The professional field of higher education refers to college professors and faculty members, deans, student administrators and other personnel who work at colleges, universities and other postsecondary learning institutions. Jobs in higher education have grown in recent years to match the rising number of U.S. college students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), roughly 20,515 undergraduate and graduate students attended a postsecondary institution in 2016 ― representing a 34% increase in overall enrollment since 2000. These numbers are also expected to grow by 13.5% in the next eight years.

What are the best higher education programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
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
6 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
7 Mississippi College Clinton, MS
8 University of Houston Houston, TX
9 University of Rochester Rochester, NY
10 Appalachian State University Boone, NC

The vast majority of professors, administrators and other postsecondary education personnel begin their careers at the college level. A master's degree is considered the educational minimum for careers in postsecondary education; some positions, including professors, will usually also require a doctoral degree. The master's degree in higher education pathway prepares students for niche areas of the profession by allowing them to build knowledge and skills in areas like educational leadership, administration, community college teaching, education technology, and distance learning. Many of today's students are choosing to earn their master's degree in higher education online, rather than in a classroom. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, often leading to the same number of post-degree job opportunities. The flexible, study-from-home schedule are ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other important commitments.

Learn more about what you can do with an online master's degree in higher education and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.

Choosing a Program


Master's degrees in higher education are designed to build on the foundational studies of undergraduate programs while introducing more advanced concepts, theories and approaches to educating and accommodating college students. The curriculum will also cover ethics and laws specifically related to the way postsecondary education is delivered, financed and evaluated. Those who pursue master's in higher education degrees for teaching or administration should also expect to take part in practicum courses, or on-site training sessions;. Capstone projects are often required, as well.


Online master's degree programs offer a flexible, easily accessible alternative to traditional college learning. Students can download course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with other students, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors ― all from their home computer. Current technology also enables them to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other portable Wi-Fi devices. For added convenience, students can usually coordinate practicum courses at schools and other locations that are reasonably close to their current residence.


Job eligibility for those with a master's in higher education will largely depend on their areas of emphasis as a graduate student. Students who focus on educational leadership or administration will be prime candidates for roles in student affairs, housing, course registration, finance, and other key facets of college life. For aspiring professors, the master's degree will typically be a stepping-stone toward doctoral or Ph.D. programs; however, some postsecondary educators ― such as community college teachers ― are often considered for jobs once they have completed their master's program studies.


Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school's strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master's degree in higher education programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online master's in higher education, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.

Accredited Online Masters in Higher Education Programs

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

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.


Georgetown University

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 University

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.


Mississippi College

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.


Timeline 18 months to 2 years
Program Costs $8,000 to $25,000 in annual tuition
Concentrations Educational Leadership, Education Administration, Educational Technology, Community College Leadership, Enrollment Management, Online Education and Distance Learning, College Program Planning and Evaluation, and Global Higher Education


The curriculum for a master's in higher education degree online program will cover a wide range of pertinent topics. Students should expect coursework in areas like educational laws and ethics, finance in higher education, educational technology, research in education, student affairs, and classroom management. Some programs allow students to earn a 'specialization' for their master's in higher education degree in fields such as community college or higher education administration. In most cases, however, 'higher education' will serve as the specialization for a master's in education degree pathway.

Practicum experiences are common in master's of higher education degree programs online. These on-site opportunities expose students to the realities of working at colleges and universities, and allow them to receive hands-on training from professors and faculty members, administrators and other postsecondary personnel. Many programs also require capstone projects, which allow students to use the knowledge and skills they have gained to address contemporary trends and issues in college learning.

It's important to research the accreditation status of a master's in higher education degree program before fully committing to it. In the U.S., online higher education master's programs receive accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). In addition to programmatic accreditation, make sure that the college or university has received regional or national accreditation.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook is very favorable for postsecondary educators and administrators. Jobs for professors and other teachers are expected to rise by 13% ― or roughly 177,000 positions ― between 2014 and 2024. Likewise, jobs for college administrators are projected to increase by 9%, or 15,200 positions. Both of these growth rates are higher than the national projected average for all occupations, which currently sits at 7%.

How do postsecondary teachers and administrators stack up against other educators in terms of projected job growth? The table below features looks at the number of jobs and expected growth for six different education-related occupations.

Occupation Current Number of Jobs Projected Job Growth (2014-24) Projected Job Increase (2014-24)
Kindergarten and Elementary Teachers 1,517,400 6% +87,800
Middle School Teachers 627,500 6% +36,800
High School Teachers 961,600 6% +55,900
Elementary, Middle and High School Principals 240,000 6% +14,000
Postsecondary Teachers 1,313,000 13% +177,000
Postsecondary Education Administrators 175,100 9% +15,200

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

As the table indicates, projected job growth is stronger for postsecondary teachers and administrators than any of the other occupations listed.


