Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

Students can expand their career opportunities and boost their earning potential by earning a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. These specialized programs, rooted in academic research, prepare students for roles like...

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Updated April 25, 2022

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Completing a doctorate in higher education provides the knowledge and qualifications needed to compete for high-level positions in public and private colleges and universities. Graduates frequently go on to hold important titles such as provost, registrar, or higher education faculty member.

The cost of an online doctorate in higher education can vary widely based on the type of school a learner attends. Degree-seekers on a budget typically opt for an in-state school. Program length depends on whether students pursue a Ph.D. or Ed.D., but learners can plan to spend at least three years enrolled. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Graduates can look forward to steady job growth in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% growth for postsecondary education administrators between 2020-2030. These professionals earned median wages of $97,500 in May 2020, which exceeds the national median salary for all jobs.

Keep reading to learn about common coursework from top online schools, available jobs, and what to expect from the admissions process.

What Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Higher Education Program?

As prospective degree-seekers prepare for graduate school, they should consider what goes into earning an online doctorate in higher education and whether it's the right fit for them. Most students who pursue this degree have leadership aspirations and believe in the power of education. They enjoy working with students and other professionals with various personalities.

Most programs last between 3-7 years, depending on whether learners pursue an Ed.D. or Ph.D. The former may better suit students interested in teaching or administration, while the Ph.D. focuses more on research. Ph.D. programs typically take longer to complete. They require students to participate in a full load of coursework before researching and writing a full-length dissertation.

In addition to general curricular requirements, many doctorate in higher education programs also provide concentrations. These options let students focus their learning on in-demand subspecialty areas. Concentrations vary by program, but common offerings include:

Before committing to a program, learners should carefully review available concentrations to see if that school's offerings match their career goals.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Popular Online Doctorate in Higher Education 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 Higher Education Program?

History of American Higher Education

This course examines the landscape of American higher education. It particularly covers how it started and how it has evolved. Learners study contemporary issues and how they relate to earlier issues.

Higher Education in the U.S.

Students compare and contrast the American higher education system with other countries. Coursework helps students understand unique attributes and challenges across administration, research, and academic areas.

Higher Education Finance

This course looks at the financial tools available to higher education administrators and introduces students to common expenses and incomes within the sphere. Students cover topics such as state-funded schools and endowments.

Public Service in University Settings

Students taking this class learn about the importance of involving college learners in public service, outreach opportunities, and service learning throughout their education. Coursework emphasizes integrating public service into daily life.

Critical Issues in Higher Education

This course focuses on contemporary issues and challenges facing higher education institutions. By exploring case studies, students identify problems and seek innovative, inclusive solutions.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Doctorate in Higher Education Program?

Admission requirements for online doctorate in higher education degrees vary by program, with specific differences between Ph.D. and Ed.D. options. The Ph.D. pathway looks for students with research interests. The Ed.D. accepts students with teaching interests. Both programs typically require candidates to hold a master's degree, though some schools may have exceptions.

As learners review graduate admission guides, they will likely notice that online and campus-based programs usually set similar requirements.


Every online doctorate in higher education requires students to submit an application. These typically look for basic demographic information, such as the applicant's name, mailing address, date of birth, and citizenship status. College application systems are usually online, though some programs may still accept paper applications.

Test Scores

Most doctorate in higher education programs do not require college entrance exam scores since students would have already taken these for their master's programs. Some programs combine both master's and doctoral requirements. In this case, they may require GRE scores.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation play an important role in the larger application. They allow former or current professors, supervisors, volunteer managers, or faith leaders to speak about a candidate's unique qualities and their preparedness for a doctoral program.

Resume and Work Experience

Candidates often need work experience to enroll in a higher education doctoral program, especially Ed.D. programs. These programs usually seek candidates with previous teaching or administrative experience. When creating a college application resume, remember to highlight all relevant experience.


When writing a grad school essay, applicants must think carefully about what they want to convey in a limited amount of space. Important topics to cover include why they want to study higher education, how they plan to use their degree after graduating, and why they want to attend that particular program.

Official Transcripts

Every doctorate in higher education requires official transcripts to help confirm all prerequisites and the applicant's stated GPA. Some programs may accept transfer credits or provide college credit for relevant life and work experience.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Higher Education Degree?

