The Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs

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Completing a doctorate in early childhood education online can be an important step for educators seeking a deeper understanding of child development, psychology, and learning. A Ph.D. in early childhood education prepares educators to address the needs of learners between birth and age eight. This credential demonstrates expert knowledge of early learning theories, research, leadership, and methodologies.

Early childhood education doctoral programs prepare students for positions in educational research, teacher preparation, and school administration. Some Ph.D. holders pursue careers in curriculum development or policy making, while others continue their work in the early childhood classroom.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school principals earn a median annual salary of $92,510. The BLS projects that job opportunities for instructional coordinators will increase 11% between 2016 and 2026, and job opportunities for postsecondary teachers will increase by 15%. These rates are much higher than the 7% national average for all occupations.

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The Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs

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What Else can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Program?

Requirements vary by school, but doctoral programs in early childhood education usually require students to take courses related to research methodologies, child development, education ethics, and instructional design. They also typically include original research and a dissertation or practicum. Many doctorate in early childhood education programs include classes similar to those listed below.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education?

Coursework requirements differ between schools, but most doctorate in early childhood education online programs require approximately 60 credits. Full-time students may spend between four and eight years fulfilling coursework and dissertation requirements.

Program length can vary based on research opportunities, concentration options, practicum components, and cognate course requirements. Typically, students pursuing a Ph.D. in early childhood education online must write and defend a research-based dissertation. Many programs encourage degree seekers to complete this task during their third year of study, but some learners require more time.

Some online doctoral programs in early childhood education follow a cohort learning format. Cohorts are groups of students that progress through the program as part of a tight-knit group, completing courses and submitting assignments according to a strict timeline. In individually paced programs, students have greater control and take courses according to their own schedules. Both cohort learning and individually paced programs usually expect degree seekers to complete coursework within a specified period of time.

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Accreditation for Online Early Childhood Education Doctorate Degrees

Before committing to an early childhood education doctoral program, students should research its accreditation status. Accreditation indicates that a school meets certain academic and professional standards. Employers and other schools only recognize Ph.D.s granted by an accredited institution.

There are two main forms of accreditation: regional and national. The U.S. has six regional accreditation bodies, each of which monitors the quality of higher education programs within a specific geographic area. The regional accreditation process is more rigorous and therefore more highly regarded. Employers also prefer regional accreditation because they deal with local state authorities more often than federal authorities.

National accreditation is more common among for-profit and career-based colleges. Two main bodies oversee national accreditation: the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The ED collects school data, enforces education statutes, and distributes federal education funds. CHEA is a self-regulating association of 3,000 American colleges and universities. Both CHEA and the ED maintain online databases of accredited schools and recognized accrediting agencies.

Additionally, students seeking a Ph.D. in early childhood education online should consider programs with accreditation from an agency that focuses on educator preparation. The most important accrediting agency for educator preparation is Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). CAEP evaluates educator preparation programs based on their curricular content, clinical practice and partnerships, and candidate quality.

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Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Graduates

Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Careers

Graduates of doctoral programs in early childhood education may pursue careers in leadership, research, and instruction. Some Ph.D. holders advance their administrative careers, while others work in research, policy development, or curriculum development. Others remain in the classroom as teacher educators or as highly qualified early childhood teachers.

Educators who complete a Ph.D. in early childhood education online may choose to work in one of the positions listed below.

  1. Instructional Coordinator: These professionals help schools develop curricula and teaching standards. They review educational materials, guide curriculum implementation, assess student test results, and conduct teacher training. They may introduce teachers to new technologies or recommend different instructional techniques. Schools typically prefer to hire instructional coordinators with graduate credentials.
    • Median Annual Salary: $62,460
    • Projected Growth Rate: 11%
  2. Education Survey Researcher: These researchers conduct education surveys in person, over the phone, online, and by mail. They use interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups to learn about people's opinions, preferences, and beliefs. They also obtain employment and salary data. Researchers design surveys, account for sampling issues, analyze data, and publish findings. Many survey researchers possess a Ph.D.
    • Median Annual Salary: $52,400
    • Projected Growth Rate: 2%
  3. Postsecondary Education Teacher: These professors prepare undergraduate and graduate students for careers in teaching. They develop syllabi, deliver lessons, evaluate student progress, and stay informed about current trends and research. They may also advise students, develop degree requirements, and conduct field research. Most postsecondary teachers hold a doctoral degree.
    • Median Annual Salary: $62,520
    • Projected Growth Rate: 15%
  4. Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal: These administrators are responsible for daily school operations. They manage class schedules, curriculum implementation, student discipline, and school security. Principals also evaluate test scores, assess teacher performance, and discuss student progress with faculty and parents. Most schools require principals to possess a graduate-level education.
    • Median Annual Salary: $92,510
    • Projected Growth Rate: 8%
  5. Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher: These educators provide children with a foundation in subjects such as math, reading, science, and social studies. They help children develop strong study habits and communication skills. Elementary teachers prepare and deliver lessons, communicate with parents regarding student progress, prepare students for standardized tests, and implement and enforce behavioral standards.
    • Median Annual Salary: $55,490
    • Projected Growth Rate: 7%

Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Salary

Factors such as education level, professional experience, location, and employer type can greatly impact the annual earnings of early learning professionals. The table below contains salary information for instructional coordinators in five different industries.

On average, state government agencies provide the greatest compensation, with elementary and secondary schools paying slightly less. Educational support services and junior colleges offer comparable annual salaries, while junior colleges pay the least.

Instructional Coordinator Salaries by Employer Type
Employer Type Mean Annual Salary
State Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals $74,020
Elementary and Secondary Schools $71,130
Educational Support Services $65,510
Junior Colleges $62,530
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools $60,080

Early Childhood Education Professional Organizations

Students in early childhood education doctoral programs can benefit from joining professional organizations. Professional organizations provide networking, advocacy, research, and continuing education opportunities. Many professional organizations help students fund their education through scholarships, fellowships, grants, and tuition discounts. Members receive benefits such as publication subscriptions, career assistance, professional development resources, and product discounts.

Below are five professional organizations for students pursuing a doctorate in early childhood education online.

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Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

Students interested in pursuing a doctorate in early childhood education online should begin researching financial aid resources as early as possible. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By completing the FAFSA, students can determine their eligibility for federal financial assistance such as need-based grants or low-interest loans.

Many universities offer financial support to qualifying students on the basis of academic merit or financial need. Some degree seekers may be able to obtain program-specific scholarships from their institution. Other potential funding sources include regional organizations, community groups, professional associations, and private foundations.

Because highly qualified teachers are an asset, many schools set aside funding for employees seeking advanced education. Consequently, educators may be able to obtain tuition assistance or reimbursement from their place of employment.

Students who complete a Ph.D. in early childhood education online may take advantage of the federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives student loans for qualifying educators who spend five years teaching in low-income institutions. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program provides loan forgiveness for educators who dedicate at least 10 years to the public sector.

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