Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

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In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 9% job growth rate in positions for higher education administrators between 2014 and 2024, making this an excellent time to secure one of more than 15,000 new jobs opening in the field. Unlike many other fields, careers in higher education require specialized credentials. A typical entry-level job requires at least a master’s degree, and advancement to top-level positions requires a doctorate. The information below outlines how to select the right program, presents profiles of top programs, and answers other questions relevant to pursuing a higher education doctorate.

DO I NEED PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE TO GET IN?

Many programs require at least two years of related work experience. However, some doctorate programs in higher education accept students immediately out of undergraduate studies, but require students to take master’s level classes before moving on to doctoral work. Such programs do not expect recent undergraduates to have much work experience in the field.

HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT ONLINE PROGRAM FOR ME?

Different programs have different emphases in higher administration. Therefore, the first step to selecting the right program is to evaluate one’s interests and career goals. Those interested in senior administration roles may find an Ed.D. more appropriate, while a Ph.D is fitting for students wanting careers in education research. Students should also consider their personal and professional schedules, as some online doctoral programs require on campus residencies.

CAN I WORK WHILE I COMPLETE MY ONLINE DOCTORATE IN HIGHER EDUCATION?

Yes. Online doctorate in higher education programs are designed for mid-level working professionals in education or higher education fields. Students typically take only two courses per semester, and the flexibility of taking classes online ensures they can keep up with their full-time jobs. However, students should be aware that some online doctoral programs require short on campus residencies and/or semester-long internships.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES TO EARNING MY DOCTORATE ONLINE?

Earning your doctorate online can help you earn your degree at your own pace as you maintain a full-time job and/or personal obligations. Online doctorate programs are taught by the same distinguished faculty as on-campus programs, providing online students the same quality education, but in a way that helps them maintain a balanced lifestyle.

See Methodology
Rank School Name Relative Cost % Enrolled Online Location Description
Andrews University 10% Berrien Springs, MI

Andrews University offers two higher education administration doctoral programs, the Ed.D. in education in higher education administration and a Ph.D. in higher education administration. Both programs take between four and five years to complete, but students may take up to seven years. Though delivered mostly online from the university’s campus in Berrien Springs, MI, the curriculum has an international focus. Students visit a number of universities all around to the world engage students and faculty on those campuses.

Applicants submit their materials by July 30, November 15, or June 1 for admission in fall, spring, and summer, respectively. A bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 (or 2.75 on the last half of graduate courses) are prerequisites. GRE scores from within the past five years are also required. Finally, students should submit a personal statement and two recommendation letters. Tuition discounts are also available for well-qualified applicants.

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Colorado State University-Fort Collins 19% Fort Collins, CO

CSU's Ph.D. in education and human resource studies specializes in higher education leadership. This is a cohort program that also allows students to remain employed full-time. The 60-credit program may be completed in four or five years, and includes 30 credits of higher education administration courses and 30 credits of research. Students must also complete comprehensive examinations and a dissertation. This program emphasizes one-on-one interaction between professors and students, and professors are frequently available for video conferences and online discussions via email and text message.

Applicants should have an earned master’s degree, and a GRE score is required for those without a final undergraduate and graduate GPA of 3.0. The university also requires at least two years of field-related work experience. Tuition is the same per-credit cost regardless of residency.

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Indiana State University 30% Terre Haute, IN

Indiana State offers a higher education doctorate that combines online classes with intensive on campus workshops and a summer residency in Terre Haute, IN. The 90 credit Ph.D. in educational administration with a specialization in higher education leadership applies 45 credits from a student’s related master’s degree. The program is offered in a cohort model, in which students take courses with the same group of students throughout the program’s five semesters. On campus workshops occur on weekends, and the summer residency is a three-week intensive program. Students are also required to take two semester-long internships.

Applicants should have earned their master’s degree from an accredited institution with a “B+” GPA or better. GRE scores and official transcripts from all institutions of higher learning are required. Finally, the university requires a personal essay and three letters of recommendation.

