The Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education Degree Programs 2021

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The demand for skilled educational administrators and researchers continues to rise in the U.S.

If you have a passion for keeping up with shifting demographics and meeting student and faculty needs, an online doctorate in higher education might be the right choice for you. This advanced degree builds leadership skills in a variety of roles such as student services, enrollment management, education administration, and academic support. Many higher education programs also prepare you for advanced academic research, which explores new strategies to meet changing educational needs.

An online Ph.D. in higher education is the highest degree attainable in the field. This level of specialization can also lead to increased job opportunities. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that careers for postsecondary education administrators will grow 10% through 2026, a rate faster than the national average.

The Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

  1. Andrews University

    Berrien Springs, MI

    Established in 1874, Andrews ranks 2nd in the nation for campus ethnic diversity and 7th in the highest percentage of international students. Around 4,800 students enroll at Andrews every year.

    Andrews' online doctorate in higher education administration program provides students with the expertise needed to assume senior administrative and policy-making positions. Students of this program must complete a total of 61 credits of coursework, and complete a dissertation within five academic years.

    Interested applicants must have completed a master's degree prior to application, and must submit three recommendation letters from previous advisors, major professors, or employers.

  2. Colorado State University-Fort Collins

    Fort Collins, CO



    CSU ranks as a top public research university in the country. The university has also produced a record enrollment in the past ten years.

    CSU offers a doctor of philosophy in education and human resource studies program with a focus on the higher education leadership specialization. This doctorate program provides a fully online course delivery, and students must a total of 60 credits to earn their degree.

    Applicants must have a master's degree from a regionally accredited post-secondary institution, a minimum of two years of professional work related to higher education, and a minimum GPA of 3.00 from master's level coursework.

  3. Gwynedd Mercy University

    Gwynedd Valley, PA

    Founded in 1948, GMercyU now offers more than 30 undergraduate programs, 14 minors, and 10 graduate programs. The university enrolls about 2,000 undergraduates and 800 graduate students every year.

    CSU offers an executive doctor of education in education: leadership and teaching & learning program focused on the highest level of instruction and leadership in the teaching profession. The doctorate-level program delivers an online and accelerated curriculum, and students must complete a dissertation to earn their degree.

    Applicants must have a master's degree, a minimum of three years of relevant professional work experience, and three letters of reference from persons in leadership roles in their chosen area of concentration.

  4. Maryville University of Saint Louis

    Saint Louis, MO

    Maryville offers more than 90 degree programs, 19 master's programs, and 5 doctoral programs. Around 11,000 students attend Maryville on a yearly basis.

    Maryville's online doctor of education in higher education leadership program provides students with expert-level awareness on social, political, and business leadership in education. Students can complete this 100% online program within 32 months.

    Applicants must submit two satisfactory professional recommendations and a successful writing sample. Applicants should also have a cumulative graduate GPA of 3.0.

  5. Missouri Baptist University

    Saint Louis, MO

    MBU integrates an excellent 14:1 student to faculty ratio in its 71 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs. MBU also offers degree programs throughout Saint Louis, in Southern Illinois, and online.

    MBU's online doctor of education in higher education leadership program paves the way for students to assume administrative roles in higher education. Graduates of this program now work as deans, directors, professors, provosts, and presidents.

    Applicants must complete an online application form, and submit official transcripts of records directly to MBU.

  6. Regent University

    Virginia Beach, VA

    Founded in 1977, Regent has produced over 27,000 alumni all over the world. Regent enrolls a total of 11,000 students on a yearly basis.

    MBU's fully online doctor of education in higher education program prepares students to work as competitive administrators or faculty members in the higher education field. Students of this program must complete 61 credits of coursework to earn their degree.

    Applicants must complete an online application form, pay the $50 nonrefundable application fee, and submit their college transcripts of records.

  7. Saint Peter's University

    Jersey City, NJ

    Saint Peter's ranks highest in New Jersey for Best Value in the 2021 Regional Universities North category rankings. Saint Peter's graduates also produced an excellent 94% job placement rate.

    MBU offers an online doctor of education in educational leadership program with a concentration in Higher Education. Students of this program must complete 48 credits of coursework and a successful oral defense of a doctoral-level dissertation.

