Best Online Master’s in Higher Education Programs of 2021

February 1, 2021

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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 2021? Here Are Our Top 5:

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#1 Pennsylvania State University-World Campus University Park, PA
#2 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY
#3 Florida International University Miami, FL
#4 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
#5 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
#6 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
#7 University of Louisville Louisville, KY
#8 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX
#9 Mississippi College Clinton, MS
#10 Bay Path University Longmeadow, 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.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

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

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Higher Education Programs

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Pennsylvania State University-World Campus View School Profile University Park, PA

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.

Stony Brook University View School Profile Stony Brook, NY

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.

Florida International University View School Profile Miami, FL

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.

Appalachian State University View School Profile Boone, NC

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.

Drexel University View School Profile 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.

Michigan State University View School Profile East Lansing, MI

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.

University of Louisville View School Profile Louisville, KY

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.

Sam Houston State University View School Profile Huntsville, TX

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.

Mississippi College View School Profile 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.

Bay Path University View School Profile 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.

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.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Degree Programs.

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.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

Scholarships for Education Majors Scholarships and Financial Aid for Online College Students Calculating the True Cost of an Online Program

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.

true 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.

Principal

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.

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

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.

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