Online Doctorate in Education

Education provides endless possibilities for sharing knowledge, improving lives, and performing groundbreaking research. For many individuals with a master’s degree in education, earning a Ph.D. or Ed.D. presents new opportunities for community engagement, advocacy, and high-level positions in administration or postsecondary education. Doctoral students immerse themselves in specialized areas of education, enhance their teaching skills, and build expertise in advanced pedagogy. As the highest degree among education professionals, a doctorate is also associated with higher salaries, better employment opportunities, and tenure in postsecondary institutions.

While pursuing higher education can be difficult, expensive, and time consuming for working professionals, an online doctorate program offers a convenient and cost-effective way to achieve your academic goals. Removing the need to relocate, rearrange work schedules, or pay costly campus and transportation fees, distance learning programs are economical and efficient. You’ll be able to study when and where you wish while receiving the same quality education and support as on-campus students.

Why Should I Get a Doctorate in Education?

A doctoral degree in education qualifies graduates for a range of high-level positions in administration, public policy, and postsecondary education. Colleges and universities typically require faculty to hold a doctoral degree before receiving tenure. A doctorate allows graduates to share their knowledge and expertise with others while conducting original research, publishing academic papers, and designing experiments.

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Some students pursue an Ed.D. with the intention of working for nonprofit organizations, exacting policy changes regarding education, or gaining administrative positions in a school system. Many doctoral programs offer specializations in areas such as special education, curriculum design, administration, or multilingual learning. Along with providing a greater depth of knowledge about the field, these specializations can lead to advanced certifications and greater career opportunities.

Colleges and universities typically require faculty to hold a doctoral degree before receiving tenure.

Earning a doctorate can also be lucrative. Professionals with a Ph.D. are some of the highest paid employees in the field, with academic deans bringing in approximately $124,091 a year, more than double the median annual earnings of an education director with a master’s degree. Because relatively few education professionals hold a doctoral degree, a Ph.D. or Ed.D. can help graduates earn elite and high-paying positions.

What Is the Difference Between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. in Education?

Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs are both the highest level of education degree attainable, but they focus on different aspects of the field. An online Ph.D. in education emphasizes original research in a broad area of the candidate’s choosing, and typically culminates in a dissertation. Many students pursue a Ph.D. with the intention of becoming professors or academic researchers. Ph.D. candidates concentrate on publishing papers, developing new theories, and obtaining tenure. As a whole, Ph.D. students tend to receive more funding than other online doctorate in education students.

By contrast, the Ed.D. is a practice-based degree commonly sought by educators interested in administrative positions, policy making, and community engagement. Using qualitative research, diverse methods of data collection, and statistical analysis, candidates develop strategies for addressing specific problems in the field. Instead of a dissertation, Ed.D. students typically complete a hands-on culminating experience in program design or implementation.

What Else Should I Know about an Online Doctorate in Education?

Program details, concentrations, and admissions requirements often differ considerably from school to school. Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs differ from each other with regard to course requirements and field experiences. In this section, we’ll take a look at some common — but not universal — features of doctorate in teaching programs.

Prerequisites for an Online Doctorate in Education

  • Master’s Degree

    A master’s degree is the primary admission requirement for nearly all doctoral programs in education. While prerequisite graduate courses vary between schools, many programs expect students to have student teaching experience.

  • Professional Experience

    Some programs only admit individuals with a certain amount of work experience or current licenses.

  • Minimum GPA

    Although doctoral program admissions typically take a more holistic view of candidates’ academic histories and achievements, some schools do require a minimum GPA. Generally, the requirement is 3.0 or higher.

  • Test Scores

    Most Ph.D. in education programs request applicants’ GRE, GMAT, or MAT scores. Licensed educators may also provide Praxis exam scores.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Doctorate in Education

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Education

All online doctoral programs in education are different and have their own unique course requirements. However, classes like the ones below are relatively common, and you’re likely to encounter one or more of them as you explore program options. Some curricula include a residency requirement or period of on-campus study.

Example Courses

Leadership in EducationThis course introduces the integral concepts necessary to become an efficient and successful educational administrator or supervisor. Lectures address organizational behavior theories, models, and strategies within the context of educational institutions. Students explore different leadership perspectives and styles, ethical dilemmas and standards, and group dynamics and decision-making processes.
Research Design and MethodsThis class is the first step toward a dissertation or capstone project. Students apply qualitative and quantitative research methods to the subject of their choice. They also strengthen academic writing and research skills, build an outline, and draft a formal proposal. Learners work closely with an adviser while performing original independent research.
Statistical AnalysisThis class covers numerous methods of analyzing and interpreting data. Students learn how to make decisions by carefully examining statistics and research in education. Learners use specialized software to develop and conduct studies related to their dissertation.
Resource AllocationProspective education administrators receive a broad overview of budget development, fundraising, and other forms of financial decision making that are crucial to the management of schools, colleges, and universities. Topics include revenue and expenditures, financial aid and tuition, and system operations in large educational institutions.
Dissertation SeminarWorking in collaboration with faculty advisers and committee members, candidates elaborate on their previous research proposal and begin writing their dissertation. This course often covers multiple semesters. Students may conduct extensive independent research, design and conduct surveys, and prepare articles for publication.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Education?

