2024 Best Online PhD in Adult Education [EdD Programs]

By Stephanie Friedman
Updated on April 13, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
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If you’re interested in learning about adult education at the highest level, you may enjoy pursuing a PhD in Adult Education.

Best Online PhD in Adult Education

While graduates with these types of degrees may pursue roles in the academic world, such as professors or education administrators, others work in a wide variety of industries. Professionals in the field may hold jobs in human resources, healthcare, training, and more.

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To apply to PhD in Adult Learning programs, it’s often necessary to have a masters degree as well as some work experience in the field.

Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Adult 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.

Ball State University

Ball State University offers an EdD in Adult and Community Education. The program requires 91 credits. Potential courses include strategies for Teaching Adults, Evaluation of Educational Programs, and Methodology of Educational Psychological Research. Graduates may pursue work in fields such as higher education, social services, and workplace consulting.

Ball State is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Capella University

Capella University offers an EdD in Adult Education. This online program consists of 16 courses and a capstone doctoral project. The curriculum is designed to teach how to develop learning programs for adults at corporations, universities, governmental organizations, and similar settings.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University offers the opportunity to earn a Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning: Adult Learning (Qualitative Research). The program requires 60 credits of 8 week online courses. Potential courses include Introduction to Research, History and Philosophy of Teaching and Learning, and Worldview and Adult Learning.

GCU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University offers an online Adult Learning and Leadership Doctorate, which can be earned as either a PhD or an EdD. The EdD program includes an internship that offers pragmatic skills. The program is mostly online, but 2 courses may be taken in the form of week-long on-campus intensives during the summer.

Kansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Montana State University

Montana State University offers a PhD and an EdD in Adult and Higher Education. The EdD includes 2 specialization options: Higher Education Academics and Higher Education Administration. The PhD program focuses on conducting research. Courses typically use face-to-face instructional sessions but may have some online components.

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

Oregon State University

Oregon State University offers a PhD and an EdD in Adult and Higher Education. The EdD program is held in person and online with a cohort, while the PhD program can be attended at the Portland or Corvallis campus. On average, the programs take 3 to 5 years to complete.

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

Regent University

A PhD in Education – Adult Education is offered through Regent University. This online, research-oriented program requires a total of 67 credits. Courses are typically taught from a Christian worldview and may include Strategic Planning and Program Evaluation, The Adult Learner, and Policy Studies in Adult Education.

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

University of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas offers an EdD in Adult and Lifelong Learning. The program can be completed mostly online, with 6 face-to-face campus sessions each year. The program requires 96 credits. On average, it takes 2.5 years to complete the required credits. Credits from a master’s degree may be counted toward the EdD.

The U of A is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University offers a Doctor of Education in Adult and Career Education. The program requires 46 credits plus the successful completion of a comprehensive exam and a dissertation. Most courses are fully online, but some use a hybrid format.

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

William Woods University

William Woods University offers a Doctorate in Leadership and Adult Learning in Organizations. The program requires a 16 week Applied Doctoral Project in place of a dissertation. Potential courses include Adult Learning: Theory and Practice, Improvement of Adult Instruction and Training, and Adult Learning and the Digital Age.

William Woods University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

PhD in Adult Education Programs Online

Man taking PhD in Adult Education online

PhD programs with a focus in adult education help prepare students to pursue careers as high-level adult educators. Some graduates pursue positions as college professors, but they can also pursue a variety of jobs that involve education and leadership.

While enrolled in an online PhD in Adult Education program, you may study some of the following topics:

  • Building a curriculum
  • Leading education professionals
  • Change management
  • Teaching strategies
  • Education theory
  • History of teaching
  • Classroom evaluation
  • Literacy
  • Diversity in an academic setting
  • Data analysis
  • Communication skills
  • Educational research
  • Strategic planning

Before applying to a PhD program, students typically need to have received a masters degree. They may also have some work experience under their belt, which they can showcase on their application through a resume, personal statement, or letters of recommendation.

In addition to completing the required coursework, many programs will offer opportunities for students to participate in research, internships, capstone projects, and more. Most PhD programs require students to complete a dissertation before graduating.

