Between 2000 and 2018, enrollment at postsecondary institutions in the U.S. increased by 26%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. During their time on campus, these college students are supported by many administrators. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the field of higher education administration will support almost 200,000 jobs by 2029.
Earning a master's degree in higher education can be crucial for graduates looking to work in this steadily growing industry. In higher education programs, students study how institutions facilitate optimal learning, manage resources, and design programs to benefit students and alumni.
Many graduates with a master's in higher education find work in admissions, financial aid, and other administrative areas. For students looking to pursue this degree with greater flexibility, many accredited schools offer excellent online programs
What Are the Best Online Master's in Higher Education Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Top 5:
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|1||Stony Brook University||Stony Brook, NY|
|2||Florida International University||Miami, FL|
|3||Georgetown University||Washington, DC|
|4||University of Wisconsin La Crosse||La Crosse, WI|
|5||Boston University||Boston, MA|
- How We Rank Schools
At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you will make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering school rankings that are transparent, inclusive, and relevant for online students. Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our Ranking Methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.
2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Higher Education Programs
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Stony Brook University
|Stony Brook, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 74%||
A key member of the State University of New York System, Stony Brook serves over 25,000 students. The university offers an online master's degree in higher education administration that prepares graduates for leadership roles in academic affairs, student affairs, and university operations. Distance learners can complete all of the program's required coursework online or take some on-campus courses.
The 36-credit curriculum covers core topics like diversity and research/assessment in higher education. Students personalize the curriculum through electives, with options like enrollment management, career counseling and the psychology of work, and intercollegiate athletics. Full-time students can earn the degree in 16 months.
Stony Brook offers fall, spring, and summer entry dates. Applicants do not need to submit standardized test scores.
Florida International University
|Miami, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 58%||
Based in Miami, FIU powers distance learning with the Canvas platform. Distance learners can enroll in a fully online master's in higher education administration program that takes full-time students 12 months to complete. Throughout a 36-credit curriculum, students gain the research and leadership skills needed to oversee registrar, admissions, and student affairs offices.
Required courses include college student development theory, access and choice in U.S. higher education, and foundations of academic advising. Students also examine pertinent issues related to diversity and social justice. All learners complete a practicum before graduating.
Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must submit a personal essay, a current resume, and two recommendation letters. The program does not require GRE scores for admission.
|Washington, DC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 94%||
Georgetown offers 20 flexible and career-focused graduate programs through its School of Continuing Education, including an online master's degree in higher education administration that students can earn in 2-5 years. By completing this 33-credit program, learners develop the applied knowledge and practical skills needed to create positive change in education. Degree-seekers can complete the program entirely online or through blended learning.
During foundational coursework, students explore higher education laws, structures, and philosophies in the U.S. and abroad. The program offers concentrations in administration and student affairs. Learners may also design their own concentration.
Admission requirements include a statement of purpose, a resume/CV, and two recommendation letters. Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores.
University of Wisconsin La Crosse
|La Crosse, WI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
UW-La Crosse serves about 10,500 students each year, many of whom enroll online in programs like the university's online master's degree in higher education administration. Designed for working professionals, this program uses Canvas to deliver coursework asynchronously and does not include any on-campus requirements.
The 36-credit curriculum includes required coursework in leadership and organizational theories, assessment in student affairs, and social justice and inclusion. Students gain hands-on skills through a required practicum and optional study abroad trips. The program culminates in a capstone research project centered on student affairs administration.
Applicants need a minimum 2.85 GPA. They must submit a resume, two recommendation letters, and a 2-4-page personal statement. UW-La Crosse offers several financial aid opportunities, including graduate assistantships and need-based scholarships.
|Boston, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 88%||
BU serves approximately 35,000 students through over 300 programs, including an online master of education in educational leadership and policy studies with a higher education administration concentration. This part-time program allows learners to maintain their work/life balance and still graduate in 18 months.
The 36-credit curriculum includes core courses in strategic planning/implementation and theories of student learning and development. Students also delve into higher education governance, learning how to help their offices and departments make strategic decisions. Graduates are prepared to work as admissions counselors, financial aid advisors, and alumni relations specialists.
Applicants must submit a statement of qualifications, a resume/CV, and two recommendations. The program does not require GRE scores for admission.
Michigan State University
|East Lansing, MI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 80%||
Based in East Lansing, MSU delivers online undergraduate and graduate degrees through the Desire2Learn platform, including an online master's degree in higher education. Program graduates can begin careers as administrators and curriculum developers for higher education institutions, community-based organizations, and private corporations.
