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online PhD in Early Childhood EducationEarly childhood education is just one of many branches of educational theory, and it caters specifically to younger children; so young that it is sometimes called nursery education. If you wish to work in early childhood education, you will be working with students who are too young yet for kindergarten.

Early childhood education is going to be different in almost every state and sometimes even within individual states based on the needs of the area. Pre-kindergarten programs can be taught at ages three, four, and five; you could see early childhood education programs in childcare centers, or even in a classroom setting. Some programs are even home-based.

The emotional, social, and physical development of a young child is incredibly important because it lays the groundwork for them to continue to develop as they age and gain all of the skills, attributes, and knowledge that they need to live balanced lives and get the most out of their academic careers. If this is something that you’re passionate about, a PhD in Early Childhood Education might be an excellent option for you to explore.

PhD in Early Childhood Education

Some schools offer a traditional PhD program in Early Childhood Education, and some only offer a Doctor of Education. Because of the substantial overlap in these two programs, we have chosen to include both in this ranking. Some reasons that you may want to get a PhD in this field is that you may want to deepen your knowledge of educational theory and developmental psychology so you can be a more effective instructor, you may want to change careers within the field or open yourself up to higher level positions, or you could even use your doctorate study to add an area of specialization to everything you already know to prepare you for a specific aspect of working in early childhood development or early childhood education.

People interested in this degree may be coming from positions as teachers, caretakers, administrators, and more. The positions that this will open you up for depend very heavily on what you choose to focus on throughout your doctorate study but here are some examples of careers you may be eligible for with this degree:

  • Teaching at the university level or in a professional setting
  • Researching and advising in areas like policy, curriculum, or professional development
  • Analyzing early childhood education statistics to evaluate the efficacy of programs and methods to change the way the world approaches this critical part of a child’s life.

An Online Early Childhood Education Doctorate

Earning this type of degree online is possible. There are very few schools in the country that offer this program online or on a hybrid basis. Most of the PhD programs comprise three components, which are faculty-led research, face-to-face residencies, and online coursework.

EdD programs are going to be very similar. However, many of those programs focus on practicum hours or take a more project-based approach as opposed to having you solely conducting research. This is because a Doctor of Education is the practice-centered degree whereas the PhD is more centered on educational theory.

There are a lot of reasons that you may want to get your PhD or pursue an online doctorate in early childhood education. But, there may be an equal amount of things you feel are holding you back. Online education seeks to break down those barriers by providing you with the flexibility to fit the courses into your already busy life, cutting a lot of material costs and fees to help soften the blow on your wallet, and allowing you to study from right where you are so your dream school is just a click away as opposed to uprooting your entire life to keep learning.

We are just as passionate about education as you are, which is why we created this ranking of the best online PhDs in Early Childhood Education to help you find the program that fits your needs. We ranked these programs according to the following.


In order to create our ranking of the top PhDs in Early Childhood Education and equivalent degrees, we started by curating a list of all the schools that offer online doctorate programs in early childhood education whether that was fully-online or on a hybrid basis. In our research, we found that there were only five that offered such programs and met our preliminary ranking criteria. Our initial ranking criteria exclude for-profit schools, schools that don’t hold proper accreditation, and schools that are based outside of the United States.

Once we found our schools we ranked them according to three factors:

  • Freshman Retention Rate
  • Graduation Rate
  • Cost of Attendance

Each of these factors represents a third (33.3%) of the final score, which could be as high as 300 points. We collected this data from the school’s own websites whenever it was offered; however, in circumstances that it wasn’t, we also used the databases of the National Center for Education Statistics and U.S. News & World Report. All cost data is an estimate provided by

Online College Plan prides itself on integrity, so we would never give a school favorable treatment or misrepresent an institution. Some schools that may have otherwise ranked could have been omitted due to lack of information or per their own request. We are also dedicated to transparency; the methodology listed would provide the same results for anyone conducting the same research.

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  1. MERIT: 244
    View Profile Average Cost: $23,752

    George Mason University is home to a PhD in Education and Human Development with a specialization in Early Childhood Education, and you can also choose to specialize in Early Childhood Special Education as well. This program is primarily in person, but it does give you the option to take some of your courses online, so we chose to include it here. The university’s campus is located in Fairfax, Virginia.

    This is a 55 credit program on average, but the needs of each student may cause that number to vary based on their goals, the requirements of their particular course of study, and their previous academic experience. Students have a total of five years to complete all of their coursework and then an additional five to complete their dissertation. However, most students complete their degree in between five and six years.

