Online Early Childhood Education Degree

To help prepare capable teachers, many online colleges typically offer early childhood education degree programs. PK-3 teachers generally help young minds learn to speak, read, write and interact. And, apart from patience, usually need solid classroom skills. So, if you hope to succeed in the field, an online ECE degree may be useful.

An early childhood education degree program typically studies the ages from birth to about eight or nine years. To do this, it looks at how young minds form, grow, think, verbalize, read, write and play. Then, also explores teaching methods that suit these stages so children may thrive. You may find online ECE degrees at all levels. Bachelor’s, master’s and PhD. At each level, you typically study ways to bring about optimal growth and learning. Things such as how to plan lessons and use play to teach basic skills.

At the bachelor’s level, an early childhood education degree is introductory. You may look at theories both in education and human growth. Plus, you may spend time as a student to gain practical experience. Many grads leave ready to pursue a teaching license in their state too.  

Master’s in early childhood education programs help teachers advance their careers. So, may prep you to pursue an extra credential which is often state mandated. As they go deeper, you may expect some action research, hands on practice and more complex theory. 

PhD in early childhood education programs are research focused. Apart from a broad course plan, you may also study how to collect and present data. This combo may bring about expert knowledge. And may help you contribute as a scholar, teacher or researcher.

Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education

Online colleges may offer either a BA or BS in Early Childhood Education (ECE). A Bachelor of Arts tends to favor a liberal arts course plan. While a Bachelor of Science tends to offer more math and natural or computer sciences. Both forms are typically entry level degrees and may prepare you to pursue a first teaching license. But some do not have the goal of licensure, so make sure to clarify your goals and state rules. 

There are typically two main focal points for many online ECE bachelor’s programs. Human growth and teaching tactics. You may study the stages from infancy to toddler and young child. Then also how to teach Pre K to 3rd grade with suitable methods and lessons. While you learn how young minds start to use words, think, play, feel and act, you may also study special needs. So, along the way, you might hone skills as an observer, able to assess progress.  

If this is the path for you, you may need a high school diploma and acceptable GPA to enroll. Some online colleges may also run a background check if you’ll be working in real time with young kids. Many accredited colleges accept transfer credits. But not having any might mean four years as you need to get through about 120 credits. Like course plans, tuition varies from one college to the next. That said, according to DataUSA, the average cost of a four year degree in ECE for the 2017 academic year was $6,119 per year. If you study in state and at a public college. It may cost more ($27,493) if you choose a private school.  

Master’s in Early Childhood Education

An online Master of Science (M.S.) in Early Childhood Education is a non licensure grad degree. In it, you are likely to study the educational needs of children under the age of eight. But at a more complex level than a bachelor’s. Many programs for example, study teaching and class tactics. Things like ways to make a classroom inclusive and infant toddler mental health. There is also a range of programs to choose from depending on your goals. Some may focus on administrative skills and may help you qualify for director roles. 

Others enable current teachers to fine tune how they teach to early learners. So, they might bolster the strategic skills needed in lead educator roles. If this does not sound like it fits the bill, you might look into a MAT degree. A Master of Arts in Teaching tends to be for bachelor’s prepared students.

Apart from classes that cover your focus, you may have some kind of practicum too. This may entail from 30 to 36 credits and take you about two years or less. To get into a MS program, you must have e bachelor’s degree. You may also need a valid teaching license and acceptable GPA. Like admission protocols, tuition also varies. The NCES last reported the average cost of a grad degree at a public school for the year 2016-2017 was $11,617.

PhD in Early Childhood Education

A PhD in early childhood education is a research degree. It is also the highest award in this field. Many people who pursue a PhD may want to teach at the university or college level. Yet another goal might be to set oneself up as an expert and published author. To get to this stage of study, you tend to also need a master’s degree. But some colleges may accept you with a bachelor’s degree if you meet their criteria. 

One of the things to expect from a PhD in ECE is a course plan that is both broad and deep. Broad to build a knowledge base. And deep to focus your research around one topic. As a result, you may study all facets of education, policy and early stages of growth. Plus, teaching theories, practices and research methods.  

