The Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs

| TBS Staff

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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.

The Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs

Fielding Graduate University true View School Profile Santa Barbara, CA 96% Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Founded in 1974, Fielding offers an online doctor of philosophy in infant and early childhood development in collaboration with Profectum, an autism resource foundation.

Students participate in live, synchronous online courses such as infant and early childhood mental health, language development, and family systems theory and functioning. Students can choose from seven optional concentration areas, including sustainability leadership, evidence-based coaching, and creative longevity and wisdom.

Applicants must hold either a bachelor's or master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores.

Fielding Graduate University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

University of Alabama at Birmingham true View School Profile Birmingham, AL 51% 58% Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Founded in 1831, UAB offers an online doctor of philosophy in early childhood education. Students can specialize in three areas: curriculum, early intervention and young children at risk, and literacy.

Required courses include advanced developmental theory, children and safety, and advanced early childhood curriculum. Learners take approved electives for their concentration area and complete a series of research courses.

Applicants must hold a master's degree in early childhood education or related field with a minimum GPA of 3.25 to qualify for admission. Students must also possess three years of relevant work experience and a 50th percentile GMAT or GRE score.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Online Doctorate

Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs Ranking Guidelines

We selected these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

The motto of is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

Featured Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs

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

  • Child Development and the Educational Process: This course introduces students to how child development research affects educational practices. Students discuss the relationship between physical, intellectual, social, cognitive, and emotional development in young learners. This course may be particularly valuable for aspiring teacher educators.
  • Problems and Methods in Education Research: In this course, students practice interpreting and applying education research methods. Students evaluate existing studies and discuss different investigative philosophies, hypothesis formulation strategies, research plans, and analysis procedures. Education researchers especially benefit from this course.
  • Assessment Practices to Promote Healthy Development and Learning: This course acquaints students with formative, summative, formal, and informal assessment methods for different age levels. Students examine the role of assessments in evaluating development, measuring learning, and promoting intellectual growth. This course is particularly relevant to aspiring instructional coordinators.
  • Inspired Leadership, Informed Advocacy, and Improved Policy: In this class, students explore the ethical, advocative, and social responsibilities of early childhood education leaders. Students discuss the roles and traits of effective leaders. Topics include early childhood policy systems, advocacy strategies, and leadership theory. School administrators find this course especially useful.
  • Teacher Preparation and Professional Development: This course prepares students for a lifetime of learning and professional improvement. Students examine research related to teacher preparation and discuss common professional development practices. This course is most relevant to experienced early childhood teachers planning to remain in the classroom.

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.

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.

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.

true Instructional Coordinator $62,460 11%

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.

true Education Survey Researcher $52,400 2%

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.

true Postsecondary Education Teacher $62,520 15%

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.

true Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal $92,510 8%

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.

true Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher $55,490 7%

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.

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.

NAEYC offers training resources to early childhood education professionals, accredits educator preparation programs, and advocates to improve the accessibility and quality of early childhood education. Member benefits include print and digital publications, online networking resources, and insurance discounts. ACEI advocates for early learning as a global development tool. The association provides opportunities for research exchange, project funding, early childhood program assessment, and international education diplomacy. Members can access networking events, continuing education, and grants. HighScope is a nonprofit organization focused on research and outreach. It provides resources on professional development, child assessment, program evaluation, and family engagement. Membership benefits include access to research journals and publication archives.

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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