Doctor of Philosophy in Education and Human Development, Early Childhood Policy

School of Education & Human Development


Degree: PhD

Classroom Type: Online and on campus classes

Prepares candidates to be leaders, policymakers, policy advisors and analysts, faculty members, and researchers who successfully shape, direct, implement and evaluate early childhood services, infrastructure, and policy and contribute to the scholarly knowledge that undergirds the discipline. Graduates will enter a growing and dynamic field with burgeoning research about the critical years in children's brain development, learning and health. This concentration holds institutional and system reform as its unit of change and equity in opportunity and outcomes as the purpose for change.

Application​ deadlines

December 1

Program Details

Interest Categories: Education & Counseling Public Administration & Policy

Campus: CU Denver

What you’ll learn 

Given its unprecedented growth over the past five decades, the early childhood field logically has focused most of its efforts on program expansion and on the provision of high-quality services for young children. Although there is increasing attention to enhancing equity, most work in the field concentrates on practice improvement, typically pedagogical in nature, either for children or by the workforce. CU Denver’s Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) with a concentration in Early Childhood Policy tilts this focus. It acknowledges the importance of pedagogy but suggests that without explicit and specialized attention to policy, it will be difficult for the field to achieve quality, equity and scale. The concentration holds institutional and system reform as its units of change.

Students in this concentration will

  • Prepare for leadership positions in government, private sector and public sector organizations that require individuals who can create systemic, institutional and equity-infused ECE policy change and prepare for positions in higher education and policy-focused research think-tanks to advance the scholarship in the field.
  • Learn policy theories and existing ECE policy research in order to successfully shape, direct, implement and evaluate early childhood services, infrastructure and policy for the future.
  • Contribute to new research efforts that lead to more equitable outcomes and new understandings of complex ECE policy issues.
  • Benefit from close mentorship by national faculty leaders in ECE policy.
  • Culminate the program with a dissertation that contributes to the knowledge base in the field of early childhood policy.

Faculty advisors for this concentration

Program of Study

The core course rotation begins every fall. Students complete a plan of study that includes at least 48 semester credits of coursework and 27 semester credits of dissertation. PhD coursework is intensive and substantive, requiring significant writing, analysis, and critique of theory and professional literature. All students in the Early Childhood Policy concentration take 12-credits in foundational courses, 3-credits in professional seminars, 18-credits in research methods courses, and 15-credits in concentration area courses (including two electives). Students also complete a research apprenticeship and higher education teaching practicum or equivalent experience.

The curriculum includes a combination of on-campus, hybrid, remote, and online courses each semester.

Every student must be available to attend on-campus courses each semester.


Child, Youth, and Family Studies Foundation Courses - 12 Credits

  • Advanced Studies in Applied Child Development
  • Children in US and Global Context
  • Contemporary Family Theories and Research
  • History, Child Development and Equity

Proseminar in Child, Youth, & Family Studies I, II, and III - 3 Credits

Research Methods - 18 Credits

  • Doctoral Seminar in Research Methods
  • Intermediate Statistics
  • Methods of Qualitative Inquiry
  • Electives (select three courses (9 credits) of advanced research methods)

Early Childhood Policy Concentration - 15 credits

  • Examining Practices, Policies, and Key Issues in ECE
  • Policy, Leadership, Policy Advocacy
  • Policy, Theory, Analysis and Research
  • Policy-related Elective
  • Policy-related Elective


Scholarships to offset the cost of tuition may be available for first-year students. Students work with their advisors to identify additional funding possibilities available through external scholarships, internships, funded grant projects, teaching assistant opportunities and/or a mix thereof. Student funding support varies based on funding streams. Students can also elect to self-pay and thus, self-support.

Recommended Completion Time:4 to 8 years

Required Credits for Completion:75 Credits

Admission Requirements

We encourage students to review the concentration area choices on our website and we require that interested applicants contact one or more of the faculty associated with that concentration area for an appointment to discuss the program prior to submitting their application. This ensures the students have an opportunity to discuss their research area of interest, as well as introduce themselves to the faculty. Also, the financial support we provide our PhD students is often tied to federal and state funding decisions, so meeting with a faculty member will let you know if any funding opportunities will be available in the upcoming year.

As part of gaining admission to the PhD program, students are paired with a doctoral faculty advisor/mentor. The doctoral faculty may request a personal interview to complement the information provided in the application materials.

Application Deadline

December 1

Application Requirements

  • Minimum requirements:
    • Master's degree or equivalent
    • 3.5 GPA in graduate-level course work recommended
  • Recommendation Letters: three letters; two letters should come from faculty in a university program in which you were previously enrolled
  • Official Transcripts from all institutions attended
  • Resume/CV: Applicants must have and show evidence of relevant professional and/or academic experience.
  • Written Statement: In 4-6 pages (double-spaced, Times New Roman 12-point font or larger), discuss professional/educational experiences that led you to seeking a PhD, your research interests and their relationships to problems you have identified in the field, and a potential advisor with which you would like to work.
  • Writing Example: Examples include but are not limited to: Master's thesis or other course/seminar papers for prior coursework, and/or published materials such as articles, book chapters, and technical reports.
  • Application Fee: $50.00
  • Admissions Interview: Applicants who advance to the interview phase will be contacted to participate in an interview with concentration area faculty.
  • International Applicants only: Proof of English Language Proficiency (International applicants should review the following information regarding English language proficiency)

For more information, email Kristie Kauerz.

Choose CU Denver’s School of Education & Human Development

You can trust CU Denver to provide an education that will prepare you for excellence in your career as a faculty member or researcher. The university and school are recognized for preparing leaders of distinction who value educational excellence and social justice. Additionally, CU Denver’s School of Education & Human Development is counted among U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” making us one of the top education schools in the country.