of Education delivers traditional education degrees in Joseph R. Pearson Hall to prepare students for helping society respond to its educational responsibilities. KU is devoted to giving new teachers actual classroom experience, so all students start field practicum in their first semester for clocking at least 800 hours before graduation day.
At KU, there’s the option for undergraduate students to obtain their Kansas initial teaching licensure by specializing in Unified Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle-Level, Secondary, Foreign Language, or Health/Physical Education. Career changers can also benefit from KU’s graduate initial licensure tracks in Middle and Secondary Education for Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth and Space Science, Foreign Language, or Physical Education. Those who are already teaching can expand pedagogical skills by earning one of several master’s degrees, including the M.S.Ed. in Educational Technology, M.S.Ed. in Autism Spectrum Disorders, or M.S.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction. KU also offers doctoral options for earning a Ph.D. in Educational Administration, Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration, Ph.D. in School Psychology, and Ph.D. in Special Education.
Initially established in 1785 as the first institution chartered by a state, the University of Georgia is a large comprehensive public land-grant and sea-grant research powerhouse that enrolls more than 35,100 students in its flagship programs. Along with four satellite locations, UGA is headquartered on a main 759-acre urban campus in the college town of Athens within Georgia’s northeastern corner. UGA has been ranked as the 62nd best university and 20th top public school in the country by the U.S. News and World Report. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance named UGA the 6th best value public college and the Wall Street Journal recognized the university for the 4th best salary returns on investment nationwide.
Celebrating more than a century of excellence, the UGA College of Education is one of the largest and most diverse schools of its kind in America with over 250 degree specializations. Featuring full NCATE accreditation, the COE is currently ranked as the 33rd best traditional education school in the country with six specialty programs in the top 10. With a Georgia Assessments for Certification of Educators (GACE) pass rate of 99%, the College produces nearly 750 qualified teachers every year. Traditional students not seeking an online degree can attend face-to-face classes at the Athens, Griffin, or Gwinnett County campuses. The UGA College of Education is well-known for its Curriculum Materials Library, which houses an impressive collection of juvenile literature for grades K-12.
At the undergraduate level, there’s a Bachelor of Science in Education (B.S.Ed.) program that can be tailored to suit career interests ranging from Early Childhood Education and Physical Education to Science Education and World Language Education. There’s also dual degree programs to pair a major in English, History, Biology, Mathematics, or French with its teaching certification equivalent. UGA graduate students have their fair share of options in 37 master’s degree programs, including the popular M.Ed. in Reading Education, M.Ed. in Special Education, M.Ed. in Workforce Education, and M.A. in Education for Communication Sciences and Disorders. Current teachers also have the opportunity to further their knowledge by earning their Education Specialist (Ed.S.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree in wide-ranging specialties.
Known for educating key figures like Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Henry Clay, the College of William and Mary is a major comprehensive four-year public research institution with an illustrious history tracing back to 1693. As one of the original “Public Ivies,” William & Mary is home for more than 8,300 students annually on its spacious 1,200-acre suburban campus in historic Williamsburg on the Virginia Peninsula of Hampton Roads. W&M is currently ranked as the 33rd best university and 6th top public school with the country’s 2nd best undergraduate teaching by the U.S. News and World Report. In addition to being crowned the 22nd top research institution by Forbes magazine, W&M was recognized as the 4th best value public college in America in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
At the College of William and Mary, the School of Education is devoted to offering education degree programs on-campus by fusing the liberal arts with professional studies. The School is an institutional leader in awarding nearly a third of master’s degrees and over half of doctoral degrees granted through W&M. According to the U.S. News and World Report survey, it’s the 46th best graduate education school from coast to coast. In fact, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recognized William & Mary for having the country’s #4 secondary education program. Garnering more than $60 million in research grants over the past decade, the School maintains an expert faculty who have authored 63 books and 295 journal articles.
Within the newly renovated 113,000-square foot School of Education building, W&M students can choose from several traditional education degree options approved by the NCATE. Those at the undergraduate level can declare education as their second major starting in the junior year for certification in Elementary Education or Secondary Education for English, Math, Science, Foreign Language, and Social Studies. Graduates consistently break national averages on all sections of the PRAXIS exams. More advanced students can obtain their M.A.Ed. degree in Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Gifted Education, Literacy Leadership, Special Education, or Math Specialist. There’s also an Ed.D. program for excelling in K-12 Administration, Special Education Administration, Curriculum Leadership, or Higher Education.
