Best Online Master’s in Higher Education Programs

We've ranked the top online master's in higher education programs. Compare schools and figure out where you can earn your master's in higher education online.

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by Doug Wintemute

Updated June 10, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Fecich

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College enrollment numbers decreased steadily between 2009 and 2019, and the COVID-19 situation lowered student body sizes even more. However, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has projected that student enrollment numbers will increase through 2029. As the number of students in higher education grows, there will be an increased demand for postsecondary administration and policy professionals.

Many of the available opportunities come at the management level, a sector the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030. A master's in higher education positions you to take advantage of this demand and qualifies you to pursue various other positions in the educational field.

www.bestcolleges.com 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?

To help you in your graduate school decision, we put together a list of the best online master's in higher education from some of the top online schools. We also explore program requirements, what the admission process entails, and what postgraduate paths may look like.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Higher Education Program?

Schools take different approaches with their online master's in higher education curriculum, but these programs generally feature between 30-45 credits and last approximately two years. These programs prepare you to handle many of the administrative and policy-related responsibilities behind the scenes at colleges and universities.

Online master's in higher education programs usually combine research with theoretical and experiential training. You study the issues facing postsecondary schools and students and look for practical, applicable solutions to common higher education challenges. You also develop leadership, project management, and curriculum skills and expertise.

When preparing for graduate school, you need to consider the different types of master's in higher education programs available. Schools may award an MA, MS, or M.Ed in this field, with each degree possibly impacting your postgraduate outcomes. While MA degrees may be more theoretical and interdisciplinary than the more technical MS degrees, M.Ed degrees are practitioner degrees and lead more directly to the workforce after graduation.

You may also get the chance to specialize your training. Some schools offer concentrations, such as leadership, administration, or international education. Without the option of a formal concentration, you might be able to create your own by choosing targeted electives, focusing your research, and choosing your practicum assignments strategically.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Popular Online Master's 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 Master's in Higher Education Program?

Program Evaluation

In this course, students learn how teachers, curriculum coordinators, and other leaders in colleges and universities evaluate the effectiveness of programs. They may explore methods for assessing student outcomes and retention.

Financial Management in Higher Education

This course teaches students how to evaluate current income streams and expenses in colleges and universities. They look at ways of using data and quantitative analysis to inform future financial decisions.

Contemporary Issues in Higher Education

Students in this course learn about current issues in college and university systems. This may include topics such as academic freedom, degree inflation, adjunct labor, teaching methods, and accessible curriculum design.

Higher Education Marketing

This course teaches students how universities and colleges attract students and manage their admissions processes. They look at how various factors, such as academic assistance and financial aid can influence student enrollment and retention.

Student Development

This course focuses on how students develop and what factors influence this process. Degree-seekers may look at ways that administrative processes and student services can make an impact on students' growth and success.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Higher Education Program?

While the admission requirements for online master's programs may vary slightly, schools generally admit applicants who hold a bachelor's degree. Some of the more competitive schools may set GPA minimums or require a specific undergraduate degree.

In the following section, we look at the most common application components, according to our graduate admissions guide.

Application

While each school puts its own spin on their college application, most applicants need to submit some combination of the items below. While college application systems can help streamline the process for prospective students applying to multiple schools, many master's candidates apply directly to their school and program of choice.

Test Scores

Under normal circumstances, schools use standardized test scores to help differentiate between applicants. Prospective students can boost their admission chances by completing GRE prep. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many schools have offered test waivers to avoid forcing students into classrooms and testing centers.

Letters of Recommendation

Most applications ask for 2-3 letters of recommendation to gain insight into the applicant. References usually include former teachers and supervisors in relevant fields. When asking for letters of recommendation, prospective students should give their references as much time as possible.

Resume and Work Experience

Many schools and programs require master's degree applicants to submit a professional resume to gather information about the applicant's employment history. At the master's level, prospective students sometimes need to demonstrate a specific amount of relevant experience. This helps assure schools that the candidates have the necessary foundations and practical skills in place.

Essays

Applicants must also submit a grad school application essay, or "statement of purpose." While the precise format will vary according to program, many schools want applicants to address their educational and research interests at the graduate level.

Official Transcript

Almost all applications require official transcripts. Schools use these records to identify how students fared in their previous training, if they meet the program's GPA requirements, and if they have the appropriate prerequisites.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Higher Education Degree?

Career Outlook

Despite decreasing student numbers after 2009, the NCES has projected gradual growth in student enrollment numbers through 2029. Not only would increased enrollment create demand for higher education administrative professionals, but changing student demographics could lead to increased demand for certain positions, as well.

For example, the number of Hispanic students grew 48% between 2009 and 2019, according to the NCES. And the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on online learning may also result in lasting demand for certain administrative roles.

In a master's in higher education program, you will explore these trends and prepare for the future of postsecondary training. You might work in college marketing, curriculum design, or student support services, among many other areas. Below, we highlight some of the more common career paths available to you after graduation.

Check out where a master's in higher education can take you. Learn more about higher education careers.

Career Paths

Postsecondary Education Administrator

These professionals oversee many of the administrative duties in colleges and universities, including finances, student services, and admissions. They may help develop support services and programs for learners or maintain student records. They can also create student experience programs and services.