Students can align the curriculum with their distinct research interests and professional goals through eight electives. Elective options include program planning and evaluation, concept of a learning society, and budgeting and finance administration. The program culminates in a final portfolio project.
Applicants with a GPA below 3.0 may apply for provisional admission. MSU strongly prefers candidates with professional experience in postsecondary education. The program does not require GRE scores for admission.
|Clinton, MS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 53%||
As the first coeducational college in the U.S. to grant a degree to a woman, MC boasts a long history of innovative thinking. Maintaining that tradition, the university now offers online programs through Moodle, including an online master's degree in higher education administration. Throughout an interdisciplinary curriculum, students gain leadership, research, and communication skills, which they can apply to administrative positions.
The curriculum comprises 27 credits of coursework and two practicum experiences totaling four credits. Students gain a thorough understanding of the history, laws, and financial structures of postsecondary schools with an emphasis on community colleges. Learners also examine best practices in personnel and human resources management.
Prospective students need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree. They must also submit a personal statement and GRE scores.
University of Houston
|Houston, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 59%||
UH uses the Blackboard Learn platform to deliver over 30 online degrees. Distance learners can enroll in a master's in higher education program to prepare for careers in student affairs, admissions, and other leadership-oriented administrative positions. Students enroll as part of a cohort, taking two courses at a time throughout the year to graduate in about two years.
The 36-credit curriculum covers topics like student support services, educational policy, and applied research methodologies. Learners also examine contemporary assessment and evaluation models. All degree-seekers must complete an internship at a college or university in their community.
Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA and high GRE scores. UH's College of Education supports students by connecting them with mentors and providing financial aid opportunities like the Stella L. Ehrhardt Scholarship.
University of Rochester
|Rochester, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 86%||
Rochester is a leading research institution that serves more than 12,000 students every year. Through the university's Graduate School of Education and Human Development, distance learners can pursue an online master's in higher education that includes three specializations: higher education administration, higher education student affairs, and academic and career advising. No matter what track they choose, full-time students can complete the program in 18 months. Part-time learners can graduate in two years.
The Graduate School of Education and Human Development maintains a test-optional policy. Applicants must submit a current resume or CV, an academic writing sample, at least two recommendation letters, and a personal statement.
Appalachian State University
|Boone, NC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 72%||
Located in Boone, North Carolina, Appalachian powers distance education with the Moodle platform. The university offers an online master's in higher education program that offers thesis and non-thesis tracks. Distance learners take two synchronous courses at a time, meeting online once per week to engage with peers and professors in real time.
Required coursework includes applied research methods and adult development/learning theories. Through the community college and university leadership concentration, students delve into topics like institutional governance, curriculum development, and strategies for student success. Non-thesis students take advanced electives in lieu of research and defense.
The program waives its GRE requirements for applicants who have a minimum 3.0 GPA and five years of professional experience. Admission requirements include a resume and three references.
What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Higher Education Program?
Many master's in higher education programs require around 30-36 course credits and take full-time students about one year to complete.
A master's degree in higher education may appeal to students skilled in organization, interpersonal communication, and problem-solving. Although requirements vary, most online master's in higher education programs require around 30-36 credits and take full-time students about one year to complete. Many schools require students to complete internships or practicum hours; these opportunities let participants network and gain real-world experience. Schools may also require students to complete a capstone project to facilitate independent learning.
Careers in postsecondary education are varied and students can take elective courses that align with their intended roles, such as career counseling or enrollment management classes. Learners pursuing an online master's in higher education might also be able to choose a concentration that aligns closely with their projected career paths. Some common examples include:
- Adult education
- Higher education leadership
- Teaching and learning
- Enrollment management
- Online and distance learning
Admission Requirements for Online Master's in Higher Education Programs
When assessing applicants, higher education programs frequently require a minimum undergraduate GPA — usually between 2.0 and 3.0, depending on the competitiveness of the program. Applicants typically need to submit undergraduate transcripts, GRE scores, resumes detailing work experience, personal statements, and letters of recommendation. Programs might take a more personalized approach, requesting interviews to further evaluate an applicant's credentials and career goals.
Check out our graduate admissions guide to learn more about the overall graduate admissions process.
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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Higher Education Program?
In online master's in higher education programs, many courses explore ways that schools can optimize postsecondary education. In these courses, students learn what constitutes an exceptional education and how postsecondary institutions can facilitate better learning environments. Although curricula depend on a student's chosen concentration, many programs require courses that resemble those described below.
- Learning and Development
Student learning is the utmost priority of any institution, and professionals in administrative roles explore ways that the college learning experience can be optimized. This course outlines how students learn, and what techniques and environments create the best learning outcomes.