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Maryville University of Saint Louis 1% Saint Louis, MO

Maryville University offers a well-respected online doctorate in higher education from its main campus in the St. Louis, MO region. The Ed.D. in higher education leadership is taught in cohorts of between 15 and 22 students, and who study together for the two-and-one-half years it takes to complete the curriculum. Students begin their their capstone project almost immediately and to work on it until completing the program. Although this Ed.D. is offered online, it does require an internship. Courses are taught by accomplished professors with the highest level degrees in the field.

To apply, prospective students should be presently working in an education-related field and have completed a master’s degree. In-state and out-of-state students pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency, but online students also pay a flat, per-semester distance learning fee.

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Notre Dame of Maryland University 19% Baltimore, MD

Notre Dame of Maryland’s online doctorate in higher education teaches students to adapt to changing national and global demographics in higher education. The Ph.D. in higher education leadership for changing populations is a 41 credit program delivered entirely online with no on campus residency requirements. Students take 12 credits on changing populations, and 18 credits that explore higher education -- including a three-credit internship. Degree candidates also complete comprehensive examinations prior to starting work on their dissertation.

Prospective students should have a master’s degree and must submit transcripts from all graduate, undergraduate, and/or community college programs. The application also requires test scores from the GRE or MAT, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Tuition is the same low rate regardless of residency.

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Nova Southeastern University 49% Fort Lauderdale, FL

The Ed.D. with a concentration in higher education leadership at Nova Southeastern University is designed for graduates to work with adult learners. The curriculum is comprised of a minimum of 54 credits, 24 in the concentration, 12 in research, and 12 in dissertation studies. Students also take six credits of electives. The program takes at least 36 months to complete, and although classes are offered entirely online, students must take one summer institute at Nova’s campus in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Applicants must have a master’s degree with a GPA of at least 3.0 and provide their transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions of higher education. Test scores from the MAT (37 scaled) or GRE (pre-2011 combined score of 1,000 and post-2011 combined score of 300) are also required. Finally, they should submit two letters of recommendation and a personal essay.

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Regent University 83% Virginia Beach, VA

Regent University’s Ed.D. in higher education is taught from a distinctly Christian perspective, with a course dedicated to cultivating a Christian worldview in higher education. A course is also taught on the needs of adult learners. The 66 credit program is offered mostly online, with three, two-credit residency requirements that take place at the university’s Virginia Beach, VA campus four days each summer. The entire program, including the dissertation, takes approximately four years to complete.

Applicants must have a bachelor’s and master’s degree and must send all unofficial transcripts from those degree granting institutions to Regent. GRE scores are required, and applicants also submit a sample of graduate-level writing, in addition to a second professional writing sample. The admissions process concludes with an interview. Tuition is the same rate regardless of residency.

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Saint Peter's University 15% Jersey City, NJ

The Ed.D. in higher education with a concentration in higher education is a 48 credit program divided into three levels. Level one is 15 credits and consists of core courses that explore the history of higher education, organizational behavior and leadership, and research. The level concludes with a qualifying exam. Level two is 21 required credits in the dissertation seminar, ethical foundations and social responsibility, and survey research; a comprehensive exam concludes this level. The 12 credit level three focuses on administration, management, marketing, student development, and the doctoral dissertation.

To apply for this executive doctorate in higher education, applicants must have earned a master’s degree with a GPA of at least 3.0. They must also submit GRE or MAT scores. Finally, the university requires three letters of recommendation, a personal essay, a five-to-15-page writing sample, and a current resume.

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Union University 15% Jackson, TN

Union offers an online doctorate in higher education administration with several available concentrations. Students pursuing the 30 credit Ed.D. in higher education focus their studies on P-12 school administration or higher education. The P-12 program has three sub concentrations, though only the leadership in school reform non-licensure track is available online. The higher education concentration is available entirely online or as a hybrid program, with in-person classes meeting on-campus in Jackson, TN. Each program’s curriculum takes a Christian-centered approach to education.

