Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education

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Who Gets One & What to Expect

A Ph.D. in early childhood education online teaches candidates a deeper understanding of the psychology, child development, curriculum development, and learning in children up to the age of eight. This doctoral degree prepares graduates to become instructors or researchers in higher education, specialists in government organizations or nonprofits, and curriculum specialists or evaluators in early childhood and childhood education programs.

While professional opportunities vary, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a growth rate of 4% for school principals6% for instructional coordinators, and 11% for postsecondary instructors in the next decade. Read on to learn more about the Ph.D. in early childhood education, including common courses, possible career paths, and professional organizations devoted to this field.

Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education

Earning a Ph.D. in early childhood education online creates multiple opportunities for educators both personally and professionally. The list below provides reasons students should consider earning this degree:


A Ph.D. in early childhood education signifies to employers that the candidate possesses in-depth perspectives on learning, research, and leadership.

Higher Wages

Median weekly earnings for those with terminal degrees — like a Ph.D. in early childhood education — are at least three times that of the lowest level degree.

Career Opportunities

By completing courses in early childhood supervision and legal issues, for example, and by participating in an internship or practicum, Ph.D in early childhood education candidates are prepared to excel in leadership roles.

Transferable Skills

Ph.D. programs provide candidates with several transferable skills: analytical, problem solving, project management, research, and information management.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education?

Before selecting a program, students should note the difference between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. An Ed.D. prepares candidates for leadership, research, and policy positions in early childhood education. A Ph.D. most often prepares graduates to become instructors or researchers in higher education, but it may also train students to become specialists in government organizations or nonprofits and curriculum specialists or evaluators in early childhood and childhood education programs.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

This list contains five careers early childhood Ph.D. graduates frequently pursue.

  • Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal

    School principals manage daily school operations, class schedules, discipline, and security. Other duties include curriculum implementation, test scores evaluation, and teacher performance assessments. Principals must collaborate with other administrators, teachers, and parents.

    Average Annual Salary: $95,310

  • Education Administrator

    Education administrators manage school facilities and faculty, ensuring students receive a high-quality education. Other duties may include budgeting, parental communication, and legal regulations for schools.

    Average Annual Salary: $71,953

  • School Superintendent

    Superintendents manage high-level decisions in school districts and manage school principals. These professionals answer to the school district board. Typical duties include establishing budgets, managing school objectives, and hiring or terminating instructors.

    Average Annual Salary: $116,931

  • Instructional Coordinator

    Instructional coordinators oversee a school’s curriculum and teaching standards. They develop instructional material then implement it and assess its effectiveness. Through workshops, these professionals may also train teachers and teaching staff in new or updated content and/or programs. Unlike most elementary or middle schools, instructional coordinators usually work year round.

    Average Annual Salary: $64,450

  • Postsecondary Teacher

    Postsecondary educators instruct college students. Responsibilities include building course syllabi, developing new courses, and grading assignments. These professionals also often publish scholarly books or papers.

    Average Annual Salary: $64,780

Early Childhood Education Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

Students should note that program requirements vary as colleges and universities set their own standards. However, the average admission requirements for the best online early childhood Ph.D. programs include a 3.0-3.5 GPA with two or more years of field experience. Students striving to become principals may find that programs also require a teaching license with classroom experience.

Accredited early childhood Ph.D. programs will require students to submit official transcripts and a resume along with their application. Praxis exam or GRE scores, personal statements detailing students’ professional goals, and writing samples may also be required.

A Ph.D. in early childhood education online often requires at least 48 credits, and full-time students may earn their degree in 4-7 years. Students who do not hold a master’s degree in a relevant field may need to complete additional coursework.

