5 Best Grad Schools with Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

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Updated: March 14, 2024, Reading time: 14 minutes

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Are you a licensed professional seeking opportunities to help make positive changes in organizations catering to our youngest students? If so, you should pursue a Doctor of Early Childhood Education degree. These doctoral degrees aim to equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge for child development leadership positions. 

Doctor of Early Childhood Education programs prepare students for careers in educational administration, curriculum development, and school principal. According to PayScale, early childhood education graduates earn a median annual wage of $83,000.


The best online doctorates in Early Childhood Education follow the curriculum of their on-campus counterparts. Doctorate students in early childhood education explore topics that expand their knowledge and research skills to extend ideas for transformative change on a larger scale.

Students enrolled in early childhood education doctoral programs must finish a dissertation in which they perform research in a particular area of the discipline.

Quick audio summary:


Online graduate education programs with an early childhood education specialization are rare. Each of the Best Doctorates in Early Childhood Education program, as well as the university offering it, were picked based on these features:

Please read our Methodology to learn how our ranking process works.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Top 5 Online Doctoral Programs in Early Childhood Education

National University

National University

EdD in Early Childhood Education

Approved by the WASC Senior College & University Commission, National University offers a Doctor of Education with an Early Childhood Education online specialization. Doctoral students must complete 48 credit hours to earn the degree, which can be completed in 33 months of full-time enrollment.

While the specialist studies concentrate on curriculum, assessment, program administration, and the responsibilities of families and communities in early childhood education, the coursework gives students a foundational understanding of research methodologies, statistics, and data analysis.

To officially qualify as a doctoral candidate, students must pass the program’s comprehensive evaluation examination, at which point students can begin the sequential dissertation coursework. The university’s exceptional faculty will direct the program’s comprehensive dissertation. The methodical approach of the dissertation necessitates careful topic selection, documentation of its significance, technique design, and research execution.

Students may be required to add more credits if necessary. Students who wish to extend the doctoral degree’s maximum time frame apply for a petition, per the SAP and Academic Maximum Time to Completion standards.

Walden University

Walden University

EdD in Early Childhood Education

Walden University, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, offers a Non-Licensure Doctor of Education that leads to early childhood education careers. The online EdD in Early Childhood Education focuses on equipping professionals with sufficient knowledge to bring together families, experts, programs, and agencies that impact early childhood development.

Students can do original research as part of their doctoral or individual dissertation to influence favorable social change for young children, families, and the early childhood field.

This online doctoral program offers a curriculum that evaluates the leadership qualities required to implement effective change across various early childhood sectors and settings using real-world case studies and cutting-edge technology.

Students will receive rigorous training that allows them to implement strategies to promote positive outcomes for young children. Future curriculum specialists will explore courses that examine the intricate family, cultural, socioeconomic, and developmental aspects that impact children’s learning and development.

One of the best features of Walden’s doctoral program in education is its 8-year Maximum Time Frame. With this time frame, students can pace their coursework slowly, allowing them to pursue advanced knowledge without sacrificing anything from their current position and responsibilities.

Moreover, students can petition to extend the maximum time frame, although approval is not guaranteed.

East Tennessee State University

East Tennessee State University

PhD in Early Childhood

Acknowledged by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, ETSU offers an academically rigorous yet flexible PhD in Early Childhood degree program. Students in the doctoral degree program can expect to have a rigorous curriculum that builds on the education of the student’s master’s degree knowledge and skills by conducting high-quality original research.

They ought to graduate from the program with a thorough understanding of literacy education in the area and the variety of research techniques employed to develop it.

The program’s core courses and other coursework are completed online, except for one on-campus intensive session per semester. This hybrid learning format gives Ph.D. students the best of both worlds: the flexibility of an online degree and the hands-on learning of an on-campus program.

Students can also apply full-time or part-time. Part-time students can complete the program in 5-7 years, while full-time students can do so in 4 years.

In addition to its intensive coursework and on-campus sessions, students must complete a dissertation to conclude the degree. The program offers two apprenticeship opportunities to online students.