Some PhD programs typically do this in 60 to 89 credits. Then, depending on the online college and if you attend full or part time, you may need from 3 to 8 years to finish. While many of your classes might take place online, it is also likely you may have to visit campus. Some schools use terms like “mostly online”, “blended” or “hybrid”. They may include pre scheduled visits for different reasons. You might need to take part in a research lab or intensive seminar. Or apprentice as a student college teacher. 

What could I pursue with an Online Early Childhood Education Degree?

An online early childhood education degree may open doors to a wide range of jobs in and outside the classroom. The early years help form the mind, body and emotions. So, there may be opportunities to teach Pre K to grade 3. Or, to pursue a career as a leader, child advocate, or curriculum specialist. As there are many ways to use skills in early childhood, there may be jobs for all levels of education. In many of the teacher roles, one needs at least a bachelor’s degree and state license. Many teachers who move into director roles may also have a master’s or higher degree. 

1. Preschool Teachers

As a preschool teacher, you typically educate and nurture children under the age of 5. Some of the things you may teach are language, motor and social skills. You are likely to do this through play where you show colors, shapes, numbers and letters. And while you do this, you may have to watch for signs of problems so you could inform parents. Training for these roles varies by state and setting. But preschool teachers tend to have a bachelor’s degree in ECE. And some states mandate you to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. 

2. Childcare Center and Preschool Directors

After you have some experience as a preschool teacher, you may want to step into a director role. Childcare center directors tend to work outside the classroom. One of their main tasks typically is to oversee and lead preschool teachers and childcare workers. They may also design program plans, set budgets and decide where funds may go. If this type of administrative job appeals to you, you may need at least a bachelor’s degree. Many employers may also want you to have a CDA credential and a solid work history in the field.  

3. Kindergarten and Elementary Teachers

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers help young minds learn basics. Things like how to read, spell, do simple math and also interact with others. Teachers of these age groups may also choose a niche area. Art, music, physical education, science or English as a first or second language are a few. To work as a K – 8 teacher you may need a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Many states may also mandate you have a license or certificate. And this has to be in the specific grade level you want to teach. 

4. Childcare Workers

As a childcare worker you typically take care of infants and toddlers. You may change diapers, feed and clothe them as well as watch them play and teach them simple games. Beyond these duties, you may need to observe and make notes of progress. Then keep parents in the loop of any changes in interests or behavior. If this sounds perfect, there may be different rules in place about education and training. But many employers prefer to hire workers with a college degree or credential.   

5. Special Education Teachers

special education teacher has students with disabilities. These could be mental, emotional or physical and often entail a tailored study plan. Or Individualized Education Program (IEP). For this, you typically need to know your content area. And, how to adapt lessons to people with mild, moderate or severe issues. Autism is one example. To work as a special ed teacher, you may need at least a bachelor’s degree. And some teachers may also need a state license or certificate. Many may also need to complete a master’s degree in special ed once they land a job. 

6. Curriculum Specialists 

Also called Instructional Coordinators, these pros typically oversee curriculums and set school standards. So, they are the people who likely plan out the material teachers use. And the ones who test how effective it is. A curriculum specialist typically also has a finger on the pulse of new trends and technology. They aim to stay current to inform and train teachers in their district as well as observe them in class. To prep for this type of role, you tend to need a master’s degree. You might also need some hands on experience and a state license. 

7. Elementary School Principal 

Some elementary teachers may decide they want to move into a managerial role. Like  elementary school principal. As a principal, you may oversee staff, finances, school children and all the daily activities. Principals in public schools may also work with district, state and federal rules. So, must have a solid grasp of policy and how apply it. To get to this stage in your career, you are likely to need at least a master’s degree. In some states you may also need a state principal license. 

8. Early Childhood Education Teacher

If you prefer to teach at the college level, this is another path to think about. It tends to take solid research skills, subject matter expertise and work history. Early childhood teachers often a staple in the education system. So, your experience in this area might help the next generation of ECE teachers. Many college and university teachers have a PhD and have published work. And in some states, you may need some type of license.  