If students pursue roles outside the academic arena after graduation, they may work in corporations as human resource specialists, training and development specialists, or training and development managers. They may also work toward jobs as health education specialists, social and community service managers, or medical and health services managers.

Adult Education Careers and Salaries

Adult Education Careers and Salaries

The careers that graduates pursue after completing PhD in Adult Learning programs vary widely. Some may work toward jobs as professors in colleges and universities, while others may pursue the necessary experience to become postsecondary education administrators.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the median wages of some careers associated with adult education.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Training and Development Managers $120,000
Medical and Health Services Managers $104,830
Postsecondary Education Administrators $99,940
Social and Community Service Managers $74,240
Postsecondary Education Teachers $66,930
Instructional Coordinators $66,490
Human Resources Specialists $64,240
Training and Development Specialists $63,080
Health Education Specialists $59,990
Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers $55,350

Professionals in the field also work in various jobs where they can help educate and inform adults. For instance, they may hold jobs as training and development specialists or managers, medical and health services managers, or adult education and ESL teachers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several careers aligned with adult education are expected to grow faster than average over the next ten years. For instance, employment for postsecondary teachers is projected to grow by 12%, while training and development managers are expected to see 7% job growth.

PhD in Adult Education Curriculum & Courses

students pursuing PhD in Adult Education degree

The coursework in online PhD in Adult Education programs vary widely, but here are a few examples of courses you may come across:

  • Methods of Education Adults: You’ll learn about different strategies for teaching adults, including lectures and curriculum development.
  • Advanced Education Theory: This class dives into different advanced theories used to teach adults and shows students how to assess their effectiveness.
  • Classroom Assessment in Education: You’ll learn how to evaluate different types of classrooms in order to become an effective teacher to adult students.
  • History and Philosophy of Teaching and Learning: This course covers the history of teaching and learning in general so that you can use these concepts in the real world.
  • Applications of Adult Learning: You’ll learn how to apply your knowledge of adult education in the real world, and you’ll study various strategies for teaching students.
  • Worldview and Adult Learning: This class connects adult learning theories to each student’s worldview, and it teaches you how these perspectives can be a valuable tool.
  • Qualitative Research Methods in Organizations: Data Analysis and Reporting: You’ll study different qualitative research methods and how they can be applied to measuring the success of adult education.
  • Management and Leadership Skills in Practice: This course covers a variety of leadership skills, including motivating groups, problem solving, and giving feedback.
  • Curriculum Development: You’ll learn how to create curriculums specifically for adult students.
  • Developing Critical Thinkers: This class dives into different ways to teach your adult students how to think critically, including analyzing various scenarios.

In addition to classes like these, you may have the opportunity to participate in internships, capstone projects, or a dissertation.

Admissions Requirements

Woman preparing requirements for PhD in Adult Education

While the admissions requirements for an online PhD in Adult Education vary, here are a few common ones you may see:

  • Master’s degree
  • Resume
  • GRE or GMAT scores (only some schools require them)
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation

In addition to a masters degree, some schools want to see your graduate school transcripts to verify your GPA if they have a minimum requirement. Others want to look at your resume to check if you have any relevant work experience.


University offering PhD in Adult Education Programs

When choosing a program for your doctorate degree in adult education, it’s strategic to make sure the school is regionally accredited. This status means the school has met a series of academic quality standards as determined by a third-party regional accrediting organization.

Additionally, many PhD programs only recognize course credits and master’s degrees, including a masters in special education online, from accredited colleges and universities.

When looking for employment after graduation, it can be helpful to have attended this type of school, as some organizations will check for it on your resume. It could also be necessary if you are interested in applying for federal financial aid. To learn more about accreditation, you can visit the US Department of Education’s website.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Adult Education Financial Aid

If you’re interested in applying for financial aid to potentially help pay for your PhD in Adult Learning, just as you would for an online masters in adult education, you can explore all the options available to qualifying students at the Federal Student Aid website.

