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Best Online PhD Programs in Educational Leadership

Explore 90 of the top schools with online educational leadership Ph.D. programs. Learn what types of programs are offered online, what in-person requirements they consist of, and what you will learn during your studies.

Top Schools for an Online Educational Leadership Ph.D.

When finding the best schools for an online educational leadership Ph.D. program, you should consider factors such as admissions requirements, program length, cost and flexibility. The top schools that offer educational leadership doctoral programs online are listed below.

1. Belhaven University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Jackson, MS $10,350

Belhaven University boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1 and offers two online educational leadership programs beyond the master's degree level. The Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in Educational Leadership consists of 33 credit hours and allows graduates to continue into the doctoral program. The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership program includes 60 credit hours of coursework, which is completed online excluding three on-campus residency sessions. Both programs offer an affordable tuition rate of $535 and are presented with a Christian worldview.

2. Bethel University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Saint Paul, MN $11,700

Bethel University has a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1 and offers two doctoral degrees in education: an Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership and an Ed.D. in K-12 Administration. The higher education program prepares students to serve in university and college settings as transformational leaders while the K-12 program provides students with the skills to lead in positions such as superintendent or principal. Both programs can be completed in three years and both feature on-campus intensives for one week out of every year.

3. Concordia University-Chicago

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
River Forest, IL $9,180

Concordia University Chicago has maintained accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission for 70 years and offers an online Ed.D. in Leadership with a concentration in Educational Leadership. Students complete 61 credit hours of coursework, including classes in learning communities, evidence-based leadership, finance in education and educational laws. Students in Illinois or Ohio can add an endorsement for superintendent, which integrates internship experiences into the curriculum.

4. Concordia University-Irvine

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Irvine, CA $7,774

Concordia University at Irvine offers a fully-online Ed.D. in Leadership program that consists of 46 units of coursework and takes around 3 years to complete. The program offers three unique concentration options: special education, educational administration and organizational change. Students move through the program in a cohort and take an educational trip to Washington, D.C., getting first-hand experience in educational policies. There is an optional educational trip to a foreign country that enables students to observe another educational system while deepening their relationships with peers.

5. Cornerstone University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Grand Rapids, MI $13,990

Cornerstone University offers an online Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership and Development program that can be completed in three or four years of full-time study including three 3-day campus learning experiences during the Ed.D. program. Students move through the 60-credit program in a cohort of 12 to 15 students, meaning they get a chance to develop a professional relationship with their peers. Students will take courses in organizational marketing, educational regulations, organizational theories and educational finance.

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
6 Creighton University Omaha, NE $17,376
7 Evangel University Springfield, MO $9,134
8 Gwynedd Mercy University Gwynedd Valley, PA $11,286
9 Houston Baptist University Houston, TX $12,200
10 Maryville University of Saint Louis Saint Louis, MO $15,646
11 Missouri Baptist University Saint Louis, MO $9,801
12 Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health Omaha, NE $12,877
13 Northwest Nazarene University Nampa, ID $10,320
14 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL $20,620
15 Saint Peter's University Jersey City, NJ $20,724
16 Southwestern College Winfield, KS $11,196
17 The University of Findlay Findlay, OH $16,000
18 Trevecca Nazarene University Nashville, TN $10,004
19 Union University Jackson, TN $8,220
20 University of New England Biddeford, ME $20,525
21 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY $5,970
22 Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI $27,324
23 Benedictine University Lisle, IL $18,986
24 Concordia University-Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN $8,550
25 Edgewood College Madison, WI $17,334
26 Grambling State University Grambling, LA $7,168
27 Harding University Searcy, AR $18,260
28 Morehead State University Morehead, KY $10,512
29 New Mexico State University-Main Campus Las Cruces, NM $5,427
30 University of St Francis Joliet, IL $13,839
31 William Carey University Hattiesburg, MS $9,180
32 Azusa Pacific University Azusa, CA $17,362
33 Brenau University Gainesville, GA $12,910
34 Notre Dame of Maryland University Baltimore, MD $12,175
35 Southwest Baptist University Bolivar, MO $5,346
36 St. Thomas University Miami Gardens, FL $10,596
37 University of Memphis Memphis, TN $10,697
38 Xavier University of Louisiana New Orleans, LA $3,585
39 Arkansas State University-Main Campus Jonesboro, AR $6,210
40 Clark Atlanta University Atlanta, GA $17,634
41 College of Saint Mary Omaha, NE $8,442
42 East Tennessee State University Johnson City, TN $10,315
43 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA $8,333
44 Murray State University Murray, KY $9,114
45 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA $16,179
46 Tennessee State University Nashville, TN $11,076
47 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL $11,553
48 Lesley University Cambridge, MA $18,150
49 Marshall University Huntington, WV $8,432
50 Saint Edward's University Austin, TX $27,870
51 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY $12,140
52 Central Michigan University Mount Pleasant, MI $13,804
53 Hampton University Hampton, VA $11,916
54 University of Kentucky Lexington, KY $13,052
55 Lynn University Boca Raton, FL $12,840
56 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS $8,624
57 Clemson University Clemson, SC $10,602
58 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN $7,616
59 Texas A & M University-Commerce Commerce, TX $6,424
60 University of Florida Gainesville, FL $12,737
61 University of Northern Colorado Greeley, CO $12,444
62 Wilkes University Wilkes-Barre, PA $25,968
63 Oakland University Rochester Hills, MI $17,712
64 Kennesaw State University Kennesaw, GA $7,226
65 University of Massachusetts-Lowell Lowell, MA $15,060
66 Ball State University Muncie, IN $9,392
67 University of Minnesota-Duluth Duluth, MN $18,436
68 Valdosta State University Valdosta, GA $6,628
69 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX $7,791
70 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale, FL $28,272
71 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lincoln, NE $7,588
72 University of Mississippi University, MS $8,660
73 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR $14,331
74 University of North Georgia Dahlonega, GA 5,926
75 Stephen F Austin State University Nacogdoches, TX $6,877
76 Arizona State University-Skysong Scottsdale, AZ $6,462
77 University of North Florida Jacksonville, FL $10,367
78 California State University-Channel Islands Camarillo, CA $8,251
79 East Carolina University Greenville, NC $7,485
80 Colorado State University-Fort Collins Fort Collins, CO $12,495
81 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL $10,780
82 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR $8,612
83 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Denver, CO $8,017
84 University of North Carolina Wilmington Wilmington, NC $7,367
85 Appalachian State University Boone, NC $7,961
86 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL $18,126
87 Abilene Christian University Abilene, TX $21,492
88 Faith International University Tacoma, WA $7,650
89 Allen College Waterloo, IA $18,030
90 Gratz College Melrose Park, PA $12,722

