Best Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

Interested in making a difference in students' lives through education? Read on to learn more about earning an online doctorate in educational leadership.

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by Doug Wintemute

Published on March 14, 2022 · Updated on April 25, 2022

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Postsecondary policies, initiatives, and demographics change over time. Trained leaders in schools and school boards help accommodate these changes and develop improved programs and services for the new look student body. A doctorate in educational leadership prepares you for these responsibilities and growing opportunities.

The National Center for Education Statistics projects student enrollment numbers to increase between 2019 and 2029. Furthermore, the top online schools continue to make education more accessible with distance learning. This should lead to more change and development within the educational system and more potential for educational leaders.

Below, we describe online doctorate in educational leadership programs. Learn about the career paths this degree can lead to as you consider your graduate schools options.

What Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program?

When preparing for graduate school, you need to know more about your options to make the best study decisions. A doctorate in educational leadership may feature between 60-120 credits and take students between 3-6 years to complete. While the format may vary, most programs focus on improving educational practices, policies, and learning environments.

A doctorate in educational leadership typically comes in two degree types: an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. These degrees often differ in length, with the Ed.D. running between 3-4 years and the Ph.D. running between 4-6 years. As a professional degree, Ed.D. programs usually focus on the practical applications of knowledge, whereas Ph.D. programs focus on research and theoretical developments.

In addition to choosing a specific degree type, you may also get to choose a specialization. Concentrations may come in many subdisciplines, including K-12 education, performance improvement, educational administration, and curriculum and instruction. Specializations can impact what you study and what postgraduate opportunities you receive.

Depending on your choice of degree and specialization, your training could feature significant research or practical exercises. Many students take on a teaching position during their studies, either in a postsecondary role or an internship role.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

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Popular Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program?

Contemporary Issues in Education

In this course, students study the history, trends, and challenges in education. The issues they study may change depending on their focus, such as K-12 or higher education. Some possible issues may include funding, access to education, racial and cultural obstacles, and changing student demographics.

Policy Studies

This course examines the structures, individuals, and processes involved with creating and implementing educational policy. Students explore how social issues are built into policies and how they are practiced at the institutional level. They may also look at how policies impact educational practices.

Educational Leadership Approaches

Students in this course study various leadership approaches and frameworks. They also examine what type of impact these methods have on students, educational professionals, and the system. Learners may look at sociocultural and global leadership approaches as well.

Planning and Developmental in Higher Education

This course highlights some possible methods and strategies for implementing change in an educational organization. Students explore approaches for planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating changes.

Educational Reform

In this course, learners look at the process of educational reform. They research and examine different organizational improvement strategies and practices and investigate their effectiveness.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

Financial Aid Guide for Graduate Students Scholarships for Education Majors The Student's Guide to Financial Aid and the FAFSA

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program?

The admission requirements for an online doctorate in educational leadership vary by program and school. Prospective students typically need a master's degree for entry, though some schools may also require a specific degree type and grade minimum. The following list provides details on the most common application components, as per our graduate admissions guide.

Application

The application process can look quite different depending on the school and program. In general, prospective students at the doctoral level apply by submitting their materials to their school of choice directly. Some schools may allow applicants to apply via a college application system.

Test Scores

Schools often require applicants to submit college entrance exams as part of their application. These standardized test scores help schools differentiate between similar candidates. Due to the COVID-19 situation, however, many schools have offered test waivers to better accommodate learners in this difficult time.

Letters of Recommendation

The typical college application requires prospective students to submit three letters of recommendation. These personalized letters usually come from former teachers and supervisors and provide insight into the preparedness of the applicant. When asking for letters of recommendation, prospective students should be very clear about their intentions and deadlines.

Resume and Work Experience

Many applications feature a resume requirement. A college application resume can provide details about the prospective student's professional direction and experience. Some programs even set a minimum amount of relevant work experience as an entry requirement.

Essays

Prospective students often need to submit essays as part of their applications. These essays may follow various formats, including personal essays, question essays, and research interests or proposals. We offer tips for writing a grad school essay to help prospective students make the most of the space they have available.

