Colleges and universities depend on professional leadership and management to run smoothly. Deans, administrators, academic advisors, and admissions counselors help complex academic institutions function and grow.
People interested in the administrative side of postsecondary institutions can pursue master's degrees in higher education. These degrees offer a graduate-level focus on student affairs, program development, human resources, course registration, and more.
Additionally, most colleges and universities require a master's in higher education for their leadership positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary educational administrators earned a median salary of $95,410 as of 2019. BLS data also indicates an encouraging projected job outlook of 4% from 2019-2029.
Prospective students interested in earning online master's in higher education degrees can begin their search with our following list of the top schools in the field.
Why Get an Online Higher Education Master's?
Postsecondary institutions need leaders, counselors, and administrators to support their educational endeavors and facilitate growth.
Earning a master's degree in higher education prepares students to meet the needs of colleges and universities across the country.
Nearly every postsecondary institution requires professionals to handle its business operations. Schools need experts in administration, human resources, counseling, and program development. Master of education programs prepare graduates to assume those roles. Higher education graduate students develop mastery of management theory and administrative strategies, among other useful skills. The degree leads to many available professional roles.
The BLS projects growth for careers in higher education leadership in the coming years. Their projections indicate that occupations for human resource management and school counseling professionals will grow by 6% and 8%, respectively, from 2019-2029.
Other benefits of a master's in higher education include:
What To Expect From Master's in Higher Education Programs
Master's in education programs prepare students to excel in the many realms of the field. While some degrees cater to teaching careers, others focus on professional skill sets.
Students who hope to teach at the college level should consider pursuing master's degrees in their areas of expertise. Those aspiring to management, leadership, or guidance positions may pursue a master's in higher education. These programs vary slightly in coursework and style of instruction but share the goal of preparing future leaders in higher education.
Each enrollee should expect to spend two years studying higher education principles and researching a thesis project. These degrees typically comprise 40-50 credits and cost around $10,000-$45,000. Students can also specialize in areas like educational leadership and enrollment management.
Prospective graduate students prepare for the graduate application process by taking tests and compiling materials to demonstrate readiness for higher-level coursework. Some common admission requirements include:
Each applicant should hold a bachelor's degree in education or a related field. Many programs may also require an active state teacher license.
Some master's programs require professional, internship, or teaching experiences as prerequisites for certain courses.
Candidates must provide official academic documents that detail their undergraduate GPAs, coursework, specializations, academic honors, and more.
The Graduate Record Examination aims to predict students' success at the graduate level. Most programs stipulate that applicants complete the test, with specific score requirements varying by school.
Depending on the program, prospective enrollees may also need to provide resumes, essays, personal statements, and/or letters of recommendation.
Degree and Specialization Options
Graduate-level degrees in education can meet many different employment needs, so students should select their programs and specializations based on their prospective careers.
Aspiring postsecondary college instructors should pursue master's degrees in their ideal content areas. Coursework helps each student to develop mastery of their subject and prepare to instruct in their concentration. Graduates often use this degree as a stepping stone on the way to a Ph.D.
An applicant looking to work at the university level in administrative, leadership, or counseling roles should consider a master's in education. This degree prepares students to assume leadership positions.
Some concentrations offer students a competitive edge in the job market, such as educational leadership, adult education, community college leadership, enrollment management, and college program planning. Ultimately, degree-seekers' career goals should motivate their selection of both degree programs and specializations.
Comparing Higher Education and Teaching Degrees
With professional roles in education available at every level and in many different subjects, each student must determine their ideal degree. Many aspiring administrators and teachers consider degrees in higher education and teaching.
Despite their similar names, these degrees provide different areas of focus and prepare students for divergent career paths.
A master's in higher education specifically prepares learners for leadership roles at the university level, while a master's in teaching helps teachers develop mastery of the teaching craft.
The following table includes more similarities and differences:
|Master's in Higher Education||Master's in Teaching|
|Length||2 years||1-2 years|
|Course Load||40-50 credits||30-40 credits|
|Types of Classes||
|Focus||Development of practical skills and professional protocols in postsecondary institutions||Critical evaluation of the practice and theory of teaching|
|Student Demographics||Students with bachelor's degrees in education or related fields||Teachers with bachelor's degrees in education and work experience|
|Goal||Prepare professionals in education for leadership roles, program development, and student guidance||Help K-12 teachers advance their careers and develop mastery of educational theory, classroom management, and curriculum development|
Popular Higher Education Courses
Graduate-level courses in higher education prepare students for leadership and administrative roles in postsecondary institutions. Course offerings, specializations, and concentrations vary by school, but students can expect to study common principles and theories as they apply to higher education leadership.