    Applications to the program are accepted twice annually. The program of study is broken up into several different modules which are General Culture, Research Methods, Specialization Courses, and Secondary Emphasis Courses. Students also complete an educational portfolio as they progress through to program which serves to showcase their academic and professional development over the years.

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  2. MERIT: 202
    View Profile Average Cost: $21,728

    East Tennessee State’s program is delivered in what the university calls a mostly-online format. It is a PhD in Early Childhood Education. The school boasts that the curriculum is based on the principles set forth by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It is structured in such a way that students are partners in the continual learning process with their fellow students as well as the faculty.

    In order to be eligible for enrollment, students must hold a master’s degree in Early Childhood or a related field from an accredited institution, and they are required to take the GRE. The School of Graduate Studies and the program itself have additional individual requirements as well. Students will complete a minimum of 69 credit hours. You are given a period of seven years to complete all of the coursework and successfully defend a dissertation, which means that this is a fairly rigorous program.

    The Early Childhood Education core covers topics like educational theory, current developmental trends, diversity, and more. You will also take courses in literacy, leadership, research, and have a selection of electives you will work with your advisor to choose from. A unique aspect of the program is that you will be required to complete an apprenticeship in one of the following areas: University Teaching, Development of Teachers, Early Intervention, or Early Childhood Leadership.

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  3. MERIT: 192
    View Profile Average Cost: $25,205

    The University of West Georgia offers a Doctor of Education in School Improvement, and you can select a concentration in Early Childhood Education. It is unique in that all of the coursework is not only delivered online, but you get the best of both worlds as you work asynchronously but still progress through the program in a cohort, so you have ample opportunity to network.

    You will also have opportunities to connect with the nationally recognized faculty as you go through the core curriculum and specialized classes like Using Data to Meet the Needs of Diverse Learners, Advanced Instructional Strategies for the 21st Century Classroom, Family/School Involvement for School Improvement, and more. There are only two on-campus requirements throughout your course of study.

    There is one mandatory two-day orientation and then an intensive Virtual Dissertation Prep Seminar. The campus is in Carrollton, Georgia. The university boasts that the program can be completed in as little as three years! Most students do take four or more years to finish it, though.

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  4. MERIT: 180
    View Profile Average Cost: $44,426

    Concordia University Chicago offers both an EdD and a PhD in Leadership, with an Early Childhood Education specialization. Both programs share the following learning objectives:

    • Leadership and advocacy Skills
    • An understanding of the methodology and appropriate practices
    • Application of child development
    • Analysis of contemporary issues in the field
    • Ongoing educational research experience
    • Synthesis of early childhood curriculum, teaching and pedagogy
    • Synthesis of early childhood curriculum, teaching and pedagogy
    • Development of professional habits and sense of responsibility

    Upon completion of either program, graduates will be eligible for careers in one of three major areas, and those are Higher Education; Leadership and administration and; policy, advocacy, and politics. The program consists of a minimum of 61 credits and combines online study with on-campus intensives.

    Students must possess a masters degree in order to be eligible for enrollment. After all of the coursework has been completed, there is a dissertation required for graduation. Students will also be responsible for completing dissertation supervision and a comprehensive exam. The two programs diverge in the area of research. The PhD in Early Child Education covers a lot of theoretical concepts in the research component; however, the EdD in Early Childhood Education has more basic courses such as research design, qualitative research, and so on. This is because the EdD track is designed for those who would like to be practitioners in the field.

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  5. MERIT: 174
    View Profile Average Cost: $45,518

    Brenau University is home to an online Doctorate in Education in Elementary Education. While this isn’t the same as early childhood development, there is a lot of overlap in the theoretical knowledge that you’ll acquire as you progress through the program. It can be completed online in as little as three years. There are some weekend residencies required.

    Students progress through this program in small cohorts of just 15 students or less, and they will take rigorous courses that cover relevant topics in the field. All of the instructors have field experience and share the same passion for education as students in the program, making this a truly collaborative experience. The program is 54 credit hours in total, and it is made up of the Core Curriculum, Research, Specialization Courses, and a Dissertation.

    The core curriculum covers a range of topics in educational policy, cultural perspectives, academic program assessment, curriculum design and theory, legal issues, and more. Beyond that, students take classes in the four major subjects in elementary education with required practicum for each of the four courses. This program is specifically for someone who wants to be an active practitioner of what they have learned through being a teacher or working at a school, school district, or similar institution.

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What is Early Childhood Education?