Is an Online Early Childhood Education Degree worth it?

An online early childhood education degree may prep you with useful skills. This expertise is crucial to guide young learners both inside and outside school. Once you graduate, there are various paths to pursue. Jobs in education (like Pre K to 3rd grade) tend to have constant to above average job outlooks. And some report above average earnings too. 

One option is to teach the early years up to the age of five, or preschool. Preschool teachers, say the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are in demand. This field should see 2% more jobs through 2029. As more elementary teachers retire, there may be positions to fill too. Many of these jobs should be in urban or rural settings so if you are flexible, you may have more prospects. 

Education is also an area where a grad degree may boost your salary. One BLS study recorded wages of bachelor’s and master’s prepared workers in this field. They found that education administrators with a master’s earned 44% higher wages. And preschool and kindergarten teachers earned 43% more than those with only a bachelor’s degree. 

Salary potential may also tend to go up when the role calls for some leadership. Elementary school principals for example, earn a median annual pay of $96,400. While elementary teachers earn a median annual salary of $59,420. As with any decision, it is a good idea to know the kind of career you want to prep for. Then look for online colleges that have the suggested degree at a cost you could afford.  

Early Childhood Education Degree Jobs & Salary

Occupation Annual Median Salary Jobs
Preschool Teachers $30,520 523,600
Preschool and Childcare Center Directors $48,210 66,700
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers $59,420 1,569,000
Childcare Workers $24,230 1,160,000

Top States for Jobs as a Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education

State Jobs Annual Mean Wage
CA 52,950 $37,850
TX 34,790 $34,960
NY 30,790 $48,630
FL 25,940 $27,900
IL 24,120 $31,500

Online Early Childhood Education Degree Courses

Many online early childhood education degree programs cover human growth and teaching tactics. They also zoom in on how to meet the learning needs of diverse pre-K to grade 3 kids. Here are 8 common classes in an online ECE program may include these examples. They go from simple to more complex.  

  • Intro to ECE
  • How we develop language skills
  • First steps in reading
  • Ways to observe, assess and test your young students
  • Language and reading for children
  • Basic science and math for children
  • Child health, safety and diet 
  • Student teaching and professional skills

At each level of degree, you are likely to study these areas in different ways. Below are some of the classes you may find at the bachelors, masters and PhD levels. 

Bachelor’s Degree Courses 

Bachelor’s in online ECE classes typically introduce you to key areas of teaching and learning. Typically things like how the human mind grows and learns. How to address each stage with suitable teaching methods and lesson plans. Also, how to observe, assess and test diverse groups of young children.  

If you are new to teaching, many accredited programs include a practical part too. These experiences place you in local classrooms under the guidance of a teacher. And, allow you to apply theory into real situations. Many course plans cover these areas in about 120 credits. Here are a few common topics. 

Child Growth and Development

This course aims to teach how children grow. It also often includes insight into a healthy development process. Often, this type of program includes research based and study based methods. Students may learn the principles behind a variety of psychological aspects. Also, they may learn about socially relevant problems as they fit in this field.

Essentials of Psychology

Many bachelor students take this course. It is a beginner level course in biology and psychology. It often covers topics such as consciousness, behavior, and memory and the psychological aspects behind it. Also, it may cover things like intelligence, language, and personality. Some programs aim to teach community influence, stress, and gender and how psychology impacts this.

Guidance in Early Childhood Education

This type of course teaches students how to work in this field. They may learn how to get ideas on how to interact with and create relationships with young children. They may also learn how to set and maintain guidelines in a variety of scenarios. Students may learn how to interact with young children to create a desired outcome.

Play in the Lives of Young Children

Some bachelor students take this course. It is a way of learning about play. The goal of this type of course is to understand how important play is for children. This includes how it impacts early childhood development. Students may learn about how play influences learning and relationships. They may also learn about how play fits into a child’s early childhood curriculum.

Graduate Degree Courses

Master’s in online ECE classes may bring research, theory and practice together. You may tend to explore the needs of early learners in various contexts. Family, school, and community. And may also discuss issues like bullying, poverty, teasing and domestic violence.  

