The Best Online Master’s in Higher Education

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Master's in higher education programs prepare graduates for administrative roles in colleges and universities.

Learners gain the skills and knowledge needed to make important decisions, manage budgets, and handle staffing needs.

Graduates enjoy strong job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for postsecondary education administrators to grow 7% between 2018 and 2028 — faster than the national average for all occupations. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $94,340 in 2018, with the top 10% of earners making more than $190,600 during the same timeframe.

This guide ranks the top online master's in higher education programs. We also cover important information for prospective students, such as common courses and potential careers and salaries for graduates.

Top 10 Online Master's in Higher Education Programs 2021
#1 Penn State World Campus University Park, PA
#2 Florida International University Miami, FL
#3 University of Houston Houston, TX
#4 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
#5 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY
#6 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
#7 Mississippi College Clinton, MS
#8 University of North Texas Denton, TX
#9 John Brown University Siloam Springs, AR
#10 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA

Featured Online Schools

The Best Online Master’s in Higher Education Degree Programs

  1. Penn State World Campus

    University Park, PA



    Penn State World Campus launched in 1998, and today comprises 150 fully online degree programs.

    The online master of education in higher education program offers three emphasis areas: administration, institutional research, and student engagement. Courses cover administrative leadership, college student success, and legal issues in higher education.

    To graduate, students must complete 30 credits, including a three-credit creative culminating experience.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit three references and a personal statement.

  2. Florida International University

    Miami, FL



    With over 100 fully online degree programs, FIU draws from 20 years of experience in online education to teach its 54,000 students.

    The online master of science in higher education administration partners with FIU's Student Affairs department to provide students with real-world insights. Courses cover college student development, academic advising, counseling skills for higher education, and more.

    To graduate, students must complete 36 credits and a practicum.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit official transcripts demonstrating an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0.

  3. University of Houston

    Houston, TX



    Founded in 1927, UH offers 24 fully online graduate programs among its more than 400 academic programs.

    The online master of education in higher education program empowers working professionals to earn their degree in just two years. Coursework covers student development theory, educational policy, and more.

    To graduate, students must complete 36 credits and a semester-long internship.

    Applicants must submit official transcripts, GRE scores, and three letters of recommendation. The program prefers a 3.0 GPA.

  4. Appalachian State University

    Boone, NC



    Founded in 1899, Appalachian serves more than 20,000 students through both in-person and online programs.

    The master of arts in higher education prepares graduates to foster student growth and serve as leaders in a higher education setting. Students may optionally concentrate in adult and development education or community college and university leadership.

    To graduate, students must complete 36 credits and an internship.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree. The program waives the GRE requirement for students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

  5. Stony Brook University

    Stony Brook, NY



    Founded in 1957, Stony Brook University offers more than 150 graduate programs as a part of the State University of New York.

    Stony Brook's online master of arts in higher education administration can be completed in as little as 16 months. The curriculum establishes a core foundation in student affairs, leadership, and diversity.

    To graduate, students must complete 36 credits and a practicum.

    Applicants must submit a personal statement and official transcripts showing the completion of an undergraduate degree.

  6. Michigan State University

    East Lansing, MI



    A top public university, MSU offers more than 100 online and hybrid courses at the graduate and undergraduate level.

    MSU's master of arts in higher, adult, and lifelong education prepares students to work in education, public agencies, and more. The fully online program combines theory and practice in courses like leadership and organization development or adult learning.

    To graduate, students must complete 30 credits and a final project.

    Applicants must have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0. The program also prefers students with work experience in higher education.

  7. Mississippi College

    Clinton, MS

    Founded in 1826, MC provides a private Christian education to a small student body of just 5,000.

    MC's master of science in higher education administration gives students a theoretical and practical foundation in higher education through a fully online format. Courses cover topics like law and finance in higher education, student development theories, and the community college.

    To graduate, students must complete 31 credits and two six-week practica.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit a personal statement outlining their career interests.

  8. University of North Texas

    Denton, TX



    A large public university, UNT enrolls more than 88,000 students across 86 online programs each year.

    The master of education in higher education program prepares students to improve the effectiveness of higher education through theoretical and experiential learning. Classes take place in a fully online, asynchronous format and cover topics like student demographics, finance and budgeting, and educational statistics.

    To graduate, students must complete 36 credits and an internship.

    Applicants should demonstrate a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and submit three references. The program waives GRE/GMAT scores for students with a GPA of at least 3.3.

  9. John Brown University

    Siloam Springs, AR

    The number one online college in Arkansas, JBU offers 10 graduate programs with a Christian educational focus.

    JBU's master of arts in higher education program takes place in a fully online and asynchronous format. Courses include Christian foundations in higher education, administrative leadership, and planning and financial management.

    To graduate, students must complete 30 credits and a capstone project. The program can typically be completed in two years.

    Applicants must demonstrate an undergraduate GPA of at least 2.75.

  10. University of Iowa

    Iowa City, IA



    Founded in 1847, UI enrolls more than 31,000 students each year and offers 40 online degree programs.

    UI's master of arts in educational policy and leadership students offers a higher education and student affairs subprogram. The fully online program includes courses in topics like research and assessment, administration, and college student development.

    To graduate, students must complete 40 credits and an internship, some of which may be paid positions. The program may be completed in two years.

    Applicants should demonstrate a minimum GPA of 3.0 and submit a statement of purpose.

Best Online Master's

Online Master's in Higher Education Programs Ranking Guidelines

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

Choosing an Online Master's in Higher Education Program

When researching prospective master's in higher education programs, students should consider factors like cost, transfer policies, and on-campus requirements. We cover several important considerations for students below.

