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Best Online Doctorate Programs in Higher Education

Explore the top schools that offer online higher education doctoral degree programs. Learn about program lengths, admissions requirements and typical classes that are included.

Top Schools for Online Higher Education Doctoral Programs

When determining the best schools for an online doctoral program in higher education, you should consider factors such as admissions requirements, program length, cost and flexibility. The top 15 schools that offer online higher education doctoral programs are listed below.

1. Maryville University of Saint Louis

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Saint Louis, MO $15,646

Maryville University of Saint Louis has more than 5,900 online students and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school offers an online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Higher Education Leadership that consists of 48 credit hours and can be completed in less than 33 months. Students in the program take courses in higher education leadership, competition in education, reflective leadership and educational community. The program has a tuition rate of $897 per credit hour and enables students to complete their residency virtually or on campus.

2. University of Iowa

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Iowa City, IA $11,666

The University of Iowa was founded in 1847 and now has a student body of more than 30,000. The school offers a hybrid Ed.D. in Education Policy and Leadership Studies with a concentration in higher education. The program consists of 75 credit hours for bachelor's degree graduates. It also includes courses in social advocacy, leadership theory, policies in higher education and higher education finance. Students have a tuition rate of $661 per credit hour (or a flat rate of $5,945 for 9 or more credit hours), and can choose one of three hybrid formats, depending on their needs.

3. University of Southern Mississippi

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Hattiesburg, MS $8,896

The University of Southern Mississippi, also known as Southern Miss, has been educating students for more than 100 years and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The school offers an entirely-online Ed.D. in Higher Education program that consists of 54 credit hours and can be completed in 9 semesters. The program is open to students who have a master's degree (in any field) and includes courses in higher education history, social justice, research and higher education leadership. Students have a tuition rate of $494 per credit (part-time) or $4,448 per semester (9 to 12 credits).

4. Gwynedd Mercy University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Gwynedd Valley, PA $14,055

Gwynedd Mercy University has a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1 and has more than 650 completely-online graduate students. The school offers two online higher education doctoral programs:

  • ABD Program - This program is for students who have completed 'all but dissertation' (ABD) or most of a doctoral program; it leads to an Ed.D. in Leadership in Higher Education and can be completed in 18 months.
  • Ed.D. Program - The standard Ed.D. in Leadership in Higher Education Program can be completed in 3 years and includes courses in equality, educational policy and higher education regulations.

The tuition rate for both programs is $980 per credit hour.

5. Regent University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Virginia Beach, VA $16,952

Regent University has more than 11,000 students, is accredited by the SACSCOC and provides educational programs with a Christian perspective. The school offers two online doctoral degree programs in higher education:

  • Ph.D. in Education - This program consists of 75 or more credit hours, is research-intensive and offers concentrations in higher education and higher education leadership & management.
  • Doctor of Education - The Ed.D. program also offers concentrations in higher education and higher education leadership & management, but is more practice-focused than the Ph.D. program. It consists of at least 66 credit hours.

A tuition rate of $775 per credit hour applies to both programs.

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
6 University of Memphis Memphis, TN $10,746
7 University of Florida Gainesville, FL $12,737
8 Concordia University-Chicago River Forest, IL $9,180
9 University of North Georgia Dahlonega, GA $6,016
10 Saint Peter's University Jersey City, NJ $21,246
11 Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI $28,164
12 George Washington University Washington, DC $31,824
13 Concordia University-Portland Portland, OR $20,910
14 Missouri Baptist University Saint Louis, MO $10,197
15 Wilmington University New Castle, DE $8,834

All table data is presented by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition represents graduate tuition for the 2019-2020 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.

How to Choose an Online Higher Education Doctoral Program

As you narrow down your school choices for an online higher education doctoral program, there are multiple things that you should keep in mind.

Admissions Requirements

One of the most important things to review when choosing a school is the admissions requirements for its program. Some programs are available to students with a bachelor's degree while others are only open to those with a master's degree. In addition, many schools require students to have some experience in a related field (such as 3 years).

Residency Requirements

Most online higher education doctoral programs require students to attend one or more on-site components. These can include on-campus visits or on-site practicum hours, either of which provide students with intensive learning experiences. Check with your schools to see if (and when) you'll need to attend any face-to-face events.

Flexibility

Depending on your schedule, you may need a program that is flexible, allowing you to take more or less courses as your availability changes. Some programs are only offered in specific schedules, such as full-time, so ask your admissions counselors about the flexibility of your program choices.

Cost

Cost can vary significantly by school, due to different tuition rates and program lengths. It's important to compare the costs of each school, and ask about any possible discounts, but keep in mind that there are different kinds of financial aid available for online higher education doctoral programs.