All table data is provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. Tuition represents the 2018 to 2019 school year.

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Overview of Online Educational Leadership Ph.D. Programs

There are two different educational leadership doctoral programs, both of which are considered terminal degrees: Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Each program provides students with an in-depth understanding of educational leadership topics, but the programs differ in their approaches. Ph.D. programs are more focused on conducting research to increase existing knowledge while Ed.D. programs focus more on applying knowledge to improve practice. Key components of each program are discussed in the sections below.

Online Ph.D. in Educational Leadership Programs

Online Ph.D. in Educational Leadership programs are less common than Ed.D. programs and employ more research and theory into their curriculums. These programs typically require incoming students to have a master's degree with a qualifying GPA, such as 3.0 or 3.5. Some programs accept students who do not have a master's degree if they meet other criteria, such as a higher undergraduate GPA and/or qualifying scores on a graduate entrance exam. In addition, students may need to have a specific amount of experience working in a position relating to educational leadership.

Practical Requirements

Online educational leadership Ph.D. programs can often be completed entirely online. However, some programs may require students to come to campus one or more times for things like learning experiences, orientations and dissertation deliveries. These practical requirements might just be a couple of days each academic year or they may be cohort trips, as we detailed in the ranked programs above.

Program Length

The length of online educational leadership Ph.D. programs depends on several factors, including the number of courses required and student course load. Some Ph.D. programs can be completed in as few as 3 years of full-time study while other programs can take around 5 years of full-time study to complete.

Common Courses

The courses in online educational leadership Ph.D. programs vary by school, but can include some of those listed below.

  • Finance in Education - Students learn about public funding, budgets, record keeping and financial planning for educational institutions.
  • Qualitative Research Methods - This course explores theories and methods for planning, conducting and presenting research relating to education.
  • Quantitative Research Methods - In this class, students learn how to use quantitative data in research as well as how to analyze and interpret quantitative findings.
  • Education and the Law - This course explores legal theories and existing laws that apply to educational institutions, including those affecting employees, instructional methods and more.
  • Educational Leadership - Students review historical concepts of educational leadership as well as current roles, expectations and the importance of educational leadership representatives.

Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership Programs

Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership programs are the most commonly available online doctoral educational leadership option. These programs are often sought by students who wish to advance into higher hands-on positions, such as educational administrators. Many online Ed.D. programs are open to students with a master's degree, but some programs require students to have an Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) credential prior to entering the program.

Practical Requirements

Online educational leadership Ed.D. programs typically have some required practical experiences. The type of experience, and location, vary by school. While some schools can require students to take one (or more) trip to a specific location (like Washington, D.C.), most schools host these requirements on their campuses. Students may attend these on-campus experiences every weekend, once per semester or once per year. By attending these components, students further develop their understanding of program topics and improve their collaborative and professional skills with peers.