The first opportunity entails working with a faculty member in conducting a research project, whereas the second one can be of the student’s choosing. Students can choose to teach an undergraduate course, develop professional development modules, work with an early intervention practitioner, or work with a leader in the field.

University of Colorado – Denver

University of Colorado Denver

PhD in Education and Human Development, Inclusive Early Childhood Education

The University of Colorado at Denver offers an online PhD in Inclusive Early Childhood Education that can be completed as early as 4 or as long as 8 years, depending on the student’s course load per semester.

This 75 credit hours program is curated to prepare education professionals for careers as postsecondary faculty, researchers, and leaders in early childhood special education and multicultural/multilingual education. The Higher Learning Commission approves UC Denver.

Thanks to its globally competitive curriculum and the institution’s reputation, online students have the same opportunity as their on-campus peers to engage in teaching and research activities early on and throughout the program.

Moreover, online students will receive one-on-one faculty guidance in planning and conducting a dissertation study to conclude the degree. Students will benefit from an interdisciplinary approach from various disciplines, such as psychology, early childhood education, special education, and child development.

Each student is assigned a doctoral faculty advisor/mentor as part of their acceptance to the Ph.D. program. The doctorate faculty may require a personal interview to supplement the data presented in the application documents.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham

The University of Alabama at Birmingham

Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has proved the quality of its scholarly programs through its strong accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. UAB’s Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education is one of its more popular programs in a hybrid learning format, allowing students to meet with faculty and experts in online and face-to-face meetings.

The program offers three concentrations that help students tailor their degrees based on their unique needs and goals.

Students can focus their early childhood education degrees on Curriculum, Early Intervention/Young Children at Risk, or Literacy. Students enrolled, regardless of their concentration, will take classes and participate in activities to develop their confidence and competence in creating and carrying out studies for the field.

The program’s core courses explore topics in Child Development in Early Childhood Education, Educational Research Design, Qualitative Methods of Educational Research, and Statistical Methods and Research in Education.

Students learn from faculty with diverse backgrounds, cultures, and specializations. Thanks to its diverse faculty, students can participate in International Opportunities.

What Is a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education?

The study of research, philosophy, policy, and practice in the area of early childhood education is the emphasis of early childhood education doctorates.

The Doctor of Early Childhood Education curriculum is dedicated to those who wish to concentrate on early childhood education research and development, make scholarly contributions to the area, and pursue leadership positions in academia, research, policy-making, or program administration.

The main objectives of early education doctoral programs are to produce graduates that have the abilities to:

Common Coursework in a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

Common Coursework in a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

Advanced Child Development

Advanced ideas and studies on child development, including cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, are covered in this course. It investigates how these development features affect early learning and education approaches.

Theoretical Foundations of Early Childhood Education

The diverse theoretical foundations for early childhood education are examined in this course. It investigates the implications of influential theories for early childhood teaching and learning, including constructivism, sociocultural theory, and developmental theories.

Research Methodology

This course gives doctoral students an overview of qualitative and quantitative research’s theoretical and practical underpinnings. Students investigate data gathering and analysis methods as well as research ethics.

Students gain knowledge of the standards for creating high-quality research studies, ensuring that they are precise, thorough, and ethical.

Integrated Curriculum in Early Childhood Education

Students explore curricula via sociocultural, political, and historical lenses while taking courses on an integrated curriculum. This course specializes in how the subject matter, relationships with others, and the environment affect knowledge acquisition. 

Seminar in Early Childhood Education Research

This course allows students to present their research findings, engage in critical debates about recent findings, get feedback, and improve their research and scholarly writing skills.


Doctoral students must finish a dissertation in which they perform research in a particular discipline area. It entails conducting research that enhances the field or theoretical understanding of ECE, collaborating closely with a faculty advisor and dissertation committee, producing a thorough dissertation, and presenting the results to the dissertation committee for review.