Other classes may focus on teaching tactics. Things like how to craft a lesson plan or even a whole curriculum. Then as well, how to manage a classroom and make it inclusive. It is common for a master’s program to have a focal area. Called a concentration, it typically includes a few classes around one theme. Leadership for example, or child literacy. Most course plans cover these areas in 30 to 36 credits. Here are a few sample topics. 

  • Areas that influence early childhood curricula 
  • Play and child growth
  • Basics of reading instruction

PhD in online ECE classes tend to include research. You may review current case studies to gain a better grasp of what impacts child growth and learning. Plus, you are likely to learn research methods that allow you to test your own theory. 

While each program is unique, many may also look at the broader picture. How to promote positive outcomes for young children. And how to be an effective, thoughtful and ethical leader. Some other topics may touch on how to assess the quality of programs for children. So, you may look at some of the problems and issues faced by teachers.  

Then, find ways to solve them and present your data to peers. As a result, you may need to learn the methods to collect data, make sense of it and communicate it to peers in a dissertation. Many course plans cover these areas in from 60 to 89 credits. These are some examples.

Exceptional Children

This master level course focuses on children with exceptional skills in an early childhood setting. The course may cover topics such as how these children are taught in an area of emotional, mental, and physical support. Students learn how to provide special education services to those under grade 12. This may include a range of topics in supporting students.

Standards Based Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

This bachelor course focuses on state and national learning standards. It often covers content related to various grade level requirements. Students may learn more about how to use a research based curriculum to create assessments to meet these set standards. They may also use this content to develop meaningful achievements in academic performance.

Classroom Management Strategies

This type of course teaches students how to manage a diverse classroom. This may include topics related to student behaviors and developing necessary skills in managing a classroom. Students may learn how to help individual students to get the results they need. Also, this course may include the roles and rights of students in various scenarios.

Children, Families, and Society

This type of master class focuses on not just students, but also families. It also discusses the importance of engaging families in the education process. The topics range widely. They may include areas like working with a child’s parents and learning how to reach out to the community. Students may learn racial and cultural aspects of this area.

How long does it take to earn an Online Early Childhood Education Degree?

The time it takes to earn an early childhood education degree online may vary. If you study full time, a bachelor’s in ECE tends to take about four years. Unless you enter with an associate degree and transfer credits which may cut the time in half. After that, if you decide to earn a master’s degree in ECE it may take from one to two years. PhD programs may tend to take about three to eight years, it depends on your level of education and program format. 

University Level of Degree # of Credits Required Starts Per Year Minimum Months to Complete
University of Phoenix Bachelors 120 Multiple 48
Purdue University Global Bachelors 180 4 48
Ashford University Bachelors 120 Multiple 48
Clemson University Masters 30 3 18
University of North Dakota Masters 32 3 24
University of Toledo Masters 36 3 24
Walden University Doctorate 86 Multiple 36
East Tennessee State University Doctorate 69-72 3 36
Fielding Graduate University Doctorate 89 3 42

15 Online Early Childhood Education Degrees

We have ranked our top 15 schools based on the number of graduates from the program in 2019. Our process looks at 2019 data from the NCES. And, it may help you narrow your search down.

  1. University of Phoenix
  2. Purdue University Global 
  3. Ashford University   
  4. National University   
  5. Ball State University
  6. Clemson University
  7. University of North Dakota
  8. University of Toledo
  9. Georgia Southern University   
  10. Missouri State University  
  11. Walden University    
  12. East Tennessee State University  
  13. Fielding Graduate University  
  14. Northcentral University
  15. Concordia University – Chicago


Here is a deeper look into the above online colleges and the degree programs they offer.  

UOPX offers an online Bachelor of Science in Education/Early Childhood Education. An initial licensure program, it typically takes about 4 years to complete 120 credits. So, may be perfect if you do not have any prior teaching experience. In it, you study how meet the learning needs of diverse pre-K to grade 3 students. This usually includes ways to instruct, plan lessons, observe, test and assess. The program may typically also include field experience and student teaching. Plus, each course is 5 weeks long. Some sample topics are:

  • Early childhood growth 
  • Instructional strategies for ECE
  • Foundations of ECE (birth to age 8) 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $9,552
Grad $16,752
Special rates available for military students.