Official Transcripts

Most college applications require applicants to submit official transcripts. These records provide information on what courses the candidate has attempted and completed, what grades they received, and what transfer credits they may qualify for. Prospective students may also receive college credit for life and work experience.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Degree?

Career Outlook

As the student body expands and diversifies across the country, the demand for professionals with advanced educational training will grow. Graduates with a doctorate in educational leadership can access teaching and leadership positions in schools and educational boards. They can also access management positions in educational organizations and impact policy at the research or government level.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 10% growth for education, training, and library occupations between 2020 and 2030. The BLS also projects 9% growth for management occupations during that same period. Doctorate-holders qualify for many of the careers in these sectors.

Discover where a doctorate in educational leadership can take you. Learn more about educational leadership careers.

Career Paths

Postseondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers educate college and university students in their discipline. They design their own lesson plans, help develop the curriculum, and conduct research for projects and publications. Teachers also grade papers and tests, provide guidance and advising to students, and participate in department initiatives and committees.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $80,560

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Postsecondary education administrators manage student services and programs in colleges and universities. They may oversee student affairs, admissions, or student records, along with multicultural affairs and student housing. Administrators aim to improve school operations, as well as the performance and experience of students.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $97,500

Top Executives

Top executives are the superintendents, school presidents, and chief executive officers in the educational world. These professionals oversee the day-to-day operations, school finances, and stakeholder and government relations. They implement protocols and policies, help develop and approve curriculum changes, and allocate resources.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $107,680

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators manage school curriculums and teaching practices. They create and evaluate curriculums, identify appropriate teaching materials and methods, and assess program effectiveness as per the educational standards and regulations. Coordinators may also run teacher and technology training programs.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $66,970

Training and Development Managers

These professionals create and run training and development programs for various organizations. They develop programs to implement policy changes, new technologies, and improved teaching methods. They work with an organization's leaders to make specialized and individualized professional development and continuing education programs.

Median Annual Salary (My 2020): $115,640

Educational Leadership Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Education Careers Higher Education Careers Teaching Careers

Continuing Education

In addition to the many career options, graduates with a doctorate in educational leadership can continue their training in various ways. While a doctorate is the terminal degree in this discipline, they can still pursue training in related fields.

Graduates may, for example, pursue certificates or degrees in business or technology to complement their educational leadership degree. They may also look at specific student group training, such as special education or K-12 programs. Continuing education can help professionals expand their skill set or focus their expertise more intently.

How Do I Choose an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program?

Cost

Cost plays a large role in the decision-making process for most prospective students. To get the most accurate cost information, applicants should look at the true program cost, which considers any lost income and all required fees. Degree-seekers should also consider comparing online and on-campus program costs, private and public school costs, and in-state and out-of-state program costs.

Program Format

Finding the right program format can make a major difference in a student's educational experience. Prospective online students should compare things like synchronous vs. asynchronous delivery and full-time vs. part-time studies. Through online learning, students should be able to find a program that accommodates their specific scheduling demands.

Location

When choosing online or on-campus programs, prospective students should consider location. On-campus learners need to attend classes, so location plays a very big role for them. Online students may still need to complete residency requirements, so they should also think about how they might satisfy the necessary travel.

Accreditation

According to our college accreditation guide, all prospective students should verify that their school has the appropriate regional accreditation. Without this, schools may be unable to offer federal funding or satisfactory employment opportunities. Program recognition may vary, but accreditation from Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation is something to consider.

Student Support

Prospective students can get a strong indication of the support available at a school by reviewing its student services. Things like academic support, career services, mentor programs, and networking opportunities can add great value to an education. Online learners should look at the online-specific programs and services.

Best Accredited Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

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Online College in District of Columbia

American University

School Information
Location Washington, District of Columbia
Admission Rate 36%
Graduation Rate 79%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 20% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,812
Out of State | $1,812

Credits to Graduate
40

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Middle States Commission on Higher Education

AU offers an online doctorate in educational leadership for working preK-12 school leaders. Students complete 40 credits of practitioner-focused coursework and research. The program culminates with a dissertation. Enrollees study four key areas: systems change, personal leadership, social justice and anti-racism, and policy and research.

