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.

Choosing a Program


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.


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.


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.


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.

Accredited Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Andrews University

Berrien Springs, MI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 71%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 49%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 47%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 82%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 41%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 72%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 36%

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 Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 53%

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.

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

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.


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


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.


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 for Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

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.

Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Higher Education Graduates


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


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


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.


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%


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%


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.

Financing Your Online Doctorate in Higher Education Program

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.


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