In addition to outlook and job growth, those with a master's degree in higher education also enjoy higher earning potential than their counterparts in elementary or secondary education. The salary expectations for postsecondary employees is largely tied to their area(s) of master's degree study. Using data from the 2016-17 PayScale College Salary Report, the following table features earning estimates for four different education majors at two early-career benchmarks.

Master's Degree Field Median Entry-Level Salary (Less than 5 Years) Median Mid-Career Salary (10+ Years)
Educational Administration $53,900 $74,400
Educational Leadership $52,700 $72,000
Education (General) $46,200 $66,500
Higher Education Administration $43,600 $65,100

Source: 2016-17 PayScale College Salary Report

The average wage premium (or salary growth) among the four fields listed was a 41.95% increase in earnings between the entry-level and mid-career stages. In addition to degree specializations and areas of study, the salary potential of a higher education professional will also vary by specific job title. Other important factors include experience level, employer size and city/state of employment. The next table looks at salary projections for four common career paths for higher education master's recipients.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Professor (Postsecondary/ Higher Education) $60,182 $71,601 $85,712 $98,786
College Administrator $41,000 $42,000 $71,000 $74,000
Dean of Students (University) $87,000 $80,000 $104,000 $120,000
Admissions Counselor $35,203 $42,927 $43,892 $50,000

Source: PayScale

All four occupations experience a salary growth rate of at least 37% after 20 years on the job. College administrators reported the highest growth rate: an 80.5% increase in earnings between the entry-level and late-career stages. Professors ranked second with 64.1% salary growth, followed by admissions counselors with 42% growth.

Career Opportunities

Students who graduate with a master's in higher education will be well-positioned to enter the workforce and seek jobs in administration, or advance to a doctoral degree program and train to become a college professor.

According to the BLS, most postsecondary teachers require a doctoral degree. However, community college professors and professors at certain four-year colleges and universities may be able to land a job with a master's in higher education. Roughly 76% of postsecondary teachers work for "colleges, universities, and professional schools", while another 20% are employed at junior colleges.

Regardless of what kind of courses they teach, postsecondary teachers earn a median annual salary of $72,470. However, salaries for professors will depend on their subject area. Check out the table below for a detailed breakdown.

Postsecondary Teaching Field Median Annual Salary (2017)
Anthropology and Archaeology $91,940
Art, Drama and Music $81,050
Business $96,770
Chemistry $89,320
Communications $74,360
Computer Science $89,670
Education $70,260
Engineering $107,490
Foreign Language and Literature $73,750
Health Specialties $125,430
History $80,880
Mathematical Science $82,650
Psychology $84,440

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

As the table shows, the difference between the highest salary among postsecondary teachers ($125,430 for health specialties) and the lowest salary ($70,260 for education) is more than $55,000 per year.

Postsecondary Education Administrators: In addition to professors, many students who graduate with a master's in higher education will go on to pursue administrative careers. These personnel include deans, academic advisers, housing officials, registrars and financial officers.

Profession Median Annual Salary Projected Industry Growth (2014-24)
Postsecondary Teachers $72,470 13% (+177,000 jobs)
Postsecondary Education Administrators $88,580 9% (+15,200 jobs)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to higher education is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you'll find three of the country's most prominent organizations established for higher education teachers and administrators. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

  • American Association of University Professors: Founded in 1915, the AAUP is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC. The organization's branches include the AAUP-CBC, a labor union that advocates for postsecondary personnel; and the AAUP Foundation, a public charity that provides grant-funded support to colleges and universities across the country.
  • Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education: This organization (abbreviated NAPSA) currently represents more than 15,000 members at 2,100 postsecondary institutions worldwide. NAPSA has spearheaded a wide range of initiatives targeting predominant issues in higher education, including equity and diversity, violence prevention, technology and mental health.
  • The National Educational Association: Working to improve public education from preschool to graduate-level studies, the NEA provides resources on current regulations, strategies for securing financial support and tools for creating high-quality lesson plans. Membership opportunities are available for working employees, retired professionals and students.

Financing Your Online Master's Degree in Higher Education

Despite the relative affordability of online master's degree programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.


Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.


Students who pursue online degrees will be eligible for scholarships, grants and other financial aid that is unavailable to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Learn more about these financial opportunities for web-based learners.


Finance — the study of money and asset management — is one of the most popular degree concentrations for MBA students. Learn about the best schools for this area of study with our comprehensive degree guide.


Another popular specialization field for MBA students, human resources (or HR) focuses on hiring, new employee orientation and other administrative needs. Visit our guide to master's degrees in HR for more information.


Our page dedicated to resources for business students includes links to professional organizations, open courseware, industry publications, books and business-minded users to follow on Twitter.


Our career page for business degree graduates includes a state-by-state breakdown of business careers and academic options for business students, as well as popular job sites, professional organizations and continuing education opportunities for established professionals.