Applicants should possess a bachelor’s and master’s degree with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and a graduate GPA of 3.2. They must also submit GRE scores, four letters of recommendation, and a current resume. An application interview with the program director is required, as well. Tuition is the same per-credit rate regardless of state residency.

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University of Florida 60% Gainesville, FL

UF’s leadership in educational administration doctorate (LEAD) Ed.D. is one of the country’s inaugural Kellogg Foundation Community College Leadership Programs. Classes are offered in a cohort, hybrid format. While most courses are online, students must attend live classes three weekends per semester. Live classes are held on rotation at UF’s campus in Gainesville, FL, as well as other university campuses within the state. This online doctorate in higher education may be completed in four years of part-time study. Graduates are prepared to work in higher education administration or nonprofits that focus on postsecondary education.

Applicants should have earned at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a GPA of 3.0 for the last 60 credits. They also submit GRE scores and are encouraged to provide letters of recommendation. Candidates may be subject to an admissions interview at the discretion of the university. Florida residents receive a tuition discount.

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University of Memphis 30% Memphis, TN

The Ed.D. in higher and adult education: higher education concentration is a four-year program designed for those seeking mid- and senior-level positions in higher education administration, or related administrative bodies like agencies and commissions. Students spend the first three years engaged with coursework and research (two classes per semester) and spend the entirety of their fourth year working on their dissertations. The program is offered entirely online, except for a one week on-campus summer residency in Memphis, TN.

Students in this doctorate in higher education online receive a number of online support services such as advising, learning resources, and access to the digital library. Librarians and library resources are available by online chat, email, Skype, or phone. To apply, prospective students require a bachelor’s degree and transcripts from all prior institutions of higher learning. Admitted students without prior graduate work will have to complete master’s classes before moving on to doctoral studies.

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln 29% Lincoln, NE

UN-Lincoln offers two excellent higher education administration doctoral programs, the Ed.D. (96 credits) and Ph.D. (90 credits) in educational studies with educational leadership and higher education. Both programs are offered almost entirely online, but students in the Ph.D. program are required to complete six credits of on campus research seminars in Lincoln, NE. The Ed.D. is appropriate for students who wish to go on to work in higher education administration as a practicing administrator. In contrast, the Ph.D. program develops students as researchers and scholars. While both programs require students to complete a dissertation, the Ph.D. curriculum offers more research courses than the Ed.D. program.

Applicants require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, and may pursue their prerequisite master’s studies at UN-Lincoln before moving on to a doctoral programs. A total of 48 credits must be taken at the university in order to earn a doctorate degree.

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West Virginia University 12% Morgantown, WV

West Virginia University offers an online higher education doctorate accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. The Ed.D. in higher education administration is an 84 credit dissertation candidacy program. In addition to completing core coursework and higher education history requirements, students take 12 credits in one of four available specialization areas: curriculum, assessment, and academic affairs; college student development; administration, organizations, and policy; or individualized specialization. The curriculum also includes 15 credits of research courses, 15 credits of dissertation research, and six credits of internship. Finally, students take a 12-credit cognate outside of higher education as a means to explore their other interests.

Applicants submit GRE scores and evidence of a cumulative GPA of 3.0. A vita, writing sample, and three letters of reference should also be included. Virginia residents receive a sizeable tuition discount over out-of-state students.

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Wilmington University 52% New Castle, DE

Wilmington offers a nationally-recognized online doctorate in higher education. The Ed.D. in higher education leadership and innovation is available fully online as a hybrid program, with classes meeting at the university’s Delaware-based New Castle, Dover, or Georgetown campuses. Regardless of format, students are required to complete 120 hours of clinical/internship field studies; a nine credit capstone project that includes research and an oral presentation; and 26 credits of classroom-based instruction. Classes meet synchronously once a week, and the program may be completed in three years.

Admission is granted twice a year. Online cohorts begin in the spring with an admissions deadline of October 30. Prospective applicants pursuing the hybrid program may apply for fall admission by February 1 for early review or May 22 for standard review. Applicants should have a master’s degree with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 for the last two years of study.