While Ed.D. programs typically take two or three years to complete, Ph.D. candidates often spend four or more years performing original research, publishing academic papers, and refining their dissertations. Dissertations, field experiences, capstone projects, and theses all influence the time it takes to earn a doctorate degree. These estimates can vary depending on other factors, such as credit requirements.

Earning a Ph.D. in teaching online may take more or less time than a traditional program depending on structure and course delivery methods. Full-time students complete all requirements more quickly than part-time students. While most doctoral programs emphasize original research and one-on-one collaboration with faculty, some may include courses in advanced topics. These courses may be accelerated and self-paced, or may follow a cohort format. Self-paced courses allow students to complete classwork relatively quickly, while cohort classes are more structured and slower-paced.

Graduation Requirements for Earning an Online Doctorate in Education

Graduation requirements for online Ph.D. programs in education vary considerably depending on the program’s focus and the type of degree. Most research-based Ph.D. programs include a dissertation or capstone project, while Ed.D. programs include a final comprehensive exam or intensive fieldwork.

Dissertation or Capstone

A dissertation is nearly always a five-chapter written document and is usually a required element of most Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs. In the dissertation, students introduce, defend, and summarize their proposal and subsequent research. A capstone project may be required in lieu of a dissertation for some Ed.D. programs and may include curriculum designs, material products, or a portfolio. Students typically write a paper describing the project in detail.

Comprehensive Exams

In some programs, students must complete oral and written comprehensive exams, either alone or in conjunction with another culminating experience. Most written exams are available online or at select proctored locations. Professors may conduct oral exams through video or voice chat.

Practicum or Field Experience

Practice-based requirements are a common element of Ed.D. curricula. Candidates complete a period of student teaching at a local institution. They may design and implement a curriculum in a classroom or work alongside an experienced school administrator. Distance learners can usually complete field experiences in their local communities.

How to Choose an Online Doctorate in Education Program

Choosing the right online doctorate in education might feel like an overwhelming process, but knowing what you want from a program can make everything easier. By examining your budget, learning style, and academic and career goals, you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

For many prospective students, cost is a major factor in the selection process. How much money do you want to spend, and how do you plan to finance your degree? Have you applied for any fellowships, grants, or other sources of funding? Later on, we’ll take a look at some ways to increase your options through financial aid opportunities.

Because the average doctorate in education online curriculum includes a field experience component, details such as length and location are particularly important to consider. How and where will you fulfill a practicum requirement? Does your chosen program require a period of residency, and for how long? Candidates who intend to study part time may want to select shorter programs, while full-time students have a greater number of options. Your field of academic interest also plays a role in the decision-making process. While many degrees allow students to specialize in a particular area or subject, others do not.

Finding Accredited Online Teaching Programs

Accreditation is a crucial aspect of any online doctorate in education. The accreditation process ensures that programs and schools meet the highest academic and ethical standards, as defined by assessment groups known as accrediting bodies. An institution may be nationally or regionally accredited, depending on the organization that assesses them. Nationally accredited schools are typically for-profit vocational institutions, while regionally accredited schools are usually academically-focused public colleges and universities. Employers and other universities usually consider regionally accredited schools more prestigious than nationally accredited schools.

Employers and other universities usually consider regionally accredited schools more prestigious than nationally accredited schools.

A college’s department of education may also receive programmatic accreditation from discipline-specific bodies. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is a national education accrediting organization recognized by both the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. Doctorate in education programs accredited by CAEP — which previously administered accreditation through NCATE and TEAC — have met the highest standards for postgraduate teaching degrees. These designations are so important that many states will only grant licensure to graduates from programmatically accredited teaching programs. Be sure to check your state’s licensure requirements to learn more about what accreditation your program must hold.

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What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Education?

A Ph.D. in teaching opens the door to a variety of fulfilling career options. Many graduates go on to pursue leadership roles such as dean, principal, or program director, while others find work in instructional materials and curriculum design. Whether you prefer taking the lead, working alone, or presenting ideas in new and innovative ways, a doctoral degree provides an edge in a competitive job market. While the occupations below are popular with graduates, they are by no means the only options.

Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education

Professors present lectures, grade assignments, and offer guidance and instruction to students preparing dissertations and thesis papers. They must stay up to date on academic trends within their field. Depending on their area of expertise, they may design and conduct laboratory experiments, perform fieldwork, and supervise graduate research.

School Superintendent

As lead administrators of a school system, superintendents hire and fire principals, evaluate staff members, develop and maintain budgets, and manage school property. Working with the school board, they use input from parents and community leaders to develop the school district’s goals, policies, and initiatives.

Academic Dean

Academic deans are employed by colleges and universities to manage faculty, set academic goals and standards, and review their department’s budgets. At some institutions, the academic dean is in charge of student recruitment and program development. Along with several years of education management experience, they are expected to hold at least a master’s degree.

Education Director

The duties of an education director depend largely on the setting in which they are employed. All directors supervise programs and staff, aid in curriculum development, and manage the school budget. Depending on their background and workplace, they may also teach courses. Most hold at least a master’s degree.

Instructional Designer

Using a broad range of multimedia and other resources, instructional designers develop and evaluate training programs, course materials, and curricula. They serve diverse clients such as corporations, preschools, and government agencies. As a result, instructional designers must be well-versed in pedagogic and psychological theory, and they must stay up to date on new technological developments.

How Much Do Teachers Make with a Ph.D.?

Individuals with a doctorate degree in teaching are among some of the highest-paid education professionals in the country. As the table below demonstrates, many top administrators earn six-figure salaries. There are several factors, however, that can influence your earning potential, including your experience and the location of your job. Professionals with a significant amount of work experience typically earn more than recent graduates or those who are just starting out in the field.

Median Salary for Doctoral Degree in Education Graduates
Professor, Postsecondary / Higher Education$84,131
School Superintendent $149,177
Academic Dean$124,091
Education Director$80,702
Instructional Designer$64,330

Average Salary and Employment for Education, Training, and Library Occupations

Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Education

The process of paying for higher education can be complicated and stressful, but prospective doctoral students have a multitude of funding opportunities to choose from. Before applying for high-interest private student loans, it’s important to explore alternatives. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be the first step in exploring your options, since it can help you determine how much and the type of federal funding for which you may be eligible. The government offers several forms of financial aid, including grants, loans, and scholarships.

Educators in particular can pursue a variety of tuition reimbursement and work-study options. Certain federal programs provide free or heavily discounted tuition to education professionals in exchange for a period of employment in underserved school systems or regions. There are also special fellowship programs for instructors and researchers pursuing careers in specific fields, such as STEM or bilingual education. In addition to government tuition reimbursement, some school systems offer financial incentives for current educators seeking to improve their teaching or administrative skills through continuing education.

Scholarships also serve as a great source of funding. Like grants, they do not need to be repaid. Ranging in amount from a few hundred dollars to the full cost of tuition, scholarships are awarded based on criteria as diverse as household income, artistic talent, and ethnicity. While institutional scholarships are available through colleges and universities, others are sponsored by nonprofits, corporations, religious and cultural organizations, special interest groups, and individuals. Many professional associations offer exclusive scholarship opportunities, competitions, and fellowships for student members.

Scholarships for Online Doctorate in Education Students

There are hundreds of scholarships available to students at every level of education. While many are awarded for exceptional academic performance, leadership skills, or financial need, some are major-specific. Scholarships for education students are common, including awards specifically for learners pursuing a Ph.D. in education. Below are some scholarship options for students in an online doctorate in education program.

Resources for Online Doctorate in Education

  • The eLearning Guild The oldest professional organization for online instructors and web-based course designers, the eLearning Guild also provides one of the most comprehensive resource databases for distance learners. General membership is free, and includes access to webinars, exclusive job boards, publications, and instructional videos.
  • American Educational Research Association (AERA) This research society is dedicated to advancing scholarly inquiry in education. AERA contains more than 155 unique special interest groups and a robust graduate student council. Degree candidates can network, collaborate, and perform research with other students and faculty around the country.
  • American Association of School Administrators (AASA) As the premier association for school superintendents and educational leaders, AASA advocates for school district leadership in legislative settings. Full members receive extensive legal support services, multimedia resources, and access to job boards and career assistance. Many certification, continuing education, and funding opportunities are available to members.
  • American Educational Studies Association (AESA) AESA provides an interdisciplinary forum for professors, students, researchers, and school administrators to exchange ideas and peer support. Students can present their original research at the organization’s annual conference, which features panels, exhibitions, and additional networking opportunities.
  • International Association of Special Education (IASE) This all-volunteer professional organization promotes research, professionalism, and collaboration among special education teachers, counselors, and psychologists. In addition to scholarships and discounts, student members can take advantage of the association’s publications, project invitations, and networking and professional development opportunities.