Common Courses

Students earning a Ph.D. in early childhood education online may find that program requirements vary, but accredited programs should include similar core courses, such as those listed below.EARLY CHILDHOOD LEADERSHIP AND SUPERVISION

Future administrators must understand how to advocate for students, lead educational programs, evaluate and assess educators, manage fiscal data, and ensure efficient organizational management. Assignments in this course may include reviewing common models of educational leadership and administration to create personal leadership frameworks or developing advocacy techniques for specified target populations.LANGUAGE, LITERACY, AND READING INSTRUCTION IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

Students planning to teach in a classroom environment may take this course. Content addresses language acquisition and development in young children. Depending on the program, this course may emphasize special needs or ESL learner modifications. Students also explore best practices and methods for adult-child interactions in and outside of the classroom.LEGAL ISSUES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

Effective school administrators must understand all policies and legal matters that can influence a school, such as preventative methods and strategies for managing conflict. In this course, students examine mandated reporting, recordkeeping, and safety practices. Additional topics include staffing, policy development, licensing, and reporting abuse.EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH METHODS

This course teaches students how to examine data to uncover answers to current issues in the field. While learners planning a career and academia may directly apply coursework to professional roles, all students benefit from this course. Objectives often include examining quantitative and qualitative research methods and theories.FAMILY AND COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS

This course prepares early childhood Ph.D. students for career paths that interact with students’ parents. Students examine the way family and community can impact early childhood learners. This course includes strategies for developing cultural diversity, advocacy, and managing child endangerment scenarios.

Other Requirements

Students earning a Ph.D. in early childhood education online can complete the majority of coursework without in-person attendance. However, this advanced degree typically requires applied, hands-on experiences to demonstrate understanding of pertinent knowledge and skills. The list below includes three potential requirements:


Students may need to complete an early childhood internship. While professors may assist with placement, students may reach out to approved institutions. Interns must collaborate with an experienced supervisor. Primary objectives include applying early childhood knowledge and skills in a practical setting.


Early childhood Ph.D. programs may include a practicum experience. Working students should make arrangements with their employer to complete practicum responsibilities outside of their work hours.


Accredited early childhood education Ph.D. programs require a dissertation. In a lengthy written work, students apply their knowledge and skills to develop new theories, information, or practices.

Skills and Competencies

A Ph.D. in early childhood education online prepares professionals to fulfill administrative, leadership, policymaking, and professorial roles. Required skill sets, of course, vary by job.


Professionals earning a Ph.D. in early childhood education online need advocacy skills to support staff, students, and students’ families.


Research skills allow professionals to uncover, collect, and interpret information in their field of interest.

Critical Thinking

A Ph.D. in early childhood education online teaches candidates to analyze information thoroughly.


Graduates learn to identify strengths and weaknesses of the educational institution and make necessary amendments.

Curriculum Development

Educational leaders must develop lesson plans early childhood students can understand.


Graduates learn to handle difficult and unexpected situations by deciphering alternatives and implementing solutions.

Early Childhood Education Professional Organizations

Professional organizations offer valuable resources for early childhood educators, and they often include student membership options.

Educational membership associations offer multiple benefits, including regional and national networking events, professional development opportunities, discussion forums, online catalogs, newsletters, and cutting-edge research. Members also gain access to continuing education requirements, which allow professionals to keep their licenses current. Additionally, professional organizations may provide scholarships or fellowships.

Members can also play an active role in professional organizations. Participants may consider becoming a board member, volunteering for organizational initiatives, or serving on committees.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

  • NAEYC promotes educational opportunities for young children by connecting practice, research, and policy. NAEYC members can participate in yearly conferences and training seminars. Other benefits include access to online periodicals and job listings.

Department of Education Early Learning Resources

  • The Department of Education curates a set of resources for early childhood educators, scholars, and policymakers. Publications cover topics like supporting dual-language learners, assessing math learning, and diagnosing early literacy issue

National Head Start Association

  • NHSA represents students and staff of Head Start facilities throughout the United States. In addition to offering professional development opportunities, the group collects and disseminates research on topics like neuroscience, extended learning hours, and wraparound services.

Professional Association of Childhood Educators

  • PACE delivers the Annual Education Conference and provides information on open field positions. The group also offers a newsletter and its Licensing Tune-Up Kit.

Association for Early Learning Leaders

  • This organization delivers a yearly conference and professional development options, such as free webinars on delegation and financing in early childhood education. Members benefit from a job board, newsletter, and discounts on group meetings.

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