Career Outlook

Students who want to work in higher education administration, research, or teaching should consider pursuing an online doctorate in higher education. The BLS projects that jobs for postsecondary education administrators will grow by 8% between 2020-2030. This projected growth could lead to more than 13,000 new positions by 2030.

Graduates can also look forward to above-average salaries. These professionals earned annual median wages of $97,500 in May 2020. Graduates can work in public or private higher education systems, both domestically and abroad.

See where a doctorate in higher education degree can take you. Learn more about higher education careers.

Career Paths

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Postsecondary education administrators work in various roles, including as registrars, student affairs directors, and study abroad directors. Regardless of their positions, they handle the administrative functions of their office. Responsibilities may include managing staff members, creating budgets, and reporting metrics to the board of governors.

Median Annual Salary: $97,500

Postsecondary Higher Education Teachers

After working in the field of higher education administration, some of these professionals may decide to return to the classroom as professors. Common responsibilities include giving lectures, leading class discussions, and writing recommendation letters. They also assign and grade papers and exams.

Median Annual Salary: $80,560

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

Because nearly every college depends on donors bestowing monetary gifts and endowments to help cover running costs, public relations and fundraising plays a large role in higher education administration. These professionals develop fundraising events and strategies, and relationships with potential donors.

Median Annual Salary: $118,430


Also known as a chief academic officer, provosts provide leadership, direction, and assessment for all academic affairs. Working directly with the university president, provosts oversee the curriculum and professors. They also manage specialized curricula, such as first- and second-year seminars, and handle academic misconduct issues.

Average Annual Salary: $168,410

Academic Dean

Whether overseeing an individual academic department or a whole college within a university system, academic deans manage both academic and administrative functions within their purview. They manage the faculty hiring process, create and oversee the departmental budget, and work with faculty in curriculum development.

Average Annual Salary Annual Salary: $95,020

Higher Educaiton Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

An online doctorate in higher education is the highest degree a student can earn. That said, many schools offer post-doctoral certificates in relevant subjects to help learners build niche skills and knowledge. For instance, Regent University offers a certificate of post-doctoral studies in organizational leadership consisting of 18 credits and provided fully online.

How Do I Choose an Online Doctorate in Higher Education Program?


According to College Board, public schools charged an average of $11,620 for doctoral programs during the 2021-2022 school year. Private schools charged an average of $45,830. Understanding the true program cost and comparing costs between online and on-campus programs can help learners save significantly.

Program Format

Students can find both synchronous and asynchronous online doctorate in higher education programs, depending on how much flexibility they need. Many programs also provide both full-time and part-time schedules to support students who continue working while enrolled.


As prospective students decide whether to go to college online or on-campus, location plays an important role. If enrolled in a program requiring no in-person components, students have more freedom in where they study. Learners may want to choose a school within driving distance If their program requires campus visits.


Students should look for an accredited online doctorate in higher education, as failing to do so can result in trouble transferring credits or finding a job. In addition to attending a college with institutional accreditation, students completing an Ed.D. in higher education can look for Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation (CAEP) accreditation.

Student Support

Student support can make or break a learner's experience while earning a doctorate in higher education. Student services can incorporate many services, including internship support, mentorship opportunities, and career services.

Best Accredited Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

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Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

  • Andrews University

    Berrien Springs, MI



    Located in Berrien Springs, Michigan, Andrews delivers distance learning programs through the Moodle platform, including online Ed.D. and Ph.D. options in higher education administration. These 60-61-credit programs primarily serve experienced education professionals, allowing participants to continue working while earning their degree in five years.

    Students who pursue the Ed.D. track take classes like higher education finance and administration of academic services, preparing for executive positions. The Ph.D. curriculum covers college student development theory and pertinent issues in educational leadership, allowing graduates to pursue careers as researchers and professors. Both tracks require a dissertation.

    To earn an online doctorate in higher education, applicants need a master's degree with a minimum 3.3 GPA. They also need to submit a statement of purpose, a resume, and three recommendations.