Early childhood education is more of an umbrella term that is used to refer to any type of education program that is designed for children younger than kindergarten age. These could be preschool programs, daycare educational programs, or any variation of that. The purpose of these programs is to help young children on their path of cognitive and social development. Each early childhood education is different, and there are some that are tailored to a specific focus area while others are broader. The way they are delivered can also vary greatly because different instructors follow different curricular guidelines and orchestrate different activities.

Early Childhood Education Online PhDWhat constitutes such a program has been debated in the past, but there are a number of agencies that have set forth standards now as to what an early childhood education program is and how they should function. The National Education Association has set forth some guidelines for early childhood education. Each program must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Has a well-rounded curriculum to support all areas of child development
  • Addresses the health, nutrition, and family needs of the child
  • Properly evaluates student progress to enhance learning and fix concerns
  • Is lead by teachers that are properly educated
  • Has small class sizes to give each child adequate attention

What is so Important about Early Childhood Education?

A child’s development early on in life sets the tone for the rest of their academic career and the rest of their lives. It is important to consistently foster growth in children and guide them so that they can learn all that they are truly capable of. Early Childhood Education programs help build up thinking skills and establish background knowledge in young children. They help acclimate new students to the learning environment, teach children about numbers, letters, books, counting, and more.

Early childhood education programs also help encourage children to develop adequate and healthy social skills, helps them understand language and become stronger speakers, learn how to listen effectively, and so much more.

Another reason that these programs are invaluable is that the teachers or orchestrators of these programs keep in communication with parents and caregivers, keeping them updated on a child’s progress. Understanding key issues as soon as possible can help make sure that any student that has individualized needs can have them met. Children’s progress is monitored so that everyone can rest assured that they are learning and growing right along with their peers, and if they’re not, early intervention can take place.

What Grades are in Early Childhood Education?

Early Childhood Education is generally thought of as pre-kindergarten. This special type of program targets children who are eight years old and below starting sometimes from birth; however, it is usually children between the ages of three and five that are enrolled in ECE programs.

One thing to keep in mind is that Early Childhood Education is not mandatory although it is highly recommended. Some programs could cater to students even younger if they are exceptionally gifted or if that is the general structure of the program. Early Childhood Education is also sometimes called nursery education because the group that it typically caters to is under the age of five.

Can You Be a Kindergarten Teacher with a Degree in Early Childhood Education?

“Early childhood,” according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children or NAEYC, means the period of childhood up to age eight. Because Early Childhood Education technically covers from birth to third grade, there are a lot of states that will allow you to work as a kindergarten teacher with an early childhood education degree. This type of degree opens up a broad range of possibilities in the field of education because there are so many diverse ECE programs, and that goes for age ranges as well.

In fact, having a degree in early childhood education if you aspire to teach kindergarten is a great idea. Having a deeper sense of child development and education that you gain through an Early Childhood Education program may just put you ahead of the pack because you will have a lot of skills and background knowledge that isn’t taught in a general elementary school education program. You will be able to better address the specific needs of students so young, so we think that an ECE degree is a great prerequisite to teaching kindergarteners.

Can You be a Preschool Teacher Without a Degree?

No. You cannot be a preschool teacher without a degree; however, not every state requires Early Childhood Education licensure for you to teach preschool or a similar Early Childhood program.

What Will I Learn in an Early Childhood Education Program?

Early Childhood Education, as you certainly understand by now, is more broad of a field than the title would let on. Because of that, there are a ton of topics you will cover if you are on your way to earning such a degree. The purpose of the degree is to equip you with the skills you need to help foster healthy growth and development in the lives of very young children. Early Childhood Education practitioners, researchers, and more are the front line when it comes to starting a child on the right foot.

All of the classes you will take will help you build up the knowledge and skills you’ll need to provide a strong academic base to children from birth to sometimes as old as eight. Teaching young children like this is a highly specialized field so there are a ton of things to cover while you learn.

  • Early Childhood Curriculum and Methodsonline PHD Early Childhood Education Degree Program
  • Evaluation of Early Childhood Progress
  • Language arts, literacy, social studies, and other basic subjects
  • Techniques of Child Study
  • Child Development and Developmental Psychology
  • Management and Discipline
  • and more!

A big part of what determines exactly what you learn in such a program is what area of focus you are interested in. You could be very interested in children who have special needs, early intervention and behavioral health, literacy and reading, curricular evaluation and design, early childhood education research, policy, analytics, and more. You will cover a base curriculum that helps you understand educational theory for young children, but where you go from there is very much in your hands. This is an in-demand field and young kids are always in need of passionate and engaged leaders who understand the importance to never stop learning.