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While online doctorate in higher education programs have many commonalities, none of them are exactly the same. Programs may offer or emphasize different concentrations, vary somewhat in their overall curricula and the length it takes to complete them, and may be accredited by one of a number of regional or national accrediting agencies.

CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE DOCTORATE DEGREE IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Higher Education Leadership

As referenced by its name, this concentration prepares students to take on top leadership positions in higher education administration (university president, provost, academic dean, etc.). This is a comprehensive study of all higher education administration roles, versus the traditional slant that many programs place merely on student affairs and development.

Possible Career Paths: President, provost, academic dean, director of student affairs

Higher Education Administration

This concentration prepares graduates to work in administration and/or operations across the broad spectrum of higher education institutions such as community colleges, four-year colleges, universities, and institutes. Graduates can also work at both U.S.-based and foreign institutions.

Possible Career Paths: Admissions, enrollment management, financial aid, student life

Higher Education

A concentration in higher education prepares students to work both as a higher education administrator at a college or university, or as an analyst or researcher at an education-related government agency. However, this field is more specifically focused on student affairs.

Possible Career Paths: Policy analyst, researcher, student affairs director, residence life

CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE DOCTORATE IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Higher education doctorate curriculums offer many similar courses. Below are five courses common to most programs, though course titles will likely vary.

History of Higher Education: This course explores the history of important themes in higher education. The curriculum also provides a foundation for coursework in nearly every aspect of higher education: administration, student affairs, university governance, academic leadership and policy, and more.

Higher Education Administration: This course explores key elements of administration and organization at institutions of higher education. This course traditionally focuses on non-academic areas and positions of administration, including the roles of university presidents and other administrators.

Statistical Methods: Serving as an introduction to the methods of collecting and presenting data that students encounter in Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs, this course introduces basic concepts of statistical models. Students familiarize themselves with distributions, probability, variables, randomness, methods of testing hypotheses, correlations, and more.

Leadership Practicum: Students apply concepts and research in real world settings through an internship in a higher education administration position. They also familiarize themselves with the role of professionals in the field while building on the skills they will need after graduation.

Dissertation: Most Ed.D. and Ph.D. in higher education programs guide students through a series of four courses designed to help them research and write their dissertations. Students typically start by formulating a prospectus, develop an outline, submit a proposal for their dissertation, and, finally, write their dissertation.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE DOCTORATE IN HIGHER EDUCATION?

Most online doctorate in higher education programs range from three to five years, though students may elect to take up to seven years to finish. There are several factors that affect the time it takes to complete the degree, including the number of program credits, whether the program is full-time or part-time, and the length of time it takes to finish a dissertation. Because topics tend to change and evolve, dissertations usually take longer than initially expected.

Whether a program is self-paced or designed as a cohort may also have an impact. Cohorts are small groups of students—typically between 15 and 25—that start and progress through the program together. Such programs are built on interactions between students so they learn from each other, and typically meet online at the same time each week. Self-paced programs also have peer interaction, but they allow students more flexibility to progress at more or less rapid rates.

Accreditation is an important factor to consider when choosing an online doctorate program. There are two kinds of accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is more popular, as 85% of all colleges and universities in the country are accredited by one of the six regional accrediting agencies. Regional accreditation is also considered more prestigious, and comes with a number of benefits like degree recognition and easy transfer of credits from one institution to another. National accreditation focuses more on professional training and vocational programs.

The doctorate programs in higher education on our list are all regionally accredited. Prospective applicants should look for programs that are accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Higher Learning Commission, or one of the six regional accreditors, ACCJC, HLC, MSCHE, NEASC-CIHE, SACSCOC, and WSCUC.

Contrary to popular belief, the Department of Education does not participate in college and university accreditation. Instead, the department helps coordinate government assistance to higher ed institutions, such as financial aid. It also directs funds earmarked for education to where they are most needed.

Education is more closely managed by individual states, and accreditation is managed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The Council is a body of degree-granting institutions of higher learning that certifies higher education accrediting organizations, including regional accrediting organizations.