Program Length

Many online educational leadership Ed.D. programs can be completed in three years of full-time study. However, some programs can take longer if there are more courses required or there is a set order for taking courses. Programs with higher admissions requirements (like those that require an Ed.S.) can typically be completed sooner.

Common Courses

Online educational leadership Ed.D. courses vary by program but can include some of those listed below.

  • Leadership in Education - Students learn about the theories of leadership in education as well as decision-making considerations, organizational structure and managing conflicts.
  • Curriculum Design - This course explores effective methods for creating curriculum as well as considerations for learning differences and instructional management.
  • Educational Leadership Research - Students review methods for planning and conducting professional research, including data analysis and presentation of findings.
  • Educational Finance - This course explores the various types of funding for educational systems as well as methods for budgeting, record keeping and accountability.
  • Educational Assessment - Students have a chance to learn key characteristics of educational assessments, including those that are used to evaluate the effectiveness of specific programs and activities.

How Much Does an Online Educational Leadership Ph.D. Cost?

That question is not as easy to answer as it might seem. The cost of an online educational leadership doctoral program depends on a few factors. The largest portion of program costs is tuition, which is typically charged per credit hour. Tuition can range from around $500 to more than $1,000 per credit hour. Based on a $500 to $1,000 range, a 60-credit program would cost $30,000 to $60,000.

In addition to tuition, students will have other fees associated with their online educational leadership doctoral degree programs. These can include things like registration fees and course materials fees. These costs are also set by each school and vary drastically. Students should expect to pay a few thousand dollars in fees over the course of their programs. Many schools will provide students with an estimated total cost (including fees) if students ask.

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation shows that a school has passed a quality standards review provided by an outside organization. Schools have to pay to be reviewed for accreditation, so a school that doesn't have accreditation might simply be saving money and not actually offering low-quality programs. In order to become accredited, a school has to meet certain criteria regarding things like faculty experience, curriculum and graduation requirements.

Why is it Important?

Accreditation is important for a few reasons. The biggest reason that accreditation is important is because it increases the chance of students receiving a quality education and experience. In addition, some types of financial aid, including federal aid, are only available to students who attend an accredited school. Graduating from an accredited school may also increase your employment opportunities compared to an unaccredited school.

Careers for Online Educational Leadership Ph.D. Graduates

Graduates of online educational leadership Ph.D. programs can pursue work in a variety of fields and positions. Some of the careers available to educational leadership doctoral program graduates are listed below.

Elementary, Middle and High School Principals

Principals usually need to have a master's degree or higher in educational leadership or a related field as well as several years of experience in a related position (like teaching). Principals are required to have licensure in many states (see the next section). Principal duties can include overseeing and coordinating curriculums and programs, counseling students, analyzing test results and creating course schedules.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Postsecondary education administrators can work in a variety of departments and positions in institutions beyond high school. Their titles might include academic dean, registrar and admissions officer. Their duties vary by position but include overseeing the activities and facilities applicable to their title. The degree requirements for these professionals vary, but deans and provosts need to have a doctoral degree in their field as well as relevant experience.

Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators oversee instructional methods, including the teaching standards, professional practices, culture and curriculum. Their duties can include training teaching on how to use new programs and curriculum, reviewing educational materials and assessing curriculum effectiveness. These individuals typically need to have at least a master's degree as well as several years of experience in a related role.

Job Title Median Annual Salary (2019) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Elementary, Middle and High School Principals $96,400 4%
Postsecondary Education Administrators $95,410 7%
Instructional Coordinators $6,290 6%

All career data is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

License Requirements for School Administrators

Postsecondary administrators do not need to obtain a license, but individuals who wish to become principals at K-12 institutions usually need to be licensed in order to work at public schools. Principals that pursue work in private schools aren't required to obtain licensure, but the majority of states do require public school administrators to obtain licensure. Each state sets its own licensure requirements, so candidates should consult with their state's education board. In many cases, aspiring principals will need at least a master's degree in educational leadership or administration as well as a passing score on a knowledge assessment. Many states also require candidates to pass a background check.

Resources for Educational Leadership Graduates

There are a variety of professional resources and organizations available to graduates of online educational leadership Ph.D. programs, some of which are discussed below.

  • University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) - The UCEA is a group of institutions and individuals who work together to improve the quality of educational administration practices and programs.
  • The School Superintendents Association (AASA) - AASA members support one another and advocate for equity and improvements for student learning experiences.
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) - NAESP offers members a variety of benefits, including legal assistance, networking, resources and professional development.
  • National Association of Secondary School Principles (NASSP) - NASSP provides workshops, professional development, webinars, conferences and publications to members.