Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Due to increasing student enrollment at colleges and universities, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for postsecondary education administrators to grow by 10% from 2016-2026.

Online doctoral programs in higher education prepare learners to successfully hold administrative, academic, and research positions in several higher education settings, including private and public colleges and universities. An online Ph.D. in higher education administration gives degree candidates the chance to develop leadership and research skills and broaden their knowledge related to higher education outcomes, practices, and organizations. A doctorate in higher education also provides students with the opportunity to have a positive influence in education policy and practice.

Many educational institutions offer higher education doctoral programs online, giving distance learners the opportunity to work full-time while completing an advanced degree. Earning a doctoral degree in higher education administration online also lets learners network remotely with other educators and administrators across the country. Common coursework focuses on public policy, finance, and teaching and learning. Suitable for current educators as well as aspiring administrators and researchers, a Ph.D. in higher education administration can lead to significant professional advancement.

Due to increasing student enrollment at colleges and universities, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for postsecondary education administrators to grow by 10% -- faster than the average occupation in the U.S. -- from 2016-2026. In addition to a median salary of more than $92,000, full-time administrators may receive free tuition or discounts on classes at colleges or universities. Graduates who earn a doctorate in higher education can also pursue employment as superintendents, school principals, and university professors.

There are several types of higher education doctoral degrees, including a Ph.D., an Ed.S., and an Ed.D. These higher education doctoral programs differ greatly in terms of their length and typical career outcomes, and graduates can also look forward to different projected salaries.

Suitable for degree candidates with prior experience in research and educational settings, a Ph.D. in higher education administration prepares graduates for careers as educational researchers or university faculty members. A doctorate of philosophy program usually takes 4-5 years to complete, which is longer than other online doctoral programs in higher education. Graduates with a doctorate of philosophy typically earn a higher salary than other individuals in this field. For example, the position of director of research and analytical services, which requires a Ph.D., receives a median salary above $100,000. However, salaries vary based on the specific career.

An Ed.S. -- also known as an educational specialist degree -- suits students seeking to gain further knowledge about educational issues and learning environments. An educational specialist degree usually takes two years to earn. Ideal for current educators with a master’s degree, this type of program offers specialized training in leadership, curriculum development, and special education.

An Ed.D. or doctor of education prepares graduates for careers as highly skilled practitioners and researchers in education. Common career outcomes for this doctorate in educational leadership include superintendents, principals, and university leaders. This doctorate in higher education takes less time to complete than a Ph.D., but more time than an Ed.S.; learners typically finish doctor of education programs in about three years.

When choosing a doctorate in educational leadership online program, you should consider a number of factors, including cost, program length, and graduation requirements. Tuition and fees for higher education degrees vary depending on the educational institution, although tution typically ranges from $35,000-$55,000.

Earning an online Ph.D. in higher education administration usually requires students to complete a set amount of coursework. The curriculum covers research methods, instructional leadership, and educational assessment. To complete their Ph.D., learners must also submit a dissertation.

Online doctoral programs in higher education allow educators, administrators, and other working professionals to receive an education while continuing to work a full-time job.

Online doctoral programs in higher education allow educators, administrators, and other working professionals to receive an education while continuing to work a full-time job. With many programs designed for education professionals specifically, degree candidates can usually opt to enroll on a part-time or full-time basis. While students attending school full-time tend to graduate sooner, part-time programs allow degree candidates to finish classes at their own pace.

While most higher education doctoral programs do not require on-campus visits, some schools do require students to attend professional development sessions or research residencies where they complete hands-on training. The length of these in-person requirements varies based on the educational institution. A college or university may also offer hybrid programs, where students complete some classes on campus, allowing degree candidates to receive more face-to-face instruction and access on-campus resources.

Entry Requirements

Online doctoral programs in higher education often appeal to experienced school professionals who already practice in the field of education. Many schools design programs for individuals working in a school or university setting, and professionals can build skills in college and university teaching, leadership, or administration by drawing on their previous professional work experience.

To pursue an online Ph.D. in higher education administration, students typically need to hold a master’s degree from an accredited college or university. Additionally, higher education doctoral programs usually require applicants to submit their GRE scores and hold a minimum GPA. However, these minimum GPA requirements vary based on the educational institution.

Generally, degree candidates must also hold at least 2-3 years of professional experience and submit three letters of recommendation. Some educational institutions require applicants to interview with the school’s faculty. A statement of purpose, where applicants highlight their background, character, and professional accomplishments, could represent an additional admission requirement. Students interested in pursuing an online doctorate in higher education should check with the educational institution’s admissions office for specific requirements.

Directory of Accredited Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

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Aspiring teachers earn a teaching license after meeting their state’s requirements for practicing teaching. Depending on their career goals, graduates with a Ph.D. in educational leadership typically do not need a teaching license when applying for administrative employment. However, individuals who plan to work at a public elementary or secondary school should consider pursuing licensure. All states require public school teachers to obtain a teaching license, regardless of their degree. Teaching license requirements vary by state, grade level, and subject matter.