- Managing Financial Resources
Many higher education administrators are tasked with managing money. Managing a departmental budget or university endowment has a significant bearing on a school's ability to meet educational goals. In this course, students learn how institutions secure necessary funding, evaluate program needs, and use allotted funding to meet these goals.
- Program Planning and Assessment
For many postsecondary institutions, high-quality graduate and undergraduate programs are a cornerstone of success and marketability. This course outlines the ways that specific programs are structured and evaluated. Here, students learn how institutions invest in these programs, and what strategies generate student and alumni success.
- Student Affairs: Orient to Profession
This career-oriented course closely details the role of student affairs professionals. Students explore how those working in student affairs support schools' academic missions and effectively spark students' intellectual, social, and moral growth. In this course, learners interested in pursuing student affairs positions explore their personal philosophy and how they plan to apply these ideals.
- Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education
Academic institutions are frequently looked upon to act as leaders in embracing socially aware policies and values. This course explores how schools can more effectively promote inclusivity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and social class. Participants explore how increased student diversity creates a more enriched learning environment for the entire student body.
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What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Higher Education Degree?
Graduates with a master's in higher education can pursue a variety of rewarding, in-demand careers. Professionals with this specialized degree often work in postsecondary education, assuming administrative roles in student affairs, financial aid, or admissions. Many of these positions are lucrative and offer growing employment opportunities.
The BLS reports that postsecondary education administrators earn a median income of $95,410, and this field is projected to grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029. Similar roles, like administrative services managers, boast a median annual salary of $96,940 and a projected growth rate of 6% over the same time period.
Learn more about careers in higher education and see where a master's in higher education can take you.
- Postsecondary Education Administrators
This umbrella term refers to professionals who manage designated departments within an institution. Administrators often work in specialized roles, taking on positions like registrar, provost, dean of students, or dean of academic affairs. These individuals are some of the most influential figures at postsecondary institutions and help shape academic and administrative policy.
- Administrative Services Manager
Like postsecondary administrators, these professionals oversee administrative functions within institutions. Administrative service managers work in more for-profit spheres, managing clerical staff and organizing department affairs. These individuals may oversee record-keeping, advise policy modifications, and assess adherence to regulations to help organizations meet their goals.
School principals manage K-12 institutions, influencing curriculum changes, hiring teachers, regulating resource distribution, and overseeing school budgets. Often, public school principals must lead in accordance with district, state, and/or federal requirements. Professionals in this diverse, hands-on role often become community leaders, communicating with parents and students.
- Admissions Officer
In college or university admissions, these professionals often assess applicant transcripts and other credentials, applying school parameters to admit appropriate students. Admissions officers may also be involved in recruiting targeted student groups to build a diverse and skilled student body. Often, admissions officers travel to different regions to market their institution in person.
- Postsecondary Teacher
Many professionals who earn a master's in higher education find that their skills are best exercised in a classroom setting. Postsecondary teachers conduct classes at universities, community colleges, professional schools, and other higher learning institutions. Many educators who work in specialized fields pair their teaching with research or writing. Most of these positions require a doctorate, although master's degree-holders may qualify for teaching roles at some schools.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Higher Education Programs
- Is a master's in higher education worth it?
For those looking to work in postsecondary education, a master's degree in higher education can lead to a wide array of opportunities. Many jobs in this field require specialized knowledge of higher education's inner workings. Positions like school principal or postsecondary administrator require a relevant graduate degree and years of specialized experience — earning an online master's in higher education can be an essential step to finding professional success.
- What can I do with a master's in higher education?
Students with this degree can pursue administrative careers like college dean, financial aid officer, registrar, or admissions officer to aid in the operation of a postsecondary institution. Other graduates may prefer a more hands-on, student-focused role, like school principal. Additionally, some graduates may find that their skills are transferable to less education-centered fields, like public relations.
- Is it better to have a master's in education or master's in higher education?
Some master's in education programs are better suited for those looking to work with K-12 students in a classroom setting. Individuals who earn this degree might earn a state-issued teaching certification along the way. Alternatively, higher education programs may be a better fit for those looking to work in postsecondary education and do not necessarily intend to work in a classroom environment.
- How much money can I make with a master's in higher education?
There are a plethora of well-paying careers in higher education. However, salary prospects vary by position and institution. For example, school and career counselors earn a median salary of $57,040, while the median wages for school principals is $96,400 a year.
- What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a master's in higher education?
Some specialized roles in the field of higher education are especially lucrative. According to BLS data, postsecondary education administrators earn a median annual salary of $95,410, while administrative services managers earn a median salary of $96,940.