25 Best Online Doctoral Programs in Higher Education [2021 Guide]

Ready to start your journey?

If you want to build an exciting career in the stimulating environment of colleges and universities, you may consider online doctoral programs in higher education.

Doctoral Programs in Higher Education

You may find yourself in mid-career, thinking about the next step to propel you forward in your professional life. Or you may be completing your undergraduate degree and considering your next academic move.

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With an EdD in Higher Education, you may advance your expertise and qualify for top positions in postsecondary administration.

Online Higher Education Doctoral Programs

Financial Aid Director meeting with staff

The EdD in Higher Education is a doctorate in education with higher education (postsecondary) as the chosen track or area of concentration. In this way, it differs from the type of EdD that you could earn for advancement in the field of K-12 education.

An EdD is known as the doctoral degree for practitioners working in the field of education. With an EdD in Higher Education, you may step into top administrative positions in colleges or universities, employee training positions in business and industry, or research and policy positions in education governance.

Some EdD programs in higher education focus exclusively on this area of concentration. Other programs feature higher education leadership as a specialization area within a more generalized EdD in educational and organizational leadership.

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Some of the course topics an EdD program in higher education might cover include organizational management, law and ethics in higher education, and financial management in higher education.

These types of courses help provide the foundation for you to build a knowledge and skill base that may allow you to step into top managerial roles within the framework of higher education administration. In most cases, a doctoral degree consists of 60 credit hours beyond the masters degree.

Some institutions offer dual masters and doctorate degree programs. A dual program allows you to complete the 30 credit hours of a masters degree and the additional 60 hours of the doctoral program all in one continuous degree program.

Higher Education Careers & Salaries

Higher Education Careers & Salaries

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 19.7 million students enrolled in US colleges and universities last semester. With such a large population of students, it’s understandable why colleges and universities need well-prepared administrators.

Postsecondary institutions must run efficiently to deliver top-notch instruction and handle the administrative tasks that serve the needs of their students.

Higher education administrators are responsible for facilitating students’ enrollment and progress through their degree programs toward completion and graduation. The administrative apparatus of any institution provides recordkeeping, evaluation, student services, and much more.

With an EdD in Higher Education, you may qualify to head up a department within a university administration or even become a college president. Top positions in higher education include president (chief executive officer), provost or academic dean, or dean of students.

Other administrative positions involve managing departments, such as financial aid or student affairs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals with an EdD in Higher Education may qualify for the jobs listed below.

Careers Annual Median Salary
College President $155,230
Training and Development Manager $115,640
State College Academic Dean $102,790
Dean of Student Affairs $100,060
Administrative Services Manager $98,890
Financial Aid Director $97,500
Director of Admissions in Junior Colleges $90,480
Education Policy Analyst $75,260
Instructional Coordinator $66,970
Curriculum Specialist in Universities $62,950

Postsecondary administration is a growing area of employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4% growth rate for the next decade.

The typical career track for someone with an EdD in Higher Education involves working in the administration of public or private colleges, universities, junior colleges, community colleges, or postsecondary professional trade schools. But there are also opportunities for careers in business and industry.

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You might use your EdD to become the managing director of an employee training program in a business or industry. Additionally, you might look for an opportunity to perform research and influence policy in an organization for postsecondary education governance.

Choosing an Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Doctorate in Higher Education student studying online

As you research the different online education programs offered by various universities for EdD in Higher Education, keeping an eye out for some specific factors may help you narrow down your choices.

Some of these factors may include:

  • University with regional accreditation
  • Professional accreditation for education degree programs
  • Intermittent on-campus residency requirements

If you’re interested in a specialized area of higher education, you may also want to consider these factors:

  • Reputation of the teaching faculty
  • Faculty members’ areas of research and publication
  • Opportunities for research collaboration with faculty members
  • Opportunities for specialization within the curriculum
  • Opportunities for practicum or internship experiences

It may also help to investigate these financial aspects associated with your choice of graduate school:

  • Cost of tuition and fees
  • In-state or out-of-state tuition
  • Opportunities for financial aid, grants, and scholarships

Pursuing your degree online may offer convenience and allow you to complete the degree while continuing to work and maintain any family responsibilities. You may want to consider these aspects of the online education environment:

  • Tech support availability for learning platforms
  • Scheduling and ease of navigation for online classes
  • Ability to communicate quickly and easily with faculty
  • Ease of online interaction with peers to discuss coursework and projects

With any doctorate degree program such as a higher education or online doctorate in special education, the degree program that is best for you is often the one that best fits your personal needs and goals.

Curriculum & Courses

Training and Development Manager guiding an employee

While you pursue the Doctor of Education in Higher Education, you’ll take numerous courses to prepare you for career advancement in this exciting field.

