The Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education Degree Programs 2021

| TBS Staff

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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

Andrews University true View School Profile Berrien Springs, MI 58% 40% 14% Andrews University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Colorado State University-Fort Collins true View School Profile $$$ Fort Collins, CO Colorado State University-Fort Collins is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Gwynedd Mercy University true View School Profile Gwynedd Valley, PA Gwynedd Mercy University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

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.

Maryville University of Saint Louis true View School Profile Saint Louis, MO 72% 49% 56% Maryville University of Saint Louis is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Missouri Baptist University true View School Profile Saint Louis, MO 36% 30% 31% Missouri Baptist University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Regent University View School Profile Virginia Beach, VA 59% 80% 91% Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

Saint Peter's University View School Profile Jersey City, NJ 50% 54% 24% Saint Peter's University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

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.

University of Florida View School Profile $$ Gainesville, FL 88% 24% 50% University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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.

University of Memphis View School Profile $$ Memphis, TN 48% 55% 38% The University of Memphis is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

University of Mississippi View School Profile $$ University, MS 64% 40% 33% The University of Mississippi is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln View School Profile Lincoln, NE The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

NU ranks as one of the leading teaching institutions in the nation. For 152 years, NU focuses on serving quality education through experiential learning and research-based learning methods.

NU's doctor of education in educational studies program offers three areas of specializations in educational leadership and higher education, innovative learning strategies, and teaching, curriculum, and learning. This program operates under NU's College of Education and Human Sciences.

Applicants must submit one set of transcripts, and pay the $50 nonrefundable application fee.

University of North Georgia View School Profile Dahlonega, GA 34% 33% 26% The University of North Georgia is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Established in 1873, UNG has now expanded to five campuses across North Georgia. Around 19,000 students attend UNG every year.

UNG's online doctor of education in higher education leadership and practice program offers a fully online course delivery for students wanting to assume advanced leadership roles in higher education institutions. This online doctorate program requires students to complete 60 credits to earn their degree.

Applicants must have a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.5.

University of Southern Mississippi View School Profile Hattiesburg, MS 49% 59% 68% The University of Southern Mississippi is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

USM ranks as one of the only 130 universities in the nation to earn the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education's "R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity" distinction.

USM offers an online doctor of education in higher education program that provides educators the expertise and innovative knowledge in improving college-level education. Students of this online doctorate program must complete a total of 54 credits of coursework within the span of nine semesters.

Applicants must submit their official GRE scores, a statement of purpose, an updated resume, and three letters of recommendation.

Wilmington University View School Profile New Castle, DE 24% 54% 73% Wilmington University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

WilmU offers more than 130 online programs for students to choose from. WilmU also lines up as the topmost affordable private university in the region.

WilmU's online doctorate in education in higher education leadership program provides an opportunity for career advancement of higher education faculty and administration. This online doctorate program also integrates a flexible class schedule for the benefit of working adults.

Interested applicants must have a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. Applicants should also submit an updated resume, a written statement of purpose, and three letters of recommendation.

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.

The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

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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