Doctor of Early Childhood Education Specializations

Special Education and Inclusion

This expertise focuses on integrating young children with a range of abilities in early childhood settings. It addresses issues like comprehending disabilities, developing inclusive learning environments, individualized education plans (IEPs), working with special educators and other support providers, and tailoring instruction to fit different learning styles.

Curriculum and Instruction

This specialty focuses on developing curricula and teaching methods for young children. It goes into detail about creating a developmentally suitable curriculum, incorporating play-based learning, boosting language and literacy growth, and encouraging the development of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

Leadership and Administration

The leadership positions in early childhood education that program directors, administrators, or policymakers hold are all prepared for by this ECE concentration. It addresses issues on program assessment, policy analysis and development, advocacy, organizational management, and leadership theories. 

Policy and Advocacy

Understanding and influencing early childhood education policy at the local, state, national, or international levels are the main objectives of this expertise. It looks at policy frameworks, dissects policy implications, lobbying tactics, and how policies affect early childhood practices and services.

Language and Literacy Development

This expertise emphasizes acquiring and developing language and literacy abilities in early childhood. It examines theories and methods for assisting varied language learners and encouraging literacy-rich environments. It also examines emergent literacy, bilingual education, and early language development.

Social and Emotional Development

This specialty focuses on comprehending and promoting young children’s social and emotional development. It examines issues such as managing social and emotional difficulties in early childhood settings, self-regulation, relationship development, and social and emotional competence.

Family and Community Engagement

Building effective links between families, communities, and early childhood education programs is emphasized in this focus. It investigates methods for involving parents in their children’s education, involving various communities, fostering cultural competency, and assisting early children’s overall development.

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education?

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education?

Early Childhood Education Specialist

These specialists focus on working with children under the age of five. ECE specialists are responsible for building developmental plans for their students. An early childhood expert is expected to work with parents and teachers to implement programs that expose and develop children’s skills and capacity to deal with everyday challenges.

Median Annual Salary: $44,002

Early Childhood Instructional Coordinator

These professionals organize and enhance educational methods in early childhood settings by working with teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders. They aim to improve the quality of instruction and support young children’s learning outcomes. 

Median Annual Salary: $65,723

Early Childhood Education Researcher

ECE researchers conduct studies and analyze practices that impact young children’s outcomes and early childhood programs that support them and their families.

Median Annual Salary: $119,911


Early childhood education academics instruct courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These courses address child development, curriculum design, instructional tactics, teaching approaches, and assessment techniques.

These experts frequently mentor, counsel, and oversee research projects for students. Professors can also be tasked to carry out research, publish their findings in academic journals and peer-reviewed literature, hold departmental committee positions, and participate in conferences.

Median Annual Salary: $79,640

Education Policy Analyst

These education professionals conduct investigations into problems affecting the field of education and make recommendations. These solutions could include both program-based and regulatory ones. Analysts are change agents who rely on rigorous testing and data-driven research to support their claims.

Median Annual Salary: $72,708

Admission Requirements for Doctoral Programs in Early Childhood Education

Program-specific admission criteria for a doctorate in early childhood education vary, but some common ones are as follows:

It is crucial to ask the college or university directly for their specific admission requirements.

Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education - fact

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the highest degree in Early Childhood Education?

The highest degree in early childhood education is a doctorate. A doctorate of education (EdD) in early childhood education, a doctorate of philosophy (Ph.D.), and a doctorate of psychology (PsyD) in early childhood education are among the doctoral options offered in this area.

Are EdDs and PhDs in Early Education the same?

Doctoral degrees include both an EdD and a PhD. An EdD is more suitable for professionals looking to use theory and research in real-world settings because it is more practice-oriented. In contrast, a PhD emphasizes intellectual labor, original research, and advancing knowledge through academic study.

What are the necessary skills to work with young children?

Age-appropriate language must be used while speaking with children by educators and teachers. To give their students the best learning opportunities, it is also crucial to have efficient and effective communication skills with families regarding their children’s talents, accomplishments, and skills.

Key Takeaways

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