JOB PLACEMENT

The 9% job growth in higher education administration positions projected by the BLS between 2014 and 2024 means that 15,200 new jobs will be created for advanced professionals in this field. Typical entry-level positions start at the master’s degree level and advancement to top positions often requires a doctorate. Moreover, a national dataset compiled by BLS indicates that those professionals with an earned doctorate degree receive the highest median weekly earnings at $1,623—second only to those who hold professional degrees such as law—and have the lowest unemployment rate at 2.2%.

Education Level Unemployment Rate Median Weekly Earnings
Doctorate 2.2% $1,623
Master’s 2.3% $1,714
Bachelor’s 3.4% $1,329
Associate 4.0% $1,108
Some college 5.4% $777
High School Diploma 7.5% $727
Less than High School Diploma 11.0% $472

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Outlook Table

DOCTORATE IN HIGHER EDUCATION SALARY

In May 2016, the median annual salary for higher education administrators in colleges, universities, and professional schools ranged between $90,760 and $93,270. The top 10% of administrators earned over $179,250, while the lowest 10% earned $51,690. The median wage for administrators working in junior colleges was approximately $84,000. The table below uses data from PayScale to outline the average salaries for five occupations that earners of a doctorate in education pursue.

Position Average Annual Salary
Provost $150,000
Academic Dean $89,657
Student Affairs Director $56,171
Admissions Director $66,313
Registrar $52,672

Source: PayScale

DOCTORATE IN HIGHER EDUCATION CAREERS

People who earn a doctorate in higher education typically pursue a variety of career paths. Individuals with an Ed.D. become school academic deans, registrars, provosts, district superintendents, community college presidents, and more. In contrast, those with a Ph.D. take positions as qualitative researchers in the private or public sector. However, Ph.D.’s may also enter higher education administration, and Ed.D. earners are eligible to become tenured professors or higher education researchers.

Provost

Provosts are known as Chief Academic Officers. They assist in the development of academic policies — including the appointment of new and tenured faculty — while also managing large and complex academic budgets.

Median Annual Salary – $150,000
Projected Growth Rate – 0.7%

Academic Dean

Academic Deans direct the day-to-day and long-term strategic activities of individual colleges or schools within the larger university. A large university typically employs many academic deans to run schools in business, law, dentistry, and many more.

Median Annual Salary – $89,657
Projected Growth Rate – 0.7%

Student Affairs

Student affairs is a broad category that is divided into three sub categories: student activities, residential life and housing, and multicultural affairs. Student activities directors plan events and serve as advisors to on campus student organizations. Residential life and housing administrators ensure the maintenance of housing facilities and design social and educational programs for residence hall residents. Those who work in multicultural affairs create events and programs to educate and celebrate diversity.

Median Annual Salary – $56,171
Projected Growth Rate – 0.7%

Admissions Administrators/Counselors

Admissions administrators evaluate how many students to admit each year. They encourage applications through face-to-face meetings, design of promotional materials, and policy design, review applications to make admissions decisions, and analyze admissions data to report to the university and other organizations.

Median Annual Salary – $66,313
Projected Growth Rate – 0.7%

Registrar

By preparing schedules and course offerings for the academic calendar, registrars begin the new terms months ahead of students. As the term approaches, registrars assist with course registration, and dropping or changing classes. As the term progresses ends, they help students ensure their requirements are being met while preparing new course schedules.

Median Annual Salary – $52,672
Projected Growth Rate – 0.7%

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Higher education professionals may join a wealth of professional organizations and associations. Although just three are noted below, there is a wide variety of associations available, many of which are designed for employees at specific institutions (i.e. community colleges) or in specific positions (i.e. registrars). Organizations and associations offer opportunities for networking and professional development that can help recent grads and senior administrators find new positions or continue to develop their skills.

The most common way to pay for an Ed.D. or Ph.D. in higher education is through financial aid, which consists of federal student loans, grants, and state and university-specific need- and merit-based scholarships. To qualify for any form of financial aid, students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the university’s priority deadline. Deadlines are set by each individual institution, so check with the financial office of the college or university that you’re applying to.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.