The cohort-based program blends asynchronous and synchronous online learning. Enrollees meet peers and faculty during three required residencies in Washington, D.C. Admission requires a master's degree or prerequisite coursework for bachelor's degree-holders. Prospective students need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must provide an academic writing sample.

Online College in Michigan

Andrews University

School Information
Location Berrien Springs, Michigan
Admission Rate 67%
Graduation Rate 59%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 27% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,386
Out of State | $1,386

Credits to Graduate
60-61

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

Berrien Springs, Michigan-based Andrews offers Ed.D. and Ph.D. in higher education administration degrees online. Both programs prepare learners for administrative and policymaking roles. Full-time students can complete either program in about five years. 

Learners complete coursework and a dissertation. They also submit a research-based article to a peer-reviewed publication. Enrollees participate in an international tour of colleges as part of the programs' focus on the globalization of higher education. 

Applicants need a master's degree and a minimum 3.30 GPA.

Online College in Arizona

Arizona State University-Downtown Phoenix

School Information
Location Phoenix, Arizona
Admission Rate 82%
Graduation Rate 58%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 57% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online or Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $803 (100% online program)
Out of State | $803 (100% online program)

Credits to Graduate
90

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

Practicing educator-leaders can pursue ASU's Ed.D. in leadership and innovation entirely online or in a hybrid format. Enrollees take some of the hybrid program's classes on ASU's West campus. 

Principals, superintendents, and other school leaders complete coursework and action research in one of several areas. The options include preK-12 change leadership and higher education change leadership.

Enrollees culminate the doctorate in educational leadership with a comprehensive exam and a dissertation. Applicants need a master's in any field and a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA.

Online College in Arkansas

Arkansas State University-Main Campus

School Information
Location Jonesboro, Arkansas
Admission Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 53%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $440
Out of State | $440

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

A-State designs its doctorate in educational leadership program for working educators. Enrollees can complete the 60-credit program in 40 months. The curriculum explores areas like curriculum and instruction and education policy and the law. Learners also study preK-12 organizational development in education.  

Degree-seekers complete a research project and dissertation. All enrollees pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Applicants need a master's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Online College in Mississippi

Belhaven University

School Information
Location Jackson, Mississippi
Admission Rate 49%
Graduation Rate 50%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 48% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $595
Out of State | $595

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Belhaven's online doctorate in educational leadership prepares Christian leaders for K-12 schools. Students complete online classes and attend three residency sessions on the main campus in Jackson, Mississippi. Degree-seekers learn how to conduct research and address contemporary educational challenges. 

Enrollees culminate the doctorate in educational leadership with a research dissertation. 

Admission requires a specialist degree in education, minimum 3.0 GPA, and at least three years of preK-12 education experience.

Online College in Illinois

Bradley University

School Information
Location Peoria, Illinois
Admission Rate 70%
Graduation Rate 77%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 31% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $950
Out of State | $950

Credits to Graduate
48

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

Bradley's online Ed.D. in higher education administration offers a pathway for education professionals who want postsecondary teaching or administrative roles. Students choose one of two focus areas: higher education or community college leadership.

All enrollees take core classes exploring areas like learning in an era of technology and boards and educational governance. Students gain experience during an internship. Action research projects fulfill the program's doctoral research requirement. Applicants need a master's degree and administrative experience.

Online College in California

California State University-Channel Islands

School Information
Location Camarillo, California
Admission Rate 86%
Graduation Rate 54%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 44% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $5,960 per semester
Out of State | $5,960 per semester

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | WASC Senior College and University Commission

CSUCI and Fresno State collaborate to offer an online doctorate in educational leadership. Students progress through the three-year program as part of a cohort. The program requires a core curriculum and offers two focus areas: preK-12 education leadership and postsecondary education leadership. 

Enrollees complete about 75% of the program online and attend three weeklong summer residencies. Students can transfer up to nine semester credits. Applicants need a master's degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, and GRE scores.