Median Annual Salary: $97,500

Administrative Services and Facilities Manager

These professionals handle an organization's facilities and services, including supplies, technology, and staffing needs. These managers may take care of health and safety standards and protocols as well. They may also oversee record-keeping duties, including finances and student records.

Median Annual Salary: $98,890

Instructional Coordinators

These professionals create educational lesson plans and programs for teachers and schools. They develop assessment materials based on desired learning outcomes and regional and board standards. Coordinators also integrate new content, teaching techniques, and technologies into curricula.

Median Annual Salary: $66,970

Training and Development Specialists

These professionals develop and run training programs for organizations, incorporating various professional development strategies and technologies. They create programs based on organizational needs and create all the necessary materials. They often determine training needs through surveys and assessments, and they may also evaluate the effectiveness of their training programs.

Median Annual Salary: $62,700

High School Principals

These professionals manage the daily activities and operations in their schools. They help implement regional policies and standards, develop curriculums, and oversee student test and achievement reporting. Principals also manage the staffing and training needs of their school, along with many other operational and administrative duties.

Median Annual Salary: $98,490

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

Continuing Education

After a master's in higher education, graduates often continue their educational journey with a doctorate in higher education. Graduates may explore related disciplines as well, expanding their field of expertise or specializing in a certain subfield.

Some specialized programs could include a doctorate in curriculum and instruction or a doctorate in educational administration. Interdisciplinary program options may include a doctorate in education or a doctorate in organizational leadership. Doctoral degrees can lead to postsecondary teaching, research and development, and policy-making careers.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Higher Education Program?

Cost

According to the NCES, the average graduate student paid $19,792 in tuition and fees in 2019-20. When evaluating programs and schools, you should consider the true program cost, which incorporates all fees and lost income as a result of your training. You should also compare online and on-campus program costs, in-state and out-of-state costs, and private and public school costs.

Program Format

You should choose the program format that best aligns with your scheduling needs. You may pick synchronous or asynchronous delivery depending on your flexibility. Many schools offer both full-time and part-time student schedules for working professionals and those hoping to graduate more quickly.

Location

Whether you are attending college online or on-campus, you should think about location when picking a school. On-campus learners need to choose a school location they can live near or travel to regularly. Online learners also need the right location, as they may need to satisfy on-campus requirements.

Accreditation

According to our online college accreditation guide, you should pay close attention to your school's accreditation status. This ensures you have access to adequate financial aid and employment opportunities. You can find a list of accredited schools and programs in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs

Student Support

When choosing your school and program, you should also look at the available student services. Schools with online programs typically have similar online student services for their remote learners. Common offerings include career services, academic support, and internship programs. Having access to tutors, advisors, wellness counselors, and college mentors can foster student success.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Higher Education Programs

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Best Online Master's in Higher Education Programs

  1. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus
    Location

    University Park, PA

    Tuition

    $21678

    Based in University Park, Pennsylvania, Penn State World Campus offers an online master of education in higher education. Students can choose from three emphasis areas: administration, student engagement, and institutional research.

    Students begin the 30-credit program by taking five required classes (15 credits), including foundations in higher education and student affairs. Learners then complete six credits in their emphasis area and six credits of electives.They also complete a culminating experience that includes research and creative projects.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree but do not need professional experience in a higher education setting to qualify for admission. Students usually need to submit GRE scores, although this requirement is waived through 2021.

    Penn State World Campus is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  2. Stony Brook University
    Location

    Stony Brook, NY

    Tuition

    $14874

    Located in New York, Stony Brook offers an online master's in higher education administration. Students can complete the 36-credit program in 16 months with full-time study or in two years with part-time study.

    Students take courses in topics such as student affairs administration, leadership in higher education, enrollment management, and diversity in higher education. Students can enter the program at any point in their career and can enroll on multiple start dates throughout the year.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. The school does not require GRE scores to apply to the program.

    Stony Brook is regionally accredited by the Middle State Commission on Higher Education.

  3. Florida International University
    Location

    Miami, FL

    Tuition

    $9180

    Located in the city of Miami, FIU offers an online master of science in higher education administration. Full-time students can complete this 36-credit program in 12 months.

    Required courses include an introduction to higher education, the history of higher education, legal issues in higher education administration, and foundations of academic advising. A required practicum allows students to gain hands-on experience in the field.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Students do not need prior work experience or GRE scores for program eligibility.

    FIU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of the Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  4. Appalachian State University
    Location

    Boone, NC

    Tuition

    $10491

    Based in Boone, North Carolina, App State Online offers a master of arts in higher education. Students can complete the 36-credit program in one year of full-time study. Learners can choose between a general track or a community college and university leadership concentration.

    Required courses include diversity in education, the history and law of American higher education, and research methods. Students then focus on concentration area courses and electives. As a capstone experience, students must pass a written comprehensive exam.

    Applicants need to hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to qualify for admission. Applicants with a GPA of 3.0 or higher may apply for GRE/GMAT waivers.