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Purdue offers an online Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Administration. The program typically has two goals. One, to help you understand the learning needs of children from birth to age 8. And second, to help you gain managerial skills. So, if your goal is to become a childcare center director, the course plan may be useful.  Along with topics like ethics, business and communication, you typically complete 5 hours of field work. There are usually four start dates and each term lasts 10 weeks. Of the 180 credits, your courses likely include:

  • Child safety, nutrition, health
  • Young children with special needs 
  • Funding and financial planning 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $14,358
Grad $10,580
Special rates available for military students.

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Ashford offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education. It aims to acquaint you with a wide range of theories and concepts. You typically learn how children develop their minds, emotions, physical and verbal skills. And, how to impact their learning in positive ways. The program also gets into the tactical side of teaching. For instance, how to work with families to find suitable teaching methods. Other features may include a 5 week classes and the option to add a focal point in Infant and Toddler Care. Other sample topics from the 120 credit course plan may be:

  • Early childhood growth 
  • Children’s literature
  • Issues in education

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $12,400
Grad $12,810
Special rates available for military students.

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National offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education. It uses the guidelines set by two agencies. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). And the Child Development Associates National Competency Standards (CDA). So, you typically tend to get a sound combo of research, theory and modern practices. You may also enroll year round and get through each class in four weeks. Included in your 180 credits, you may choose electives. Like music, movement, drama and dance. There are also a wide range of core topics such as:

  • Nature, numbers and technology 
  • The growing child: zero to 8 
  • Early language and literacy 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $13,320
Grad $15,480
Special rates available for military students.

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Ball State offers an online Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education. It typically  does not prep you for licensure. But instead, aims to prep you for settings where Head Start and pre K teachers likely need a grad degree. In fact, the program gears towards those who already have an associate degree in ECE. Apart from that, the courses draw on National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) guidelines. And, once accepted, you may work with an advisor to craft a customized plan of study. Of the 120 credits you usually need to complete, some examples are:

  • Assessment of young children 
  • Infants and toddlers with special needs 
  • ECE curriculum and instruction 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $26,800
Grad $22,616

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Clemson offers an online Master of Science with a focus in Experiential Learning for Early Childhood. It is for current PK-12 educators and typically  does not lead to initial teacher certificate. But you could finish in about 18 months as courses are 5 weeks each and run through summer. While in this program, you may take two sets of courses for a total of 30 credits. Core courses that usually look at effective teaching practices. And others that study ways to teach in early childhood settings. A few examples are:

  • Math, science and tech in early childhood 
  • Parent education
  • Advanced ECE curriculum 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $38,550
Grad $23,246
Special rates available for military students.

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University of North Dakota

Master of Science in Early Childhood Education


UND offers an online Master of Science in Early Childhood Education. It is a non licensure degree. And, typically aims to prepare you to address the educational needs of children under the age of eight. To do this, it brings in elements of research, theory and practice. Together, these look at children in the context of family, community and culture. The school also has a partnership with the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. So, they may offer Aim4Excellence, an online national Director Credential for Early Childhood administrators. Their course plan, which usually entails 32 credits follows National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) guidelines. Sample topics are:

  • Foundations of reading 
  • Play theories 
  • Home, school and community 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $15,895
Grad $19,958
Special rates available for military students.

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UToledo offers an online Master of Education in Early Childhood Education. It is typically for preschool, childcare, and early learning educators and administrators. And is a non-licensure program. So, it may not allow graduates to teach students above 3 years of age in public schools. At the same time, your courses may stack theory, research, and practice methods. These aim to help children thrive on their own and as part of an engaged group. As a distance learner, you may have access to a Success Coach and advisors, and the 36 credit plan goes into key areas.

  • Child behavior and growth 
  • Individual learning needs
  • Curriculum basics 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $20,010
Grad $24,411
Special rates available for military students.