Similar to a masters program in higher education, here is an overview of courses that may appear in your program:

  • Leadership in Higher Education: You’ll learn theories and develop skills for leadership in higher education, including management, communication, and organizational strategies.
  • Law and Ethics in Higher Education: This course will investigate legal and ethical issues that impact students, faculty, staff, and administration in postsecondary educational institutions.
  • Assessment and Evaluation in Postsecondary Education: You’ll learn how to analyze data for the purpose of improving student outcomes in higher education.
  • Organizational Management: Explore varied approaches to structuring and managing a large organization, such as a college or university.
  • Strategic Planning in Higher Education: Study best practices in leadership for establishing shared visions and goals for long-range planning in higher education.
  • Postsecondary Education Governance: This course will explore leadership approaches to the management of external and internal governance frameworks in higher education.
  • Financial Management in Higher Education: You may learn strategies for fundraising, fiscal planning, fiscal responsibility, and integrity in postsecondary education.
  • Higher Education Academic Programs: This course will discuss current models for structuring and assessing degree programs in higher education.
  • Research Methods: You’ll learn principle elements of academic research and scholarly writing, building toward the dissertation or doctoral capstone.
  • Dissertation or Doctoral Capstone: Design and conduct independent research and report findings in a comprehensive dissertation document under the supervision of a dissertation advisor and committee. Many universities also offer the option of a capstone project in lieu of a dissertation.

As you search for the degree program that is right for you, you may keep in mind that some programs offer opportunities for specialization.

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For example, you may want to specialize in leadership in higher education or in higher education administration. Your interests and career goals may affect your need for specialization.

Admissions Requirements

Doctorate in Higher Education student researching online

The EdD is a terminal degree for practitioners in the field of education. So, only the most qualified candidates are admitted to these degree programs. Here is a list of criteria that universities may be looking for:

  • Master’s degree in higher education or related field with minimum GPA
  • GRE or GMAT score, if required
  • Evidence of work experience in higher education
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Writing sample

Some universities may require minimum scores on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Many institutions, though, have eliminated these test requirements in recent years.

Some schools will often waive the requirement to submit test scores if you can show evidence of work experience in higher education.

Accreditation

Doctoral Programs in Higher Education

As you research online EdD in Higher Education degree programs, you may want to take note of their accreditation status. Your future advancement may depend, in part, on evidence of holding an EdD from an accredited university.

An institution that holds regional accreditation has been recognized from one of these organizations:

You might also look for accreditation of the EdD degree program itself. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) are two organizations that accredit degree programs in Education.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Doctoral Programs in Higher Education Financial Aid

You may be able to offset your investment in an EdD with increased future earnings. Additionally, you may be eligible to access funds through financial aid, grants, scholarships, or employer tuition programs.

To start the process, you may complete and submit your FAFSA form at the Federal Student Aid website. The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program is also frequently accessed by graduate students.

Other forms of financial assistance may include financial aid from state or institution sources. In some cases, a work-study program may also provide financial assistance while you complete your degree.

Grants and scholarships are sometimes available for doctoral students who qualify. Foundations, community organizations, and alumni associations offer scholarships at various institutions as well.

If you’re already working in higher education, there’s a chance your employer may share the expense for you to get your EdD degree.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Higher Education Administration?

Education Policy Analysts in a meeting

With a PhD in Higher Education Administration, you may move into top positions in college or university administration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you may become a college registrar, academic dean, college president, or dean of student affairs.

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On the other hand, you may also go into research and teaching as a university professor in the field of higher education. There is a tremendous amount of overlap in regard to the careers pursued by professionals with PhD and EdD degrees.

What’s the Difference Between an EdD vs. PhD in Higher Education Administration?

Administrative Services Managers in a meeting

Your choice to pursue the EdD or the PhD in Higher Education may be dictated by your professional aspirations in the field. It depends on whether you seek career advancement in administration and leadership or in research and teaching.

An EdD in Higher Education is generally seen as the degree for a practitioner in the field. For professionals in postsecondary administration, leadership, and student affairs, the EdD is the terminal degree focusing on professional practice.

The PhD in Higher Education is known as the degree that focuses on research and preparation for teaching at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

While a PhD still often requires the completion of a dissertation, many EdD degrees now have the option of completing a capstone project in lieu of writing a dissertation. Your capstone requirement will depend on the program and university you ultimately choose.

How Much Does an Online Doctorate in Higher Education Cost?

Doctorate in Higher Education student working on his laptop

Tuition costs vary from one institution to another. A search of online EdD in Higher Education programs reveals a wide range of cost, from $420 to $1,785 per credit hour.

When calculating costs of various programs, you may want to include the extra expenses of books and fees. Some online degree programs waive the fees that are associated with face-to-face programs on campus, which can help lower the overall cost.