Many of the core classes in higher education programs explore program development and human resources management, while electives allow students to select courses based on their specific professional goals. The following list details some common coursework:
Program Development and Planning
History and Philosophy of Education
Human Resource Management
The Master's Practicum or Thesis
Each enrollee typically culminates their master's in higher education with a thesis. These projects require learners to select areas of study and conduct in-depth research under the supervision of program faculty. Thesis projects generally take 1-2 semesters to complete, and students must present and successfully defend their research to attain their master's degrees.
Some master's in higher education programs also prepare students to become certified higher education professionals. Career Education Colleges and Universities administers this certification, which demonstrates a mastery of topics related to higher education. Students enrolled in cooperating programs can earn this certification by completing coursework and 48 hours of training.
How Much Will a Master's in Higher Education Cost?
Due to the many factors contributing to overall cost, tuition for a master's in higher education can vary, but students can expect to pay around $10,000-$45,000. Enrollees should also consider other financial expenses, like cost of living, books and materials fees, technology, and loss of income while attending school.
Budget-conscious students should consider online programs from affordable state schools that allow them to continue working while studying. Private on-campus programs often come with expensive price tags, but many affordable schools share the same accreditations.
Fortunately, students pursuing master's in higher education degrees can take advantage of several financing options. Scholarships, grants, loans, and fellowships make it easier for learners to afford their graduate-level degrees. Our financial aid and FAFSA guides below offer helpful information on the matter.
Jobs for Master's in Higher Education Graduates
A master's in higher education develops foundational knowledge of many aspects related to leadership and administration, allowing graduates to pursue many lucrative careers in the field. Postsecondary education administrators and human resource managers enjoy especially high salaries and positive employment projections. Professionals with master's in higher education degrees may even take on roles as postsecondary teachers to lecture in introductory university courses.
Higher Education Careers for Master's Graduates
Postsecondary Education Administrators
These administrators oversee student services, academic programs, and faculty research in public and private colleges and universities.
Human Resources Managers
Careers in human resources management require planning, coordinating, and directing the personnel and administrative functions of schools and organizations.
School and Career Counselors
Careers in school counseling involve helping students to select degrees, register for classes, satisfy degree requirements, and meet academic goals. Career counselors also help students navigate their paths to employment.
Training and Development Managers
These managers plan, coordinate, and direct professional development programs for schools and organizations, ensuring that employees continue to improve.
Careers in teaching at the postsecondary level involve instructing students in academic and technical subjects at public and private colleges and universities.
Explore Education Careers
Choosing the Right Higher Education Graduate Program
Higher education students can begin their program search with our ranked lists, but they should also consider the following factors:
Students should always ensure the accreditation status of their prospective schools. Regional accreditation carries more prestige than national accreditation. For education degrees, programs should hold programmatic accreditation with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), or The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Cost and Financial Aid
Students should look into scholarships, grants, and other aid options offered at all prospective schools to lower their total debt upon graduating.
The available coursework and specializations play a crucial role in each learners' future. Enrollees should ensure that the available concentrations align with their career goals.
Professional careers in higher education often require networking. Prospective students should research the alumni support and networking options offered by each school.
Future Education Opportunities
Since a master's in higher education often leads to a Ph.D., graduate students may want to consider whether they can continue their education at their school. Some schools provide a more streamlined process to apply for a doctoral degree if a graduate already holds a degree from that institution.
Why You Should Get Your Degree Online
Prospective students may find it difficult to plan for the cost and lifestyle changes that accompany education. Fortunately, online learning allows learners to receive an education without significantly altering their lives.
Education professionals who want to pursue master's degrees in higher education administration online can take advantage of flexible class options to continue working while studying on their schedule.
Students can also save money with online degrees. Online master's in higher education programs tend to be cheaper by the credit, and virtual students can also save time and money on commuting, parking, and other campus-specific fees.
Despite the growing prevalence of online education, students may be reasonably concerned that online programs lack the reliability of on-campus programs. Fortunately, school accreditation agencies like TEAC evaluate schools' integrity. These accreditations communicate the merit of online master's in higher education programs, along with their viability in the job market.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Resources for Online Higher Education Master's Students
- Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education As the leading organization focused on the development and advancement of leadership, NASPA provides opportunities for professional development and scholarships for student affairs professionals.
- National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities NAICU, a national organization for private nonprofit higher education, provides its members with access to current data trends and a network of professionals.
- American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers AACRAO offers professional development, standards, and guidelines for higher education professionals.
- The Council of Higher Education Management Associations CHEMA focuses on management in higher education. Members share experiences and collaborate on projects. CHEMA maintains associations with many higher education organizations to provide its members with a valuable peer network.
- National Association of Student Affairs Professionals NASAP fosters excellence in student affairs. Members include academic and administrative professionals. NASAP offers professional development opportunities for professionals who serve marginalized populations in diverse settings.