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Georgia Southern University

Master of Education in Elementary Education


Georgia Southern offers an online Master of Education in Elementary Education. It is typically for current teachers who hold a renewable Induction or Professional Level Four Certificate. Or hold the equal credential in elementary education and want to jumpstart their career. The program usually takes about one year and four semesters. This makes up an approved program of study by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC). And meets the PSC’s certificate upgrade rules. You may need to complete 36 credits that may include these topics.

  • How to transform learning with tech
  • Action research in elementary settings 
  • Learning theories 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $17,518
Grad $21,982
Special rates available for military students.

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Missouri State offers a Master of Science in Early Childhood and Family Development. It typically studies how to help children grow and reach their full potential. And may also look at both child and family growth. The 32 credit program may also cap with a research project, faculty guidance and you may set your pace. There is usually a  three or four semester option as well as an accelerated master’s. Apart from core topics in ECE, you may choose electives to further tailor the degree. Some options are:

  • Prevention of child abuse and neglect 
  • The educational role of play 
  • Family Advocacy 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $15,898
Grad $11,524
Special rates available for military students.

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Walden University

PhD in Early Childhood Special Education


Walden offers an online PhD in Early Childhood Special Education. It typically studies children with special needs from birth to age 8. And focuses on the issues of today such as practices for early intervention. You may also explore tactics to make EC special education programs more effective in the future. This means you may be spending time to review current data and in your own research. To do this, you likely take a series of research and doctoral support classes. A few other topics might include:

  • Special education theory and practice 
  • Advocacy, policy and law 
  • Child growth in the early years 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $12,150
Grad $12,539
Special rates available for military students.

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East Tennessee State University

PhD in Early Childhood Education


East Tennessee State offers a (mostly) online PhD in Early Childhood Education. This means that while many of your courses are online, there is one intensive session on campus each term. That aside, the program typically aims to develop you as both a scholar and leader. To do this, it typically draws on National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) guidelines. Then apart from classes you may need to apprentice and complete a final dissertation. Some samples from the 69 to 72 credit course plans are:

  • Social and cultural diversity
  • Critical analysis of brain research 
  • Supervision in ECE 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $27,406
Grad $25,679
Special rates available for military students.

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Fielding Graduate University

PhD in Early Childhood Development


Fielding offers a PhD in Early Childhood Development (IECD) in a blended format. Part synchronous online, part on campus. It is for people who may want to broaden their understanding of infants and children. And who may be in careers outside education. The program typically also draws from multiple points of view. Neuroscience, learning, family systems, infant and early child growth are a few. At the same time, it hones teaching skills for these ages and stages for both typical and atypical students. Another thing to know is the IECD program is a partner with the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health (Alliance). Some examples of the 89 credit study plan are:

  • Infant mental health intervention 
  • Brain growth
  • Visual and spatial processes 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad N/A
Grad $17,292

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Northcentral University

PhD – ED Early Childhood Education


Northcentral offers a 100% online PhD – ED Early Childhood Education. It typically focuses on four main areas. Childhood education, research, curriculum and policy. The program may also feature weekly start dates and no scheduled lecture hours. According to the university, one may finish the 60 credits in about 45 months too. These credits likely include classes in theory, contexts, leadership, and national standards. Plus, you may get to apply your knowledge into a capstone where you create an ECE program. Some of the other topics you might study include:

  • Children’s literature 
  • Admin of early childhood education programs 
  • Children and families 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $12,474
Grad $18,095
Special rates available for military students.

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Concordia University Chicago

EdD / PhD in Early Childhood Education

In Person or Online

Concordia U offers an in person or online EdD / PhD in Early Childhood Education program. It typically focuses on coursework, practical experiences in the field, and research. While you may study early child growth, the programs aim is to typically boost your administrative skills. Both tracks likely also discuss policy analysis and may include these other topics:

  • Legal issues in ECE    
  • Family and community relationships 
  • Language, literacy and reading    

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $32,880
Grad $9,180
Special rates available for military students.

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*Unemployment Earnings.  Sources for school stats and data include the NCES and IPEDS.