Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

by TBS Staff

Updated September 29, 2022

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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 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Andrews University

  • Berrien Springs, MI
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The Ed.D. in higher education administration program at Andrews University enrolls online learners. With flexible enrollment options, the private school helps degree-seekers earn a doctorate. Doctoral students work closely with faculty mentors and career advisors.

In the online higher education administration program, learners take doctoral-level coursework. After meeting coursework requirements, doctoral candidates pass a comprehensive examination and conduct research for an original dissertation or project. Professionals with a higher education administration doctorate work in academia, research, and leadership roles.

At the accredited institution, doctoral students can use fellowships, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid to pay for their degree. Contact the program for more information about research support and financial aid.

Andrews University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 918

Online Master's Programs: 7

Online Doctoral Programs: 6

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $27,216

Average Tuition
In-state
$28,992
Out-of-state
$28,992
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
67%
Students Enrolled
3,390
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
27% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#2 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Colorado State University

  • Fort Collins, CO
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The online higher education leadership program, offered by Colorado State University, ranks as a top program in the field. With its flexible format, the public university makes a doctorate more accessible. Doctoral students engage in advanced research and benefit from support services.

The online higher education leadership program requires doctoral coursework. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates spend 1-2 years researching and writing their dissertation. With a higher education leadership doctorate, graduates work in academia, research positions, and leadership roles.

At the accredited institution, doctoral students qualify for several forms of financial aid. Reach out to the program to learn more about financial aid opportunities, admission requirements, and start dates.

Colorado State University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 8,786

Online Master's Programs: 19

Online Doctoral Programs: 2

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 14-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $10,520

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,426
Out-of-state
$28,147
Retention Rate
84%
Admission Rate
81%
Students Enrolled
33,426
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
26% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#3 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Gwynedd Mercy University

  • Gwynedd Valley, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Gwynedd Mercy University offers a top-ranked online executive Ed.D. in education program. At the private institution, degree-seekers take doctoral classes in a flexible format. Doctoral students benefit from support services like career advising.

During the online Ed.D. in education program, learners complete advanced coursework. Doctoral candidates pass comprehensive examinations and conduct research for their dissertation. Graduates with a doctorate in higher education work in academic, research, and industry positions.

Online doctoral students at the accredited institution qualify for several forms of financial aid. Contact the education program to learn more about the enrollment process and start dates.

Gwynedd Mercy University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 1,349

Online Master's Programs: 16

Online Doctoral Programs: 4

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $13,749

Average Tuition
In-state
$34,864
Out-of-state
$34,864
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
95%
Students Enrolled
2,990
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
45% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#4 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Maryville University

  • Saint Louis, MO
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The doctorate in higher education leadership program at Maryville University appeals to doctoral students seeking an online route to their degree. At the private institution, degree-seekers take doctoral classes in a flexible format. Doctoral students receive library access, research support, and career services.

During the online higher education leadership program, learners complete advanced coursework. After meeting coursework requirements, doctoral candidates conduct research and defend an original dissertation that contributes to the field. With a doctorate in higher education leadership, graduates pursue academic, research, and industry roles.

At the accredited institution, online doctoral students qualify for scholarships, federal loans, and other forms of financial aid. Contact the education program to learn more about financial aid, enrollment options, and start dates.

Maryville University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 7,651

Online Master's Programs: 15

Online Doctoral Programs: 5

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 14-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $14,346

Average Tuition
In-state
$26,070
Out-of-state
$26,070
Retention Rate
83%
Admission Rate
83%
Students Enrolled
10,013
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
76% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#5 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Missouri Baptist University

  • Saint Louis, MO
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The Ed.D. in higher education leadership program at Missouri Baptist University appeals to learners seeking an online doctorate. With flexible enrollment options, the private school helps degree-seekers earn a doctorate. Doctoral students strengthen their research skills and present in academic conferences.

In the online higher education leadership program, learners complete doctoral coursework and strengthen advanced skills. Doctoral candidates move through the program by passing exams and researching a dissertation project. Graduates with a doctorate in higher education leadership work in academic, research, and industry positions.

Online doctoral students at the accredited institution qualify for several forms of financial aid. Reach out to the program to learn more about transfer credit policies, research support, and admission requirements.

Missouri Baptist University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 1,826

Online Master's Programs: 10

Online Doctoral Programs: 1

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 19-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $10,197

Average Tuition
In-state
$26,860
Out-of-state
$26,860
Retention Rate
71%
Admission Rate
61%
Students Enrolled
5,309
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
34% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#6 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Regent University

  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Regent University offers an online Ed.D. in higher education leadership and management program for doctoral students. At the private university, degree-seekers participate in virtual classroom activities to earn a doctorate. Doctoral students can access career advising and gain research skills.

