Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

Find the best, fully accredited online early childhood education doctoral degree and get a well rounded education that can prepare you for a wide range of careers.

Updated August 22, 2023

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Earning an online doctorate in early childhood education can lead to a satisfying career. Graduates often secure leadership roles at preschools, daycare centers, and educational policy organizations. Additionally, doctorate-holders can pursue positions in academia, educational administration, or curriculum development.

Early childhood education doctorate-holders stand to benefit from high demand in the field and high salaries, depending on their exact position. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for instructional coordinators to increase by 7% from 2021-2031. According to BLS data, postsecondary teachers earn a median annual salary of $79,640.

Featured Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Degrees

Overview: Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

Individuals interested in pursuing a doctorate in early childhood education generally need a master's degree in education or a related field. Some programs require applicants to submit standardized test scores and recommendation letters. Candidates may also need to write a personal statement outlining their goals and motivations for pursuing the doctorate.

Skills Acquired

Earning a doctorate typically takes 4-6 years, but the timeline varies by school. Doctoral programs generally provide opportunities to gain hands-on experience. Candidates may conduct research, work with children and families, or collaborate with professionals in early childhood education settings. Education students develop essential skills, such as the following:

Topics Covered

Doctoral students in the education field may explore a variety of common topics:

Final Milestone

Doctoral candidates typically complete a dissertation or a capstone project for the program’s culminating experience. A dissertation typically involves conducting original research in the field of early childhood education. Students identify a relevant issue or problem and review existing literature on the topic. Learners then design and implement a research study, analyze the data, and present their findings in a paper. A capstone project allows students to showcase their expertise in the field while contributing new knowledge to the area of early childhood education.

The Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education Programs

The school and/or program descriptions below were drafted using natural language generation technology and have been edited for clarity and accuracy. The data is primarily sourced from government databases such as IPEDS – see sources section for more details.

Our Methodology

Here at, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%

Affordability - 15%

Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

#1 Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

Fielding Graduate University

  • Santa Barbara, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The Ph.D. in infant and early childhood development program at Fielding Graduate University offers a flexible route to a doctorate. With its flexible format, the private university makes a doctorate more accessible. Doctoral students also benefit from research support, career advising, and library access.

During the online early childhood development program, learners take doctoral courses to earn their degree. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates conduct research for their dissertation. A doctorate leads to job opportunities in research, academia, and leadership.

Doctoral students can qualify for federal financial aid and fellowships at the accredited institution. Reach out to the program to learn more about the application process and start dates.

Fielding Graduate University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 944

Online Master's Programs: 2

Graduate Tuition Rate: $17,292

Average Undergrad Tuition
Not provided
Not provided
Average Graduate Tuition
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
Institution Type
Percent Online Enrollment
96% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#2 Best Online Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • Birmingham, AL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The Ph.D. in early childhood education program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a doctorate in an online learning format. The public university delivers flexible enrollment options for degree-seekers. Doctoral students participate in career advising and gain research skills.

In the online Ph.D. program, graduate learners take advanced courses. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates conduct research for their dissertation. A doctorate in early childhood education trains graduates for roles in research, academia, and leadership.

At the accredited institution, doctoral students can qualify for several forms of financial aid. Contact the program for more information about financial aid and the admission process.

University of Alabama at Birmingham at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 13,001

Online Master's Programs: 8

Online Doctoral Programs: 1

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 19-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $8,100

Average Undergrad Tuition
Average Graduate Tuition
Retention Rate
Admission Rate
Students Enrolled
Institution Type
Percent Online Enrollment
59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Careers: Salary and Demand

Before enrolling in an early childhood education program, students often consider median salaries in the field and projected demand. Understanding how salary potential varies by location can help applicants select a school.

When selecting a career path, learners can also consider the projected growth for relevant occupations.

Early Childhood Education Careers, Salary, and Growth Projections
Occupation Title Annual Median Pay (2021) Employment Growth (2021-2031) Annual Openings (2021-2031)
Preschool and Childcare Center Directors $47,310 8% 6,400
Speech Language Pathologist $71,060 21% 14,000
Postsecondary Teachers $79,640 12% 132,600
Editor (educational publication) $63,350 7% 20,900
Instructional Coordinators $63,740 7% 20,900

Other occupations related to early childhood education include:

Sources: Payscale, BLS, Zippia

Why Program Accreditation Matters

Program accreditation guarantees that the degree you're pursuing meets rigorous academic standards set by an external accrediting body. This stamp of approval indicates that an online Ph.D. program in early childhood education has undergone a thorough evaluation.

Advantages of an Accredited Program

Public vs. Private

Public and private institutions offer unique benefits and challenges. Students should understand the differences between them to make an informed choice. The factors that differ between public and private schools include cost, program availability, class size, and campus resources. The following list explores the pros and cons of both public and private institutions.

Public Institutions


  • Lower cost due to government funding
  • Greater program availability
  • Larger student population, offering more diversity
  • More extensive campus resources


  • Higher student-to-faculty ratio
  • Larger class sizes
  • May lack a close-knit campus community

Private Institutions


  • Smaller class sizes, leading to personalized attention
  • Lower student-to-faculty ratio
  • Close-knit campus community, especially at smaller colleges
  • Access to unique or specialized programs


  • Higher cost due to limited funding sources
  • Fewer program options, particularly at smaller schools
  • Challenging admissions process for prestigious colleges
  • Funding-dependent campus resources and extracurricular activities

FAQ: Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

What is the future demand for professionals with a doctorate in early childhood education?

As education remains a top priority for communities and governments, the need for qualified and experienced early childhood educators is likely to increase. According to BLS, demand for preschool and childcare center directors is projected to grow 8% from 2021 to 2031. With a Ph.D. in the field, graduates can qualify for leadership roles, contribute to policy decisions, and conduct research to improve educational quality.

What is the difference in salary for professionals with different qualification levels in the field of early childhood education?

Professionals with a doctorate in early childhood education generally have higher salary potential than peers with only a bachelor's or master's. Doctorate-holders are considered experts in their field. These professionals often advance into leadership positions, such as program director, administrator, and university faculty member. These high-level roles typically come with higher salaries. However, salary potential depends on factors including location, experience, and job responsibilities.

Are there accelerated or part-time options available for learners pursuing a Ph.D. in early childhood education?

Yes, many institutions offer accelerated or part-time options. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for mid-career professionals and graduate students who want to work while pursuing their degree. Online formats are also available, making it easier for students to balance personal and professional commitments. Program lengths can vary depending on the institution and the student's course load, but full-time learners typically earn their Ph.D. in 4-6 years.


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