  • Colorado State University

    Fort Collins, CO



    CSU serves about 12,500 students through its Global Campus. Distance learners can enroll in the university's online Ph.D. in higher education leadership program, which uses a scholar-practitioner learning model. Graduates are prepared for senior administrative positions in enrollment management, student services, and institutional research.

    Students spend five years earning this doctorate in higher education and must attend some on-campus meetings at CSU's Fort Collins campus. Coursework covers topics like education policy analysis, higher education law, and student development in a collegiate context. Distance learners round out their degree with a dissertation and a comprehensive examination.

    Applicants need a regionally accredited master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also have two or more years of relevant work experience. CSU does not require standardized test scores for admission.

  • Concordia University Chicago

    River Forest, IL



    CUC provides more than 100 career-focused undergraduate and graduate programs. Offerings include online Ed.D and Ph.D. in leadership pathways with a specialization in higher education. Requiring 61-67 credits, these programs help students develop the advanced research skills needed for evidence-based decision-making.

    Core courses in the program include developing an organization's human capital and promoting sustainable change. As part of the specialization, students delve into higher education law in the context of governance and leadership. To earn their online doctoral degree in higher education, learners need to complete dissertation research and pass a comprehensive exam.

    CUC requires applicants to have a master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. The university also requires at least two years of administrative/teaching experience. Prospective students must submit GRE/MAT scores, two recommendation letters, a scholarly writing sample, and a statement of purpose.

  • The George Washington University

    Washington, DC



    As a private research institution, GW serves over 26,000 students annually. The university offers a doctorate in higher education administration that primarily serves working professionals who want to advance into executive management positions. This program offers a hybrid delivery method that requires students to attend some weekend classes at GW's campus in Foggy Bottom.

    The program's 53-credit curriculum includes core courses like comparative and international higher education, college and university curriculum, and theories for research on college students. Students also learn to implement qualitative research methods and analyze group comparison models. The program requires a dissertation and a comprehensive examination.

    Admission requirements include GRE/MAT scores, a resume, a statement of purpose, and two recommendation letters. Students can only enroll in the fall.

  • Gwynedd Mercy University

    Gwynedd Valley, PA



    GMercyU serves about 2,800 students in over 40 academic programs. The school powers distance education with the Blackboard platform, offering online degrees like an executive Ed.D. in education leadership. In this accelerated program, learners take one course at a time in five-week or seven-week sessions, ultimately graduating in less than three years.

    Requiring 54 credits, the program's curriculum covers topics like statistical analysis, methods, and research; U.S. education policies and practices; and finance and fiscal administration. Students learn to manage university enrollment and implement data-driven program evaluations. They also gain hands-on experience through three residencies.

    Applicants need a relevant master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. They also need at least three years of full-time professional experience. GMercyU grants GRE/MAT waivers to applicants with a 3.5 GPA or higher.

  • Indiana State University

    Terre Haute, IN



    Located in Terre Haute, ISU offers more than 70 online programs through Blackboard, including an online Ph.D. in educational administration with a specialization in leadership in higher education. This program uses a cohort model — students complete the same course sequence in lockstep with a group of their peers. Learners graduate in two years.

    The program's 72-credit curriculum follows a scholar-practitioner philosophy and includes courses like foundations of modern education, resource management in higher education, and organizational governance. This doctorate in higher education helps learners gain practical skills through intensive on-campus workshops and an integrated internship experience.

    ISU requires applicants to have a regionally accredited master's degree with a minimum 3.3 GPA. Prospective students need to send in three recommendation letters, GRE scores, and an essay detailing their contributions to the education leadership field.

  • Maryville University

    Saint Louis, MO



    Maryville enrolls about 6,000 distance learners in over 30 fully online programs. Graduate students can complete the school's Ed.D. in higher education leadership within 32 months. In addition to a practitioner-focused curriculum, this program offers personalized guidance by pairing each student with a faculty mentor.

    Required courses in the program include reflective leadership practice and inquiry, understanding data and analysis, and the competitive context of higher education. Students also delve into design thinking, which prepares them to spearhead strategic change and innovation. Learners expand their professional network by attending an in-person or virtual residency.

    To gain acceptance into this online doctorate in higher education program, applicants need a master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and three years of relevant work experience. Maryville may award up to nine transfer credits based on post-master's coursework, certification, and professional training.