  • Program Cost: Public schools typically cost less than private schools, and in-state students often pay less than out-of-state students. However, some programs allow all online students to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of residency.
  • Transfer Policies: Many schools offer transfer credit for things like prior academic work, professional experience, and military training. Schools with generous transfer policies can help students with relevant prior experience save time and money on a degree.
  • School Size and Type: A school's size and type affects the learning experience. For example, small schools may offer more individualized attention from faculty than larger schools, but larger schools may have more program and class options.
  • Program Length: Learners who follow a traditional path typically graduate with a master's in higher education in two years. However, some programs offer accelerated timelines.
  • On-Campus Requirements: Some online programs still have on-campus requirements. Students should ensure they can meet these requirements before committing to a program.
  • Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements: Many programs require a thesis or internship, both of which require a significant time investment. Students should choose a program that has requirements aligned with their career goals.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Higher Education Program?

An online master's in higher education administration program gives students knowledge and skills that translate to a variety of administrative and academic careers. Many programs offer electives that allow students to specialize their skills and tailor the degree to their goals. The following section covers several common courses found in master's in higher education programs.

Online Master's in Higher Education Curriculum

History of Higher Education

Typically taken in the first semester, this foundational course explores how higher education has evolved throughout history. Learners consider how higher education administration has shifted over time and examine current trends and issues affecting the field.

Higher Education Laws and Regulations

This course examines the legal structures and regulations underpinning postsecondary education in the United States. Learners study federal regulations that affect funding, student enrollment, and accessibility. They also examine how nonprofit status affects organizational governance.

Financial Management in Higher Education

Students in this class gain the skills needed to manage higher education budgets. They learn how to manage state appropriations, work with fundraising departments, and follow best practices in financial management and employee compensation.

Curriculum Design

This course teaches students how to design and implement college-level curricula. Students also review various methodologies used in curriculum design and course development, with an emphasis on best practices in teaching and learning.

Accreditation for Online Master's in Higher Education Degree Programs

When researching prospective online master's in higher education programs, students should check accreditation status. Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to faculty qualifications, student learning outcomes, and academic rigor. Only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and credits from accredited institutions.

Schools may hold regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Programs within a school may also receive accreditation. For example, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission accredit master's in higher education programs.

Students can verify a school's accreditation status through the Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Higher Education Careers

Graduates with an online master's in higher education qualify for a variety of fulfilling careers. The following list outlines several common careers for graduates of higher education master's programs; however, some roles may require additional education or certification.

Students who want to learn more about education degrees can review detailed information through The Best Schools' guide.

Postsecondary Education Administrators
Median Salary (2019): $94,340 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 7%

These professionals oversee the administrative aspects of a postsecondary institution. They may work in departments like admissions or student services, overseeing staff, managing daily operations, and setting short- and long-term goals.

Postsecondary education administrators need at least a master's degree, though provosts and deans may need a doctorate. They must know how to effectively interact with diverse groups of people, solve problems, and motivate staff.

Public Relations Managers
Median Salary (2019): $114,800 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 8%

Public relations managers help craft and maintain a college or university's public image. These professionals designate spokespeople for media inquiries, train staff on how to present information to the public, and write press releases about new initiatives.

Public relations managers need at least a bachelor's degree, though some advanced roles may require a master's degree. These professionals must remain calm under pressure and understand how to create messaging campaigns that appeal to a wide audience.

Survey Researchers
Median Salary (2019): $57,700 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 1%

Survey researchers in higher education collect student, alumni, and staff data to help improve a college or university. They may collect information like employee fulfillment, salary expectations, and career goals. They may also ask students how they feel about their professors, classes, extracurricular activities, and overall experience.

Survey researchers need at least a bachelor's degree, but some positions require an advanced degree. These professionals need advanced training in statistical analysis and raw data management and the ability to manage long-term projects to completion.

College Professors
Median Salary (2019): $78,470 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 11%

College professors instruct students at postsecondary institutions. They deliver class lectures, create assignments and examinations, advise students, and grade papers. These professionals may also conduct and publish their own research.

College professors typically need a doctorate, though some institutions may accept a master's degree. They need strong time-management, communication, presentation, and research skills.

Higher Education Professional Organizations

Master's in higher education students and professionals can take advantage of professional organizations to enhance their careers. The following organizations offer benefits such as professional development, continuing education, and networking opportunities.

AACRAO supports higher education professionals working in student records and admissions. The organization hosts annual events and training programs, industry resources, in-house research and publications, and advocacy efforts. Members can also search for open jobs and receive career advice. NASPA brings together student affairs administrators to provide opportunities for shared learning and professional support. Members can access national conferences and institutes, regional and community events, focus area research and resources, and regional community groups. CASE is a global member association focused on supporting higher education professionals in alumni relations, development and marketing, communications, and student advancement. The group provides conferences and training workshops, industry resources, annual awards, and career information. It also organizes regional and district chapters.

Frequently Asked Questions

true What Can You Do With a Master's in Higher Education?

Graduates with a master's in higher education qualify for administrative positions in postsecondary institutions. They may oversee departments like student affairs, admissions, or student programming.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Higher Education?

It typically takes two years of full-time study to earn a master's degree in higher education, though some programs offer accelerated timelines.

How Much Do Higher Education Administrators Make?

Postsecondary education administrators earned a median annual salary of $94,340 in 2018. However, salary varies with factors like location, institution, and experience.

What Is a Degree in Higher Education?

A master's degree in higher education is a professional program that prepares students for administrative roles in postsecondary institutions.

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