Online College in Michigan

Central Michigan University

School Information
Location Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Admission Rate 70%
Graduation Rate 61%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 40% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $695
Out of State | $695

Credits to Graduate
90

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities 

At CityU, the applied doctorate in educational leadership prepares learners to lead educational institutions. The 90-credit program requires online courses and residencies in Seattle or San Diego. Students can choose a concentration in organizational leadership or higher educational leadership. 

A third option lets students develop a specialized plan of study such as nonprofit leadership or adult education and online learning. The program's research core helps enrollees develop a dissertation. Applicants need a master's degree and at least two years of leadership experience.

Online College in Washington

City University of Seattle

School Information
Location Seattle, Washington
Graduation Rate 33%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Percent Online Enrollment 80% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $640
Out of State | $640

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education

Atlanta, Georgia-based CAU offers an accelerated Ed.D. in higher education leadership that students can finish in two years. Enrollees complete the 60-credit program as part of a cohort that begins in the fall. The program prepares students for leadership roles at colleges and noneducational institutions such as think tanks and government agencies.

The program blends asynchronous and synchronous online instruction with summer residencies. Applicants need a master's degree and professional experience in an educational or nonprofit setting.

Online College in Georgia

Clark Atlanta University

School Information
Location Atlanta, Georgia
Admission Rate 55%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 1% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online and Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,015
Out of State | $1,015

Credits to Graduate
46

Program Information
Program Accreditation | WASC Senior College and University Commission

CUI's doctorate in educational leadership offers a customizable curriculum with three specializations. Students move through the program as part of a cohort. They complete 46 credits in three years. Enrollees choose a specialization in educational administration, special education, or organizational change.

Students apply their knowledge and conduct project research during educational trips. The program's fully online and hybrid formats provide flexibility. All students pay the same tuition. Applicants need a minimum 3.5 GPA and a master's degree in education or a related field.

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

Is a doctorate in educational leadership worth it? true

A doctorate in educational leadership may be worthwhile for learners who wish to pursue a management role in the educational world. The training equips students with advanced knowledge in educational policy and operations. Graduates can pursue teaching or administrator careers in a very large and important industry.

The ability to choose an online doctorate in educational leadership may provide even more benefits. The value of an online degree varies, but many learners find the scheduling flexibility and limited travel requirements the most rewarding.

What can I do with a doctorate in educational leadership? true

A doctorate in educational leadership can lead graduates down many paths. With a Ph.D., graduates can pursue the typical academic career options, such as postsecondary teaching or research positions. With an Ed.D., graduates have access to management and administration roles in colleges and universities.

Educational leadership professionals can also pursue careers with organizations involved in the academic world. They may take on curriculum design or training and development roles. Another option is to continue their training after graduation, such as combining interdisciplinary studies with their advanced degree.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in educational leadership online? true

The length of time it takes to get an online doctorate in educational leadership depends on the school, program, and student. In general, these programs take between 3-6 years. Ed.D. programs take approximately 3-4 years, and Ph.D. programs take between 4-6 years.

Some online programs offer time-saving options, such as self-paced asynchronous courses that students can complete at their ideal speed. Some schools allow learners to take heavier course loads or run courses more frequently, which can also reduce overall study times.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in educational leadership?

The available wages for graduates with a doctorate in educational leadership look quite strong, though they can vary significantly. While the median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $80,560 in May 2020, education teachers made median annual wages of $65,440.

According to the BLS, postsecondary education administrators made median annual wages of $97,500 in that same time period. Training and development managers made median annual wages of $115,640, and top executives made median annual wages of $185,950.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a doctorate in educational leadership?

The highest-paying job for graduates with a doctorate in educational leadership depends on many different factors. Certain locations and employers pay more than others. Still, top executives likely make the most money in this field.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for these professionals in May 2020 was $185,950. The BLS also reports that the annual mean wage for chief executives in elementary and secondary schools was $156,150 in May 2020. The top 10% of top executives made more than $208,000 in that same period.

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