For qualifying students who are working toward a doctorate degree and already have a few years of work experience, their employers may provide tuition assistance or reimbursement. Others may be interested in learning about the different options for financial assistance in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, and more. Student loans from the federal government often have lower interest rates than private loans.

Scholarship opportunities can also be offered by a range of sources, such as schools, professional organizations, and public institutions.

Adult Education Professional Organizations

Members of Adult Higher Education Alliance, in a meeting

While in a doctorate program for adult education, you might consider joining a professional organization. The following are examples of adult education professional organizations you may be interested in learning more about:

A professional organization can provide resources and information that may help you move forward in your career. Through events, conferences, and more, you may also get the chance to meet and connect with other professionals in your industry.

What Is an Adult Education Doctorate Degree?

Teacher discussing in class with adult learners

An adult education doctorate degree is a terminal degree program that explores how to educate and train adults in a wide variety of subjects. Students may learn about how to design curriculums, evaluate classrooms, lead groups of people, and more.

Typically, these online education degree programs are designed to help students pursue roles as college professors upon graduation. They may also help graduates work toward jobs teaching adults in a variety of settings, from nonprofits to corporations to government organizations.

What Can You Do with a Doctorate in Adult Education?

Training & Development Manager discussing with some employees

Professionals with a doctorate in adult education often pursue careers in education. These roles can include instructional coordinators, postsecondary teachers, and postsecondary administrators. Some graduates may also work as adult basic education, secondary education, and ESL teachers.

Adult education professionals in the field also work in corporations or organizations as human resource specialists, training and development managers, or training and development specialists. They may also hold jobs like social and community service manager or health education specialist.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online PhD in Adult Education?

Man taking Online PhD in Adult Education

The timeframe for completing a PhD in Adult Education varies by school and program, but there are a few factors to consider. In general, a PhD can take between 3 and 5 years to complete with full-time enrollment.

The number of credit hours the program requires and how long you take to complete a dissertation can affect the overall timeline. If a program doesn’t require a dissertation to be completed, it may only take 3 years to get a doctorate if you’re enrolled full-time.

Should I Earn an Online PhD in Adult Education?

Woman pursuing Online PhD in Adult Education

Whether an online PhD in Adult Education is right for you ultimately depends on your specific career goals and personal interests. If you’re interested in advancing your career in adult education, a doctorate degree could be a strategic next step.

If you’d like to conduct more research in your field, meet more people in the arena, and pursue a passion for adult learning, you may enjoy earning a PhD. A PhD is especially beneficial for careers in research and academia. Holding a terminal degree could also help you pursue higher-paying roles, although the qualifications for these jobs depend on a variety of factors.

What’s the Difference Between an EdD vs. PhD in Adult Education Degree?

While there is overlap between Doctor of Education (EdD) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Adult Education degrees, there are a few key differences between the two.

EdD in Adult Education PhD in Adult Education
  • More focused on practically applying knowledge
  • Typically requires a residency to complete
  • More focused on original research in the field
  • Typically requires a dissertation to complete

Because PhDs tend to be more research based, they generally take longer to complete than EdDs.

Is a Doctoral Degree in Adult Education Worth It?

Social & Community Service Manager in a meeting with her team

Yes, a doctoral degree in adult education is worth it for many students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a variety of careers associated with adult education are projected to grow faster than average. Overall employment for education, training, and library occupations is expected to grow 7% over the next ten years.

If you are hoping to advance to the highest level of education possible in the adult learning field, pursuing a PhD could be a strategic move. These programs tend to involve participating in a lot of research, and graduates go on to pursue roles in a wide variety of industries.

Getting Your Adult Education PhD Degree Online

student getting Adult Education PhD Degree online

If you love the adult education field and want to earn the highest academic degree possible in the subject area, you might be interested in getting your adult education PhD online.

Students in these programs typically learn about building curriculums, adult education strategies, and more. In these PhD programs, you can also grow your soft skills in areas such as leadership, critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving. Many PhD graduates pursue roles as professors, but others work toward jobs in HR, health education, and more.

To get started toward a PhD in Adult Education, you can explore online program options from accredited universities and see which ones best align with your professional interests.

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