You may also consider the costs of the on-campus residency requirements that are included in many online EdD programs.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Higher Education Doctorate?

Higher Education Doctorate student studying in a cafe

On average, you may complete a Doctor of Education in Higher Education degree in 3 to 5 years. Your individual schedule, though, may dictate how long it takes for you to complete the degree program.

Some schools offer self-directed degree programs while others require that you move through the program with a cohort of 15 to 20 other students. Additionally, you’ll be working individually when you get to the dissertation or doctoral capstone phase, and some research may require longer timeframes.

Is a Higher Education Doctoral Program Worth It?

Education Policy Analysts meeting in an office

Yes, a Doctor of Education in Higher Education is worth it for many students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, education, training, and library jobs are set to grow at 5% over the next 10 years, faster than the average for all occupations.

Common higher education careers in this field include college president, registrar, provost or academic dean, director of student affairs, and director of employee training.

This degree may open many more doors of knowledge and opportunity for you over other degree programs such as a masters in education administration online. Aside from the opportunities to secure a job promotion, make a career change, or move up the administrative ladder, you may also experience profound intellectual growth as you pursue your EdD.

Universities Offering Doctorate in Higher Education Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Andrews University

Andrews University campus

Andrews University offers several options for higher education administration graduate degrees. Students can choose from the Master of Arts, Educational Specialist, Doctor of Education (EdD), or PhD in the field. Both the EdD and PhD doctoral programs are designed for professionals hoping to take on policy-making or senior administration roles.

Andrews University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University campus

Students can choose from six concentrations in Appalachian State University’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program.

Those who select the Higher Education concentration will take 60 credits in courses on emerging issues, writing for professional educators, policy analysis in higher education, designing culturally responsible learning environments, and institutional effectiveness.

Appalachian State University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University campus

Students in Colorado State University’s PhD in Higher Education program will gain real-world insight from scholar-practitioners and develop the skills and knowledge needed to become scholar-practitioners themselves.

The program prepares students for senior management positions in higher education administration, student services, enrollment management, academic support leadership, and housing and auxiliary services.

Colorado State is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Concordia University – Chicago

Concordia University Chicago campus

Concordia University – Chicago offers both Doctor of Education (EdD) and PhD programs in Higher Education. The EdD program prepares students for leadership roles within higher education while the PhD program prepares students to do research in the field or teach at the collegiate level. Both programs share many similar courses.

Concordia University Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Drexel University

Drexel University campus

The educational leadership and management doctoral program at Drexel University can be taken entirely online by part-time or full-time students.

There are no residency requirements and ten areas of concentration available, including one in Higher Education. Students in this concentration learn to effectively use innovative technology to serve their communities.

Drexel University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

East Carolina University

East Carolina University campus

East Carolina University’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program features a concentration in Higher Education.

In addition to the core courses required for the doctoral degree, students who choose this concentration will also take courses that include policy development and analysis, politics and power in education, and educational planning.

East Carolina University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Fairleigh Dickinson University

Fairleigh Dickinson University campus

The Doctor of Education in Higher Education program at Fairleigh Dickinson University has a diverse, comprehensive curriculum.

Popular courses cover topics like enrollment and retention, leadership, developing globally minded solutions to educational problems, applying data analytics, educational innovation, and creating a diverse and inclusive college culture. Financial aid is available to students who qualify.

FDU is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Gwynedd Mercy University

Gwynedd Mercy University campus

The online accelerated executive Doctorate in Educational Leadership program at Gwynedd Mercy University is a 54 credit program that provides students with advanced skills and knowledge in many aspects of education.

These include education policy and regulation, faculty management and development, curriculum development, education research, and community outreach and relations.

Gwynedd Mercy University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Indiana State University

Indiana State University campus

Students in Indiana State University’s PhD in Educational Administration program can select the Leadership in Higher Education concentration to prepare for leadership roles within 2 year and 4 year colleges and universities.

The curriculum consists of coursework delivered in multiple formats and a 2 semester long, field-based internship to give students real-world experience.

Indiana State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University’s PhD in Higher Education Administration program takes about 3 years to finish, can be completed entirely online, and allows students to transfer half of the required credits from previously attended universities.

Required courses include policy analysis, college and university administration, teaching the college student, and assessment and accreditation.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Maryville University

Maryville University campus

Maryville University’s Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership program is a cohort-model program that allows students to complete all required coursework online.

This includes the residency, which can be completed face-to-face if students prefer. Students work on their coursework and dissertations simultaneously and can potentially graduate in 32 months.

The Maryville University of Saint Louis is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Missouri Baptist University

Missouri Baptist University campus

Missouri Baptist University’s higher education leadership doctoral program utilizes the practitioner-scholar education model and offers competitive tuition.