    Applicants must submit official transcripts evidencing conferral of a master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Applicants should also submit three letters of recommendation and a writing sample.

  8. University of Florida

    Gainesville, FL



    First established in 1858, UF now enrolls around 57,800 students every year.

    UF offers a higher education hybrid doctor of education program for students aiming for administrative and leadership roles in higher education institutions. The program delivers fully online coursework, and students must complete a total of 90 credit hours to earn their degree.

    Interested applicants must have completed a master's or terminal degree, and a minimum GPA of 3.0.

  9. University of Memphis

    Memphis, TN



    UofM rolls out more than 250 areas of study, with 40 of its programs ranked nationally. UofM also offers high-caliber degree programs through entirely online delivery.

    UofM's doctorate of education in higher and adult education program offers a higher education concentration. The fully online program prepares students for mid and senior-level administrative positions in higher education institutions.

    Interested applicants must complete an online application form and submit their official transcripts of records.

  10. University of Mississippi

    University, MS



    Founded in 1948, Ole Miss enrolls more than 18,700 undergraduate and graduate students every year. Ole Miss provides individualized education in integrating a 16:1 student to teacher ratio.

    Ole Miss offers a doctor of education with an emphasis in higher education program for current college and university administrators wanting to specialize in the practitioner aspect of their profession. Students of this fully online doctorate program must complete 48 credits of coursework.

    Interested applicants must have strong grade point averages for previous studies, and submit a letter of recommendation from a current or previous supervisor.

Best Online Programs

Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

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If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

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Featured Online Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Higher Education Program?

Coursework can vary significantly between online doctoral programs in higher education, with some focused on practical skills for educational administration and others on academic skills for research. In general, however, this degree offers a comprehensive perspective on the major practices in higher education and the strategies used for gauging their effectiveness.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Higher Education

  • Foundations of Education Research: Part of most programs, this course introduces the major principles of education research, exploring the theoretical, practical, philosophical, and ethical dimensions of performing research. Given its broad nature, this course pertains to all types of higher education careers.
  • Higher Education Law: Exploring the application of legal theories and practices to higher education, this course is mandatory for candidates in administrative positions. Higher education law typically covers topics that include nondiscrimination in employment, privacy and openness, contractual obligations, tenure, academic freedom, and program discontinuance.
  • Adult Learners: Designed to address changing age demographics in higher education populations, this course focuses on the major theories and perspectives associated with adult learning. A common requirement for higher education administrators, the course also presents strategies for meeting the unique needs of these students.
  • Enrollment Management and Marketing: Addressing issues of strategic enrollment, this course aids candidates in college enrollment departments. Students explore fundamental topics such as branding, forecasting, differentiation, and alumni relations. Increasingly, enrollment and marketing management also involve social media and other digital public relations tools.
  • Higher Education Practicum: Regardless of focus or career goals, most candidates earning their Ph.D. in higher education online must complete a professional practicum, typically at their place of employment or another professional higher education setting. The practicum offers the chance for hands-on learning, allowing students to draw connections between coursework and their own professional practice.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Higher Education?

Earning a doctorate in higher education online requires commitment, and one factor in your choice of program may be its total completion time. In general, most programs require 50-60 credit hours, taking anywhere from 3-5 years to complete, but this can vary based on factors such as residency components. Most Ph.D. higher education online programs also require you to possess a master's degree in a related field.

Some doctoral degrees use an accelerated format that features a more intensive course schedule but allows you to complete your education faster. These programs often include residency sessions that require you to spend a certain amount of time on campus for concentrated classroom learning. Some degrees may also use an independent, self-paced format that allows you to complete work on your own schedule, while others use a cohort format where you complete a set sequence of courses with the same group of students.

Accreditation for Online Doctorate in Higher Education Degrees

When researching online programs, determine the school's accreditation status, which indicates academic reputability and quality. Accreditation indicates that a school received a positive assessment of their academic programs from a licensed accreditation agency, designating the institution's ability to adequately serve students.

