Online Master's Degree in Higher Education

What is Higher Education Administration?

Higher education administrators essentially run universities, acting as dean, president, registrar, or department director of a higher education institution. Aspiring administrators might pursue a master's program in higher education administration, which explores leadership ethics and faculty governance. These master's programs might also include data-driven decision-making courses, which teach students to analyze data for enrollment trends, budgets, marketing purposes, or program development. Students in higher education administration programs can also choose to specialize in either general administration or intercollegiate athletic administration. Many credible online programs for higher education administration degrees offer flexible coursework and reasonable tuition.

Additional perks of working for universities include access to cutting-edge information and technology, vast professional networks, and even waived tuition fees for immediate family members.

How to Choose an Online Master's in Higher Education Program

Many programs prefer applicants with prior teaching experience, because administrators with classroom experience often have a better understanding of their incumbents' situations.

On average, full-time students can complete higher education administration master's programs online in two years, or three to four years if they're studying part-time. Some programs offer accelerated degrees with particularly rigorous coursework, through which students can graduate in 12 to 18 months. In cohort programs, students interact through discussion boards and group activities to meet deadlines. Self-paced programs have no set due dates, and students can work when it suits them, so these programs tend to take longer. Most self-paced programs are offered completely online, though some have in-person requirements.

Higher education administration students begin their studies with foundational courses, and choose a specialization later on. Foundational courses include global and American higher education, organization and administration in higher education, ethics, and student affairs. Specialized courses allow students to shape their degree to match their desired career path. Students should also anticipate a capstone course, which for online students is usually an in-depth applied research project or paper that demonstrates acquired program knowledge.

Average public university tuition for online master's degrees is around $15,000, while the same degree at a private school would cost about $35,000.

Types of Higher Education Master's Degrees

Higher education master's degrees vary by program emphasis. Some programs are listed as a master of education (M.Ed.), while others offer a master of science (MS) or a master of arts (MA). M.Ed. coursework focuses on research-based content that prepares them for professional roles in leadership or curriculum and instruction. On average, M.Ed. graduates who have been working for more than five years earn a $52,700 salary. MS students focus more on scientific topics and technical skills, and they must complete a thesis or project to graduate. MS degrees prepare students for more technical employment, but they are not terminal and often lead into doctorate programs. On average, graduates who have an MS in higher education administration earn $53,500 after five or more years of employment. On the other hand, an MA program usually focuses on society and culture, and is terminal. MA courses require less research than MS and M.Ed. programs do, and higher education administration graduates with an MA earn about $52,600 on average after five years in their field.

Entry Requirements

Most master's programs in higher education administration require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited program, and some prefer the bachelor's degree to be in a related field. Typically, master's applicants should have at least a 3.0 GPA, though some schools will accept a 2.5 or a 2.0. Applicants with lower GPAs may have to submit an entrance essay to demonstrate why their program of choice should admit them, and these students may be accepted on a probationary basis until they show they can handle the workload.

Most master's programs require students to take the GRE, but standards for sufficient scores vary from school to school. Many programs prefer applicants with prior teaching experience, because administrators with classroom experience often have a better understanding of their incumbents' situations. However, teaching experience is not required to apply for a higher education administration master's program.

Directory of Accredited Master's in Higher Education Programs

Search Rankings
Filter Options
Institution Type
School Type


What Can You Do With a Master's in Higher Education?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 145,000 higher education administrators in the United States, and the profession is expected to grow by 19% through 2020. Education administration graduates are eligible for a variety of positions, including postsecondary education administrator and college dean. They might also complete a doctorate program to further advance their career options.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

These professionals monitor academic programs, university research projects, and student services. They are responsible for enforcing graduation requirements, organizing commencement ceremonies, overseeing extracurricular activities, and orchestrating athletics.

Median Salary: $92,360

College Admissions Director

Admission directors administer and control programs by evaluating potential students. They review applications against school board standards and review policies and curricula. They also monitor other school administrators who influence recruitment and admissions.

Median Salary: $65,946

Assistant Dean of Students

The assistant dean of students helps organize and manage university activities that are linked to campus life and student services. Professionals in this role must sometimes handle sensitive and personal student issues, and address student complaints and conflict.

Median Salary: $67,783

College Academic Advisor

Academic advisors work with students to help them identify which areas of study best suit their desired career paths. These professionals must stay current on employer expectations and how students might continue their education. They also assist students when they want to study abroad.

Median Salary: $42,126

Registrar, College or University

College registrars monitor students' academic records, and ensure class times and student schedules do not conflict. These professionals might also organize enrollment data and advise students on loan and scholarship qualifications.

Median Salary: $53,465

Paying for Your Online Master's in Higher Education Degree

Higher education students have several options for financial aid and payment plans when it comes to financing their college education.

Financial Aid

Students must first create an FSA (Federal Student Aid) user ID and password. Parents are also required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms if students are not at least 24 years old, married, a graduate student, or a veteran. Orphans can file independently as well. Once students have their login information, they should apply through the FAFSA website as early as possible, because funding is limited. FAFSA aid is sent to the students' university of choice, and leftover funds are either sent back to the government or to the student via refund check. Students often use refunded aid to pay for books or living expenses. Public financial aid differs from private student loans, which are issued by banks, schools, and other agencies. Also, unsubsidized loans accrue interest over time, while subsidized loans are paid by the government while the student is enrolled.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs are available to FAFSA-enrolled students, offering them part-time jobs scheduled outside of class time. These programs typically place students in positions closely related to their degree path if possible. However, work-study participants can work in any available job for 10 to 20 hours each week. Work-study students' paychecks are intended for educational and personal expenses.

Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Employers offer tuition reimbursement as an employee incentive, in which students pay for their tuition up-front and their employers reimburse them at set dates. Details and time frames vary from company to company, but typically, the educational program must be relevant to the student's line of work. Not all employers are willing to cover complete tuition costs. Often, employers are only willing to cover up to a certain amount of tuition.

Grants, Fellowships, and Scholarships

Financial aid in these categories doesn't have to be repaid, but the categories differ in other ways. Grants come from government agencies, corporations, or foundations, often for a specific reason. With the Pell Grant, for example, first-generation college students or students from low-income families pay for their undergraduate expenses. Fellowships are monetary awards for graduate students, usually associated with a short-term learning requirement. Similarly, scholarships are usually awarded based an essay or project submission. They usually have GPA requirements, as well.

Scholarships for Online Master's in Higher Education Degrees

American Council on Education (ACE) Fellowship

Who Can Apply: The ACE program is a fellowship for students pursuing higher education leadership roles. Students are placed for an academic year, semester, or flexible schedule that amounts to 12 weeks. View Scholarship

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Varies

Who Can Apply: The AASA offers assistance to graduate students focusing on administration roles in higher education. Students must submit applications by Sept. 30, and awards vary. View Scholarship

Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) $300 or $500

Who Can Apply: The NASPA offers a scholarship in the amount of $300 or $500. Applications must be submitted by Dec. 1. View Scholarship

The College Board Professional Fellowship Program $5,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must have less than 10 years of experience. Awards are only distributed to each student one time in the amount of $5,000. View Scholarship

Resources for Online Master's in Higher Education Students

FIND DEGREES is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.