All courses are built on the school’s foundational belief that education and faith are the world’s two greatest powers for change. The degree prepares students for jobs as deans, presidents, professors, and directors.

Missouri Baptist University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Notre Dame of Maryland University

Notre Dame of Maryland University campus

The PhD in Higher Education Leadership for Changing Populations program at Notre Dame of Maryland University helps prepare students to become leaders in schools and universities with culturally diverse populations.

Emphasis is placed on education policy and practice and effective organizational management. Tuition is affordable, and there’s no residency requirement.

Notre Dame of Maryland University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University campus

Students enrolled in Nova Southeastern University’s higher education leadership doctoral program can earn their Doctor of Education without having to submit or defend a dissertation. All coursework can be completed online, but students must attend one mandatory summer institute as part of their curricula. Most students finish in 3 years.

NSU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Oregon State University

Oregon State University campus

The Doctor of Education in Adult and Higher Education program at Oregon State University can be undertaken mostly online, but during the first two years of the program, students will be required to attend two face-to-face cohort meetings twice per term. These are held on the school’s downtown Portland campus.

Oregon State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University’s PhD in Higher Education program assists students in gaining deeper understanding of the entire college administration field. Key courses in the curriculum focus on policy and professional practice and examine historical issues, contemporary issues, and finance in higher education, all presented from a Christian worldview.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Saint Cloud State University

Saint Cloud State University campus

The Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration program from Saint Cloud State University is 100% online and flexible. Students can choose between 8 week and 16 week course terms and can earn their degrees in 4 years. The curriculum is comprehensive and advanced, and the school doesn’t charge out-of-state tuition.

St. Cloud State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Saint Peter’s University

Saint Peters University campus

Students interested in higher education at Saint Peter’s University can enroll in the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program and select the Higher Education concentration.

The program requires 48 credits for completion. Notable courses include historical trends in higher education, grants, philanthropy and development, and qualitative research design.

Saint Peter’s University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University campus

Students at Texas Tech University have two concentration options as part of the Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration program: Community College Administration or Higher Education College and University Administration.

Both concentrations can prepare students for careers in various higher education fields. On-campus orientation and on-campus summer sessions are required.

Texas Tech University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Florida

University of Florida campus

University of Florida’s higher education hybrid doctoral program can prepare students for senior administrative positions in both postsecondary-focused nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions.

It’s a cohort-model program that was one of the original Kellogg Foundation Community College Leadership programs in the nation. It’s designed specifically for working professionals.

The University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Memphis

University of Memphis campus

The higher education doctoral program at University of Memphis is specifically designed for professionals already working in higher education who are looking to move into mid- to senior-level management positions.

The program can be completed online and can also prepare students for board member jobs or jobs within higher education-related agencies.

The University of Memphis is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of Nebraska – Lincoln

University of Nebraska - Lincoln campus

University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s inter-departmental Doctor of Education in Educational Studies program allows students to choose from three concentrations.

Students who select the Educational Leadership and Higher Education concentration should receive the academic and professional development skills needed to become higher education leaders and administrators. There’s also a PhD option.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota campus

The Educational Practice and Leadership program at University of North Dakota features six unique concentrations, including the Higher Education concentration. The program requires 90 credit hours for completion and usually takes about 3 years to finish. Courses can be taken online, and graduate assistant funding is available to qualifying students.

The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of Southern Mississippi

University of Southern Mississippi campus

The University of Southern Mississippi’s Doctor of Education in Higher Education program has recently been redesigned to accommodate the needs of working professionals looking to move into more pertinent leadership roles. The program can be taken entirely online, and students don’t have to pass the GRE for admittance.

The University of Southern Mississippi is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Wilmington University

Wilmington University campus

Students in Wilmington University’s higher education leadership doctoral program will enjoy a flexible curriculum taught by highly qualified faculty.

They learn to become leaders who empower others, advocate for meaningful change and continuous improvement, and behave with integrity, fairness, inclusivity, and impeccable ethics. Law, policy, and governance are also taught.

Wilmington University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Getting Your Higher Education Doctorate Online

Higher Education Doctorate student studying at home

Deciding to work on your EdD is not a decision to be made in haste. You may decide to research numerous online degree programs, comparing factors that are most important for you.

Regional accreditation may be an important criterion to consider at the outset of your search. You may also want to explore and compare degree program costs if you’re working within a projected budget.

Still another factor you may consider is whether various degree programs offer specializations that will help you advance in the career that interests you. When you find the accredited EdD program that best meets your needs, you may be on your way to an exciting, educational journey!

Ready to start your journey?
Carol Benton
WRITTEN BY
Carol Benton
Carol is a retired college professor in the field of music education. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from Shenandoah University, a Master of Music in piano performance and a Bachelor of Music Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Carol has many years of experience as a teacher and academic advisor for undergraduates.