Colleges and universities in the U.S. receive either regional or national accreditation. Typically, professional and vocational programs hold national recognition, while academic programs receive regional accreditation. Any reputable online doctorate in higher education will hold regional accreditation. When examining doctoral programs, look for an accreditation status from agencies like the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA), or the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) oversees both primary and secondary education in the U.S., it does not provide accreditation to postsecondary institutions, such as colleges and universities. Instead, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversees these institutions, counting over 3,000 schools and around 60 accreditation organizations among its members. The ED also conducts reviews of all accrediting agencies, ensuring that they meet certain government standards. Together, these two organizations maintain standards for higher education in the U.S. CHEA aims to eliminate degree mills -- fraudulent education providers that offer counterfeit academic programs for profit. Both CHEA and the ED maintain listings of accredited schools and accrediting organizations, which can be useful when determining the reputability of a school or online program.

Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Higher Education Graduates

Doctorate in Higher Education Careers

true Postsecondary Education Administrator $90,760 10%

While many career paths exist for those with a doctorate level education, most graduates choose to pursue a career in administration or academics. In administration, common positions include enrollment management, student services, and -- at the highest level -- academic dean or provost. The academic path emphasizes teaching and research almost exclusively. However, academics occasionally move into higher-level administrative positions later on in their careers. Regardless of specialization, most careers in higher education require strong communication, organization, and problem-solving skills.

true Postsecondary Teacher $75,430 15%

College and university professors instruct students beyond the high school level while simultaneously performing advanced research and publishing their findings. Higher education specialists focus their research on improving education practices. Academics may also participate in administrative functions, particularly in their area of expertise.

true Instructional Coordinator $62,460 11%

Instructional coordinators supervise, assess, and develop curricula and practices. They typically work alongside colleges and universities to examine the effectiveness of instruction and offer ideas for improvement. Coordinators may also work with state or national education agencies to determine large-scale strategies.

true School and Career Counselor $54,560 13%

These specialists work with students to develop the skills needed for social and academic success in both school and life. Counselors may connect students to additional campus resources, such as mental health services. Career counselors, however, may connect students to job opportunities and internships.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Doctorate in Higher Education Salary

Several factors can influence salary prospects for postsecondary education administrators, including education level, professional experience, place of employment, and location. Most of the top-paying states for education administrators are found in the eastern U.S., including New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. California and Hawaii also boast higher salaries for education administrators. The following chart from the BLS compiles salary information for administrators. Higher education administrators in these states can expect to earn annual mean salaries well over $100,000, demonstrating the advantages of earning an advanced degree.

Top Five Paying U.S. States for Postsecondary Education Administrators
State Annual Mean Salary
New Jersey $154,300
Delaware $146,430
Maryland $125,350
California $123,630
Hawaii $121,560

Higher Education Professional Organizations

Given the constantly changing nature of higher education, professionals in the field depend on trade organizations to share knowledge and improve their practices. Professional higher education groups offer their members an assortment of benefits, including conferences, academic journals, professional development opportunities, job connections, and a host of other networking opportunities. Many of these groups also offer opportunities for students that includes mentorships, research opportunities, and internships.

This unique organization, intended specifically for those in registration and admissions, works to ensure ethical standards for student services and enrollment management. AACRAO counts more than 11,000 members from 2,600 schools around the country. Founded in 1970, AAUA encourages professional development and ethical standards among higher education administrators. The group hosts a variety of professional conferences and publishes the Journal of Higher Education Management. AAC&U seeks to promote liberal education at the undergraduate level. The organization offers substantial educational and institutional resources, member advocacy, professional publications, and collaboration opportunities.

Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Depending on your income, professional background, and your program, you may have several options for funding your online Ph.D. in higher education. Education students can often take advantage of special opportunities unavailable to those in other fields, including tuition reimbursement specifically for educators. Depending on where you work (particularly if you're already employed in higher education administration), your employer may pay for some or all of your degree for the purposes of professional development.

Plenty of options exist to help supplement the full cost of your tuition. Prospective students should begin by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as it offers you access to grants, scholarships, low-interest loans, and other funding measures. Completing the FAFSA may unlock grant opportunities that require you to do nothing other than claim your funding. Even without grants, educators have access to a wide variety of scholarships that can help with tuition.

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