Overview of Online Higher Education Doctoral Programs

Online higher education doctoral programs can either lead to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). Some programs can be completed entirely online while others require students to attend on-site practice hours and/or on-campus learning sessions. Online classes within the program usually allow students to complete work at their convenience each week, as long as items are submitted by certain deadlines (often weekly). Students may also have synchronous learning components, which means they will log in at scheduled times for things such as class discussions, live lectures and exams.

Program Length

The length of online higher education doctoral programs varies by school, student and course load. Some programs may only require around 50 credits while others require around 75 credits. Doctoral students are considered full-time when they take 6 credits per semester, so a typical doctoral student could complete a 60-credit program in 10 semesters - 5 years if only attending in fall and spring. It would take 3.5 years if attending year-round. Students should expect to spend between 3 and 7 years completing their program, as dissertations alone can take 1 or more years.

Common Courses

The courses included in online higher education doctoral programs also vary by school, but students can expect to have one or more of the courses listed below within their program.

  • Higher Education Laws - In this class, students learn past and current laws that apply to higher education as well as methods for preventing legal infractions.
  • Higher Education Leadership - Students explore different aspects of higher education leadership as well as topics such as strategic planning and leadership approaches.
  • Finance in Higher Education - This course explores the financial activities of higher education institutions and includes topics such as sources of funds, budgeting and student financing.
  • Curriculum & Assessment for Higher Education - Students learn effective methods for creating curriculum and assessments for college students, including course materials and grading policies.
  • Higher Education Administration - This course explores organizational structure in higher education as well as effective strategies, behaviors and knowledge for administrators.
  • Issues in Higher Education - Students learn about different types of institutions, such as land grant colleges and research institutions, and the challenges that they may face.
  • The Student-College Relationship - In this class, students learn about the effect of college on students, including psychosocial and intellectual changes, career influence and moral growth.

Accreditation for Online Higher Education Doctoral Programs

Students of online higher education doctoral programs can benefit from attending an accredited institution. Accreditation shows that a school has met or exceeded quality standards set by the accrediting organization. These standards can include things like curriculum, graduation rates and faculty experience. In addition, several types of financial aid are only available to students who attend accredited schools, including federal grants and loans.

Financial Aid for Online Higher Education Doctoral Students

There are several types of financial aid packages available to students of online higher education doctoral programs. Students interested in using financial aid should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA shows students some of the aid that they can qualify for and allows them to have the results of their application directly to their school choices.

Work Study

Work study is a program backed by the federal government and offered at participating schools across the country. These programs involve students working part-time while in school in exchange for earning funds towards their degree.

Scholarships

Scholarships can be obtained through government and private providers, and can be found through sources such as their chosen schools. Awards can be obtained based on things like field of study, academic performance and demographics.

Tuition Assistance

Tuition assistance is available through countless organizations and involves employers paying money towards employee college programs. Many schools have tuition assistance programs in place for educators and other staff.

Student Loans

Student loans, unlike the other types of aid above, are funds that have to be repaid. Students can obtain these loans through private and government lenders, but government loans are recommended first because they offer flexible repayment plans and lower interest rates.

Career Options for Graduates of Higher Education Doctoral Programs

Graduates of online higher education doctoral programs are equally as prepared for various careers as their on-campus peers. Some of the careers available to higher education doctoral graduates are listed below.

Postsecondary Education Teachers

Postsecondary education teachers provide instruction to students in college, university and other settings. Their duties typically include developing and carrying out lesson plans, creating grading policies and syllabi, collaborating with coworkers and helping students to improve their understanding. Educators with a doctoral degree have more opportunities for teaching positions, including full-time roles at 4-year institutions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary education teachers had a median annual salary of $65,510 in 2019.

Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators create materials for education and help educators with implementing and assessing new curriculum. Their duties can include reviewing student performance, discussing needs with educators, reviewing educational materials and mentoring teachers in order to increase their capabilities. Instructional coordinators can specialize in specific grades, such as higher education. The median annual wage for instructional coordinators working in colleges, universities and professional schools was $60,910 in 2019, according to BLS.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Postsecondary education administrators manage various activities and departments at postsecondary institutions, such as academics and student services. These administrators may work in specific departments, such as admissions and registration, or they may oversee academic departments (academic deans). Duties vary by specific role, but can include assisting students with inquiries, coordinating activities and reviewing data. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for postsecondary education administrators was $95,410 in 2019.

Professional Organizations for Higher Education Graduates

Graduates of online higher education doctoral degree programs can connect with other professionals through membership in organizations. Although there are several organizations available to professionals with different focus areas, those listed below are most applicable to higher education graduates.

  • National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) - NASPA provides a community of higher education professionals and those with similar roles and interests. Membership benefits include conferences, mentorship, career development and collaboration.
  • Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) - CGS offers membership to schools and other organizations that are in pursuit of improving graduate education. CGS benefits include access to publications, competitions, events and meetings and advocacy.
  • The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) - AACRAO is a community of higher education individuals, including admissions staff to registrars. Benefits of membership include newsletters, meetings, advocacy and programs.