Top 10 Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education 2021


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.

2021’s Top 10 Best Online Higher Education Grad Schools

1The University of AlabamaTuscaloosa, AL
2Mississippi CollegeClinton, MS
3Liberty UniversityLynchburg, VA
4Northwestern State University of LouisianaNatchitoches, LA
5Baker UniversityBaldwin City, KS
6University of North TexasDenton, TX
7Southern Arkansas UniversityMagnolia, AR
8University of Southern MississippiHattiesburg, MS
9Columbus State UniversityColumbus, GA
10University of West AlabamaLivingston, AL

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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:

Impactful Outcomes

People looking to make a positive impact on campus can enact real change through leadership roles, especially in jobs related to student affairs and program development.

Specialized Options

The master’s in higher education degree offers a broad education, but students can concentrate in niche areas such as administration, human resources, or counseling. These specialized degrees may also give graduates a competitive edge in the job market.

Flexible Programs

Thanks to the many online higher education master’s degrees, graduate students can study higher education on their own time while maintaining their employment and personal obligations.

Top 10 Online Master’s in Higher Education Schools 2021

The following 10 schools offer the best online master’s programs in higher education administration for 2021. To learn more about the methodology we use to rank schools, click on the link below.

Many of the top schools below share common characteristics, such as accessibility, academic value, and hands-on learning opportunities. Still, each program offers a distinct educational experience.

  • They are accredited. Accredited schools hold membership in a federally recognized accrediting agency. The top accrediting bodies are regional, but some schools hold both regional and programmatic accreditation. Prospective higher education students should look for regional accreditation from one of the following agencies:
    • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
    • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
    • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
    • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
    • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
    • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Their programs are reputable. A master’s degree from a reputable institution often carries more weight in the real world than a similar degree from a less-recognized institution. Schools earn their reputations in several ways. For instance, an institution such as the University of North Texas maintains its reputation in part through the size of its student body and alumni association. Other schools may emphasize their job placement rates or faculty research.
  • They foster academic excellence. Great schools help students achieve academic success. These institutions set high performance standards and provide resources to help learners meet or exceed those standards. Some schools in our list demonstrate their commitment to fostering academic excellence by earning recognition from an agency in higher education. For instance, Columbus State University aligns its curriculum with the American College Personnel Association Professional Competencies and the Council of the Advancement of Higher Education.
  • They are affordable. The best schools work to make sure cost is no barrier for qualified prospective learners. To make their programs affordable, some institutions keep tuition rates low. Others offer substantial financial aid packages. Some public schools, such as Northwestern State University of Louisiana, waive additional fees for nonresidents. When determining affordability, applicants should consider the total cost of a degree, not just tuition per credit.


Public university in Tuscaloosa, AL, accredited by SACSCOC

The state’s oldest and largest university, UA serves as the flagship campus of Alabama’s public university system. The school maintains an enrollment of almost 40,000 students and is well known as home to its football team, the Crimson Tide.

Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration

Aspiring leaders in higher education can get started in their careers with UA’s 36-credit master’s in higher education. The university’s broad-based curriculum prepares learners for leadership in specialties such as advancement, financial services, facilities management, distance education, and enrollment management.

One elective and 11 required courses comprise UA’s online higher education master’s degree. Required courses include perspectives on higher education, the student in higher education, multicultural and diversity issues, and statistical methods. Students choose an elective in grant writing, academic development, or higher education policy.

New enrollees can begin at any one of three entrance dates.

Applying to UA

Applicants need an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the last 60 credits. Other requirements include a writing sample and a minimum GRE score of 300 or an MAT score in the 50th percentile or higher.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $420/credit
  • Required Credits: 36 credits
  • Delivery Format: 100% online

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.

Admission Requirements

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:

  • Prior Education

    Each applicant should hold a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field. Many programs may also require an active state teacher license.

  • Work Experience

    Some master’s programs require professional, internship, or teaching experiences as prerequisites for certain courses.

  • Transcripts

    Candidates must provide official academic documents that detail their undergraduate GPAs, coursework, specializations, academic honors, and more.

  • Tests

    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.

  • Additional Materials

    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 EducationMaster’s in Teaching
Length2 years1-2 years
Course Load40-50 credits30-40 credits
Types of Classes
  • History and philosophy of education
  • Program development and planning
  • Human resource management
  • Special education
  • Curriculum development
  • Equity and diversity
FocusDevelopment of practical skills and professional protocols in postsecondary institutionsCritical evaluation of the practice and theory of teaching
Student DemographicsStudents with bachelor’s degrees in education or related fieldsTeachers with bachelor’s degrees in education and work experience
GoalPrepare professionals in education for leadership roles, program development, and student guidanceHelp K-12 teachers advance their careers and develop mastery of educational theory, classroom management, and curriculum development
Common Careers
  • Dean of students
  • Admissions counselor
  • College administrator
  • Elementary school teacher
  • Middle school teacher
  • High school teacher

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:


Students planning to lead colleges and universities need experience in developing successful programs to benefit students and alumni. Courses in program development and planning cover the process of program design and evaluation, goal setting, improvement strategies, and community engagement.

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.


These administrators oversee student services, academic programs, and faculty research in public and private colleges and universities.

  • Required Education: Master’s degree required, with preference for work experience in postsecondary education administration
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
  • Median Annual Salary:$95,410

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:

  • Accreditation

    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.

  • Program Composition

    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.

  • Alumni Network

    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

To become a school administrator at the postsecondary level, a prospective student should consider pursuing a master’s in higher education.

Resources for Online Higher Education Master’s Students

Directory of Accredited Master’s Degrees in Higher Education Programs