    Appalachian is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel offers a master of science in higher education leadership. Students complete courses on a part-time, online basis and choose one of three concentrations: enrollment management; student development and affairs; or mind, brain, and learning.

    The curriculum includes four core classes: leadership in education contexts and systems; using and integrating learning technologies; evidence-based evaluation; and diversity, equity, and social justice in education. From there, learners complete concentration-focused classes, electives, a capstone experience, and a thesis project.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. However, students do not need to submit GRE or GMAT scores.

    Drexel is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  6. Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $16227

    Located in East Lansing, MSU offers an online master of arts in higher, adult, and lifelong education. Students can complete the 30 credits required for this degree in one year of full-time study, without ever needing to visit campus.

    Core classes cover inquiries in postsecondary education and adult and higher education. Students then choose three courses from the program's guided electives list, selecting from options like administration in higher education and concepts of a learning society. Learners must also complete a final portfolio project.

    Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and have some professional experience. However, students need not submit standardized test scores.

    MSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  7. University of Louisville
    Location

    Louisville, KY

    Tuition

    $17098

    Based in Louisville, Kentucky, UofL offers an online master of arts in higher education administration. Students can transfer in up to six credits toward their degree. Learners can complete the 30-credit program in two years.

    Students begin with core courses, such as introduction to research methods and college students in the United States. Participants then take advanced classes like legal issues in postsecondary education and diversity in higher education, as well as electives. To finish the program, learners take an organizational improvement in higher education capstone course.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 2.5. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores.

    UofL is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  8. Sam Houston State University
    Location

    Huntsville, TX

    Tuition

    $12516

    Based in Huntsville, Texas, SHSU offers a master of arts in higher education administration. Students complete 36 credits entirely online, and they can select a thesis or non-thesis option. Learners can also choose to pursue optional certificates in academic advising or higher education assessment and institutional research.

    Students take 10 credits of required courses, including leadership in education, higher education resource management, academic affairs in HIED, and diverse student populations. Thesis-track students use three credits to complete a thesis, while non-thesis-track students complete a practicum. Learners also take two electives to complete the program.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores.

    SHSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  9. Mississippi College
    Location

    Clinton, MS

    A Christian university located in Clinton, Mississippi, MC offers an online master of higher education administration. Students must complete 27 credits of classes and two practica, earning a total of 31 credits. Learners can complete the program in 18 months.

    Course topics include basic understandings in higher education, finance in higher education, student development theories and ethics and inquiry, and basic effective leadership. Two 60-hour practica allow students to gain hands-on experience and demonstrate skills mastery in an approved setting. Participants write a culminating paper for each practicum experience.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores. The program allows students to transfer up to six credits toward this degree.

    MC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and School Commission on Colleges.

  10. Bay Path University
    Location

    Longmeadow, MA

    Located in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Bay Path offers a master of science in higher education administration. Students can choose one of four concentration options: enrollment management, general education, institutional advancement, or online teaching and program administration.

    The 36-credit program includes core requirements such as an introduction to higher education administration, the contemporary college student, student personnel services in higher education, and leading change in higher education. In addition to concentration-related electives, students must also complete a practicum. The practicum includes a culminating written project or thesis.

    Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, with a preferred GPA of 3.0 or higher. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores.

    Bay Path is regionally accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Higher Education Programs

Is a master's in higher education worth it?

Yes. A master's in higher education provides many benefits to students and graduates. The flexible degree gives students plenty of study and specialization options, along with various career opportunities. Learners can take their education and career in different directions based on their interests and goals.

Students can also find value in an online degree, such as added flexibility and reduced travel requirements. Online learning gives students more school and program options to choose from, which can help them find lower tuition rates and more suitable program offerings.

What can I do with a master's in higher education?

With a master's in higher education, graduates can pursue many education careers. The most direct career paths are in postsecondary administration. Graduates can work in admissions, finance, or student engagement. Various other educational leadership positions exist, such as principals, deans, and curriculum coordinators.

Graduates may continue their education as well. They may choose to pursue a doctoral degree in higher education or a related field, which can open up teaching careers at the postsecondary level.

Are higher education graduates in demand?

Yes. Graduates with a master's in higher education are in demand. The BLS projects 8% growth in postsecondary administrators between 2020-2030, which works out to more than 13,000 new jobs during that time. Additionally, the BLS projects approximately 14,500 annual openings to fill the general turnover in the field.

How much money can I make with a master's in higher education?

Professionals with a master's in higher education have access to various career paths and salaries. The most direct route leads to a career as a postsecondary administrator. This position posted median annual wages of $97,500 in May 2020, as per the BLS.

Other career options include administrative services and facilities managers, who made median annual wages of $93,510 in the education industry in May 2020. On the lower end of the scale, instructional coordinators earned median annual wages of $62,950 in colleges and universities in May 2020.

What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in higher education?

The highest-paying jobs for graduates with a master's in higher education most likely are in the postsecondary administration field. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for professionals in this field was $97,500 in May 2020.

Postsecondary administrators who worked at colleges and universities earned median annual wages of $100,060 in May 2020, according to the BLS, while those who worked at junior colleges made a median of $90,470. The top 10% of all postsecondary administrators made over $199,400.

BestColleges.com 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.

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