  • Missouri Baptist University

    Saint Louis, MO



    MBU delivers several career-focused, online degrees through the Canvas platform, including an Ed.D. in higher education leadership that students can earn in 30 months. The program prepares graduates for senior administrative careers with postsecondary schools, community-based organizations, and research and policy centers.

    The program's 42-45-credit curriculum includes required courses in curriculum development and advanced research methods. Students also delve into leadership and strategic planning, learning how to foster a collaborative culture and make moral decisions. Participants personalize their education with three elective classes and gain hands-on experience by completing an on-campus residency.

    Applicants must have an education specialist degree with a minimum 3.25 GPA. Admission materials include a resume, three academic references, and a graduate-level research writing sample.

  • Notre Dame of Maryland University

    Baltimore, MD



    Offering one of the state's largest teacher preparation programs, NDMU helps professionals in the education field effectively respond to diverse student needs and shifting government policies. Graduate learners can obtain a fully online Ph.D. in higher education leadership for changing populations.

    The program's 51-credit curriculum includes courses like linguistic and cultural diversity; assessment, evaluation, and accreditation; and quantitative and qualitative research methods. Students round out the program with a dissertation and a comprehensive examination. NDMU provides students with ample flexibility by offering multiple entry dates and no residency requirement.

    Applicants submit a one-page personal statement and two recommendation letters. NDMU provides several financial aid opportunities, including awards specifically for students enrolled in the School of Education.

  • Nova Southeastern University

    Fort Lauderdale, FL



    Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, NSU serves over 20,000 students. The university offers several flexible degrees, including an online doctor of education in higher education leadership. Throughout this program's 55-credit curriculum, students gain the advanced skills needed to succeed as corporate staff developers, university administrators, and policy analysts.

    Required courses in the program cover topics like higher education student affairs and quantitative data analysis. Students also learn to oversee the planning, budgeting, and financing of institutional resources. NSU's online doctorate in higher education requires students to complete a summer institute residency.

    Admission requirements include a regionally accredited master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants also need to submit adequate GRE/MAT results and two professional recommendation letters. NSU's graduate and professional students can access scholarships, grants, and loans.

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

Is a doctorate in higher education worth it?

In addition to determining whether an online degree is worth it, prospective students must also decide whether a doctorate in higher education serves their needs. Pursuing this degree makes sense for learners who want to work within the higher education system.These programs can take between 3-6 years to complete, depending on whether a student pursues an Ed.D. or Ph.D. Prospective students should carefully consider which degree pathway best serves their interests and professional goals.

What can I do with a doctorate in higher education?

Earning a doctorate in higher education prepares graduates for fulfilling and well-paying jobs in many settings. Learners who pursue an Ed.D. in higher education typically work in academic positions to educate the next generation of higher education professionals.

Students who earn a Ph.D. in higher education often decide to go into research. But they can also use their credentials in the classroom. Both degrees support students interested in high-level administration positions as provosts, deans, or department heads.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in higher education online?

The amount of time a student spends working toward their doctorate in higher education depends on several factors. Firstly, Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs vary, with the latter typically taking less time. Most Ph.D. programs take between 5-7 years, while an Ed.D. takes about 3-5 years.

Students should consider these timelines when deciding which degree meets their academic and professional needs. People with less interest in research may decide the Ed.D. works best for them.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in higher education?

Wages for a doctorate in higher education graduate can vary widely based on factors such as employer, job title, amount of experience, and location. For instance, a provost at a school in a rural area may earn less than a colleague working at a city-based university with higher living costs.That said, graduates typically earn more than the national median salary for all occupations. Higher education professors earned median yearly salaries of $80,560 as of May 2020. Postsecondary education administrators earned median annual wages of $97,500 during the same time, with the top 10% of earners making almost $200,000.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a doctorate in higher education?

The more experience a graduate holds, the more likely they earn higher salaries. While recent graduates may not qualify for senior-level positions, they still typically earn more than the national average for all occupations.

For instance, university provosts earn average yearly salaries of $167,183, as of Feb. 2022 Payscale data. The highest-paid university presidents can earn multiple millions of dollars each year.

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