Affiliated with the Churches of Christ, Lipscomb University is a comprehensive private senior co-educational institution rooted in liberal arts education since its founding in 1891. With a headcount of over 4,500 students, Lipscomb is nestled on a main residential 83-acre urban campus in the Green Hills neighborhood of downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The U.S. News and World Report has named Lipscomb the 18th best regional college, 5th top up-and-coming university, and 2nd best school for veterans in the South. Experiencing a 59% enrollment growth rate over the last decade, Lipscomb is one of just 115 colleges nationwide to receive the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation. Lipscomb is also ranked as the 78th best master’s-level university in America by Washington Monthly magazine.
Formally approved by the NCATE and Tennessee State Board of Education, the Lipscomb College of Education is high-achieving with the 60th best online graduate education programs in the country. However, there’s plenty of opportunity for traditional students seeking classroom interaction too within the College’s 39 academic programs. After all, Lipscomb is one of just four universities in the United States to be recognized in the top 20 for both elementary and secondary education by the NCTQ. On the Tennessee Report Card, the COE was specifically distinguished for producing teachers who outperform other teachers statewide. Receiving more than $5 million in grant monies this year, the College of Education is well-funded for preparing curious, diligent, and imaginative 21st century teachers.
For initial teaching licensure in Tennessee, Lipscomb students can obtain a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Interdisciplinary Teaching at the Early Childhood (PreK-3), Elementary (K-6), Middle Grades (4-8), or Secondary (7-12) levels. There’s also an English as a Second Language (ESL) Endorsement available for undergraduates. Master’s students have the chance to complete an M.Ed. in Collaborative Professional Learning, Instructional Practice, English Language Learning, Special Education, Technology Integration, Teaching and Leading, Educational Leadership, or Reading Specialty. Those looking for more than 33 credits in graduate school can advance to obtain an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree or the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change.
Named after the prominent minister of the Triennial Convention in 1826, Furman University is the oldest private co-educational Baptist higher learning institution in South Carolina. Situated on a beautiful 750-acre suburban campus in Travelers Rest between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Greenville, Furman is home for more than 2,600 residential students. Offering 42 programs accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Furman follows the motto of “Christo et Doctrinae” to blend religion with professional studies. The U.S. News and World Report has named Furman as the 51st best national liberal arts college. Furman has also been listed in the Princeton Review’s “Best 378 Colleges” and ranked #2 in the Daily Beast’s “Most Rigorous Colleges in America.”
In addition to being a member of the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER), the Furman Education Department is fully accredited by the NCATE to offer teacher preparation programs anchored in the liberal arts tradition. Furman is deeply committed to preparing educators and administrators with the ability to promote human dignity, celebrate diversity, use effective pedagogy, and exemplify the highest level of ethics. The Education Department was recognized by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) for having the #5 best secondary teacher and #47 top elementary teacher programs. Furman has consistently achieved a 100% graduation rate and 100% Praxis exam pass rate for program completers. Graduates have a well below-average student loan default rate of 2.1% too.
Aspiring teachers at the undergraduate level can pursue their South Carolina licensure in the Elementary Education (2-6), Foreign Languages (PK-12), Music Education (PK-12), or Secondary Education (9-12) programs. There’s also a Science Education Minor (SEM) that doesn’t lead to teacher certification, but builds the skills necessary for scientists to educate the general public. Graduate students at Furman have the option to earn licensure by obtain the Master of Arts (M.A.) in Curriculum and Instruction, Literacy, Early Childhood (PK-3), Special Education, or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). For certified teachers looking for career advancement, the Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) in Educational Leadership is offered in a traditional format of 33 credits with a superintendency internship.