To obtain a teaching license, an educator typically needs to pass a background check, hold a bachelor’s degree earned with a minimum GPA, complete supervised teaching experiences and an approved teacher preparation program, and pass a general teaching certification test. Some states may also require state-specific coursework. For example, educators in California must complete coursework and pass a test about the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, some states provide license reciprocity with others, meaning professionals can easily transfer a teaching license from one state to another. However, this process varies based on the states in question.

Teachers with at least three years of experience may apply for National Board Certification -- the most advanced certification an educator can obtain. By earning this certificate, a teacher may qualify for a higher salary, access more professional opportunities, and join an accomplished educator network. This certification can also make it easier for an individual to transfer their teacher license between states. Some educational institutions also offer superintendent certification as part of a Ph.D. in higher education administration program.

Higher education doctoral programs can lead to many rewarding and exciting career options after graduation. Many degree candidates find work in administration or teaching. However, students interested in a teaching career should first check the requirements for becoming a teacher in the state where they plan to work. Graduates with a doctorate in higher education may also work in college or university departments and offices. The table below shows five possible career outcomes along with job descriptions and median salaries.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Overseeing academics, student services, and faculty research, postsecondary education administrators usually manage a specific area or school at a college. Duties may include meeting with parents and advising students in the student affairs office, scheduling classes in the registrar’s office, and determining how many students to admit.

Median Salary: $92,360

Director of Student Services

Responsible for many tasks related to an institution's student body, directors of student services manage student services staff, develop guidelines for students, oversee budgets for student services, and recommend new or revised policies that correspond to state and federal guidelines. Directors may also develop and approve student programs and review and approve published materials.

Median Salary: $60,156

Dean of Students (University)

An education administrator who helps oversee student welfare at a university, the dean of students acts as a liaison between the student body and the college administration. While staying apprised of student concerns and communicating issues to the administration, a dean may also oversee student activities, manage campus services, and serve as the final decision maker on disciplinary actions.

Median Salary: $100,671

Academic Dean

Responsible for managing and developing faculty and academic staff at a college or university, academic deans set academic goals, work with faculty and other campus management to create action plans, and hire new faculty and academic staff members. Academic deans may also oversee/ review budgets and provide feedback to academic departments.

Median Salary: $92,078

Admissions Director

Leading the admissions team at an educational institution, admissions directors compile reports, set goals for the admissions team, manage department workflow, lead team meetings, and work with the institution's marketing department to develop a school's brand and public image. These professionals may also meet with freshmen during the first week of the academic year.

Median Salary: $55,877

Students can take advantage of many sources to help pay for a doctorate in higher education, including scholarships, loans, and work-study programs. Degree candidates may also pay out-of-pocket for tuition and fees each term. Additionally, some educational institutions offer fully funded doctorate programs, which cover tuition and fees in exchange for research- or teaching-related duties at the college or university. Degree candidates should check with a school’s financial aid office to ask about additional funding opportunities.

Scholarships for Online Doctorate in Higher Education Degrees

Esther Katz Rosen Fund Grant $1,000 to $50,000

Who Can Apply: Applicant must be affiliated with a school or educational institution and hold a doctoral degree or serve as a graduate student at an accredited university. View Scholarship

The School Superintendents Association’s Educational Administration Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: Applicant must be enrolled in an education department at a college or university and submit a recommendation from the program chair. View Scholarship

Donna Gail Scholarship for Chapter Service $1,000

Who Can Apply: Applicant must be an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student or a practicing educator within the first three years of teaching in a K-12 classroom. Sponsored by Kappa Delta Pi -- an international honor society in education -- applicants write an essay and provide a description of their community service. View Scholarship

Henry H. Hill Laureate Scholarship $1,200

Who Can Apply: Applicant must be a doctoral student majoring in educational administration. This award, sponsored by Kappa Delta Pi, requires applicants to write an essay. View Scholarship

R. Gerald Melton Memorial Scholarship $500 to $1,000

Who Can Apply: Applicant must be enrolled in a certified doctoral program, hold a GPA of 3.5 or higher, and show evidence of professional activities that helped improve and sustain academic performance for students. Sponsored by Phi Delta Kappa, applicants must submit transcripts, an application, and three letters of recommendation. View Scholarship
  • American Association of University Administrators Founded in 1970, this professional association offers membership to anyone interested in higher education leadership and administration, including students and graduates. Membership benefits include discounts on professional liability insurance, professional development programs and awards, and access to the Journal of Higher Education Management.
  • U.S. Department of Education Created in 1980, this department of the U.S. government establishes federal aid and education policies, collects data, and disseminates education research.
  • American Council on Education The major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, the ACE represents nearly 1,800 college and university presidents and executives. The ACE provides members with leadership programs, research, and access to professional events.
  • Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education The CAS brings together higher education practitioners and educators to develop professional standards. Comprising 42 professional associations with more than 115,000 professionals in higher education, the CAS writes standards, offers awards, and provides resources for higher education professionals and graduate students.
  • National Education Association The nation's largest professional employee organization, the NEA provides benefits to more than three million members working at all levels of education. Membership benefits include discounted online professional development courses, educational news, and access to grants and awards.
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