The online higher education leadership program incorporates doctoral coursework. The program also requires passing scores on a comprehensive examination and the successful defense of an original dissertation project. With a doctorate in higher education leadership, graduates pursue academic, research, and industry roles.

At the accredited institution, online doctoral students qualify for scholarships, federal loans, and other forms of financial aid. Reach out to the higher education leadership program to learn more about admission requirements.

Regent University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 9,507

Online Master's Programs: 37

Online Doctoral Programs: 12

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 29-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $15,552

Average Tuition
In-state
$17,220
Out-of-state
$17,220
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
86%
Students Enrolled
10,365
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#7 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Saint Peter's University

  • Jersey City, NJ
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The Ed.D. in higher education program at Saint Peter's University offers an online option for doctoral students. The private university helps degree-seekers complete a doctorate in a flexible format. Doctoral students receive research support, library access, and career advising.

In the online higher education program, learners take advanced doctoral coursework. After meeting coursework requirements, doctoral candidates pass a comprehensive examination and conduct research for an original dissertation or project. A higher education doctorate leads to job opportunities in research, academia, and leadership.

Doctoral students who attend the accredited institution in an online format qualify for several types of financial aid. Contact the education program for more information about research support and financial aid.

Saint Peter's University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 1,145

Online Doctoral Programs: 1

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 12-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $21,186

Average Tuition
In-state
$37,660
Out-of-state
$37,660
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
81%
Students Enrolled
3,233
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#8 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

University of Florida

  • Gainesville, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The higher education Ed.D. program at the University of Florida offers a doctorate in a hybrid learning format. The public university provides flexible enrollment options to meet the needs of diverse degree-seekers. Doctoral students receive research support and participate in scholarly events.

In the online higher education program, learners complete doctoral coursework and strengthen advanced skills. After meeting coursework requirements, doctoral candidates pass a comprehensive examination and conduct research for an original dissertation or project. With a doctorate in higher education, professionals work in academia, research, and leadership roles.

Online doctoral students can pay for their degree with scholarships, fellowships, and other forms of financial aid. Reach out to the program to learn more about transfer credit policies, research support, and admission requirements.

University of Florida at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 24,310

Online Master's Programs: 42

Online Doctoral Programs: 7

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 17-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $10,770

Average Tuition
In-state
$4,477
Out-of-state
$25,694
Retention Rate
97%
Admission Rate
37%
Students Enrolled
52,407
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#9 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

University of Memphis

  • Memphis, TN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The Ed.D in higher and adult education program at the University of Memphis appeals to doctoral students seeking an online route to their degree. With its flexible format, the public university makes a doctorate more accessible. Doctoral students strengthen their research skills and present in academic conferences.

The online higher education program requires doctoral coursework. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates complete a dissertation that contributes original research to the field. As the terminal degree in higher education, the Ed.D. often leads to career opportunities in academia, research, and industry.

The accredited institution meets federal requirements for financial aid support. Prospective applicants can contact the higher education program to learn more about research support, financial aid opportunities, and admission requirements.

University of Memphis at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 9,456

Online Master's Programs: 16

Online Doctoral Programs: 5

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 15-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $9,216

Average Tuition
In-state
$8,208
Out-of-state
$12,048
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
85%
Students Enrolled
21,685
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
44% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#10 Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education

University of Mississippi

  • University, MS
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Mississippi offers an online Ed.D. in higher education program for doctoral students. With its flexible format, the public university helps degree-seekers complete a doctorate. Doctoral students receive research support and participate in scholarly events.

During the online higher education program, learners complete advanced coursework. The program also requires passing scores on a comprehensive examination and the successful defense of an original dissertation project. Graduates with a higher education doctorate pursue roles in research, academia, and leadership.

The accredited institution meets federal requirements for financial aid support. Prospective applicants can contact the higher education program to learn more about the enrollment process and start dates.

University of Mississippi at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 8,245

Online Master's Programs: 9

Online Doctoral Programs: 4

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 16-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $8,718

Average Tuition
In-state
$8,718
Out-of-state
$24,990
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
88%
Students Enrolled
21,617
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
38% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
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 TheBestSchools.org, 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 AcademicInfluence.com, 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%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

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

We thank you for your readership and trust.

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

Postsecondary Education Administrator

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.

Median Salary: $90,760 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 10%

Postsecondary Teacher

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.

Median Salary: $75,430 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 15%

Instructional Coordinator

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.

Median Salary: $62,460 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 11%

School and Career Counselor

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.

Median Salary: $54,560 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 13%

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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