Affectionately labeled one of the “Public Ivies,” the University of Delaware is the state’s largest major comprehensive publicly funded land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant institution with very high research activity. Along with its main 2,011-acre suburban campus in the city of Newark just west of Wilmington, UD offers traditional classes in Dover, Wilmington, Lewes, and Georgetown. UD is well-known for its Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement program, which has a 100% placement rate in preparing low-income minority students for graduate school. Serving the academic needs of over 21,800 students, UD is ranked as the 76th best university and 30th top public school in the country by the U.S. News and World Report.. Forbes has named UD the 62nd best research university in the United States.
Also acclaimed for being the nation’s 37th best graduate education school, the UD College of Education and Human Development is fully accredited by the NCATE to deliver a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs. UD has been specifically recognized by the NCTQ for having the #11 elementary teacher preparation program in America. The College is dedicated to preparing students for becoming highly effective educators who make a difference for children, schools, and the greater community. With 54 internationally recognized faculty experts, the College has received around $22.5 million in grants to inform the field of education. Through the Institute for Global Studies, student teachers can participate in study abroad programs across Europe from London and Rome to Budapest.
On the Georgetown campus, UD offers students the chance to obtain an Associate of Arts (A.A.) in Elementary Teacher Education while developing their skills with children immediately. For licensure in Delaware, students can then complete the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Elementary Teacher Education with a concentration in English as a Second Language, Middle School English, Middle School Math, Middle School Science, Middle School Social Studies, or Special Education. There’s also majors available in Secondary Education and Early Childhood Education. Graduate students enrolling at the University of Delaware can choose to obtain degrees like the M.Ed. in Educational Technology, M.Ed. in Exceptional Children and Youth, M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership, Ed.S. in School Psychology, or Ph.D. in Education.
In the heart of the Mid-Atlantic, Montclair State University is a major comprehensive senior public research institution based on a main 500-acre suburban campus in the Montclair Heights section of Clifton in New Jersey. Since making waves as the first teacher’s college to develop a U.S. program for pedagogy in 1927, Montclair State has grown rapidly to deliver over 250 majors accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Featuring a student body over 20,000, Montclair is currently ranked as the 50th best regional college, 12th top public school, and 17th best university for veterans in the North by the U.S. News and World Report. Montclair State University was also crowned the 173rd top university in the Northeast within Forbes magazine.
With approval from the NCATE and ACEI, the Montclair College of Education and Human Services is highly regarded for being the 110th best graduate education school in America. In addition to having the 162nd best graduate education online degree programs, the College has a number of traditional brick and mortar options to choose from. After all, Montclair has been distinguished by the NCTQ for having the #4 secondary teacher and #13 elementary teacher preparation programs in the entire United States. Granting over 1,100 degrees each year, the CEHS has the goal of developing professionals who promote learning with respect for social, cultural, economic, and individual ability differences. The CEHS is partnered with over 25 school districts through the Center of Pedagogy for ongoing teacher education.
Opportunities are virtually limitless for both traditional and non-traditional students enrolling at Montclair State University. At the undergraduate level, students can obtain a B.S. in Physical Education, B.A. in Family and Child Studies, B.S. in Early Childhood (PK-3), or B.S. in Elementary Education with a variety of specializations. For an accelerated path, many students choose to obtain their bachelor’s degree with the Master of Art in Teaching (M.A.T.) over five years for dual certification in Early Childhood or Elementary Education and Teaching Students with Disabilities. Teachers can also further their knowledge with an M.Ed. in Inclusive Education, M.A. in Reading Education, M.A. in Educational Leadership, or M.A.T. in Physical Education. There’s certificates in Autism Intervention, Early Childhood Mental Health, Program Evaluation, School Counseling, Reading Specialist, and Educational Assessment too.
Learning to Teach the Traditional Way
Online degree options in education are exploding as more universities add virtual classrooms alongside their on-campus counterparts. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that nearly one million undergraduate students nationwide complete their entire degree online now. While earning a degree online comes with added flexibility, convenience, and cost savings, there’s still many benefits reaped by teachers who take the traditional route. Teachers attending a brick and mortar university are able to interact closely with faculty, receive immediate feedback, form connections with classmates, and find career networking opportunities. Attending a campus-based program often helps teachers develop any lacking communication skills and build more extensive experience in the classroom too. If you’ve made the decision to follow the traditional method of teacher preparation, consider some of these top 10 traditional education degree programs within your college search.