Best Online Master's in Higher Education

Learn more about online master's programs in higher education, including areas of concentration, practical requirements, common coursework, and the best schools with this degree. Also, explore different higher education careers.

Best Online Higher Education Master's Degree Programs

To determine our list of the top schools that offer online master's degrees in higher education, we considered a program's total cost, the flexibility of attendance options, and the areas of concentration offered. Below are the best master's degree programs in the higher education field.

1. Purdue University Global

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
West Lafayette, IN $9,992

Purdue University Global offers a 50-credit online Master of Science in Higher Education degree program that has the following concentrations areas:

  • College Teaching
  • College Administration and Leadership
  • Student Affairs

Students take core coursework in higher education topics related to finance, laws, governance, and diversity. Then, they are required to take coursework within their concentration areas. For example, the college teaching concentration features classes on adult learners, curriculum design, and assessment methods. The student affairs concentration also requires a hands-on, 120-hour internship. This online program boasts short, 6-week terms, and there are multiple start times per year. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the price per credit for most students was $420; however, Indiana residents qualify for a special rate of $378 per credit.

2. Bellarmine University

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Louisville, KY $11,560

Bellarmine University's Master of Education (MEd) in Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice degree program requires 30 credits, can be attended full- or part-time, and is administered in a 100% online format. Students don't have to submit GRE test scores or have any work experience to apply. This online, flexible program accommodates those working full-time and features short 8-week classes that center on the following subjects:

  • Program assessment
  • Community college
  • Higher education governance
  • Educational research

Students must also complete an internship in their area of interest as well as a final portfolio seminar that consists of a documentation process of the knowledge and skills students have learned in the program. During the 2019-2020 year, students in the MEd in Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice degree program paid $665 per credit.

3. Michigan State University

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
East Lansing, MI $18,132

Michigan State University has an online Master of Arts in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education degree program that requires 30 credits and allows students to attend part- or full-time. Students take core seminars in postsecondary education and adult/higher education and then choose electives that could focus on the following topics:

  • Culture of college students
  • Teaching in higher education
  • Higher education budgeting
  • Career development

Students also complete a rigorous final portfolio project that includes written statements about what the student has learned in the program, the program's impact, what program outcomes the student has met, and how the student will apply their new knowledge to their future work. Online in-state students paid $785 per credit for the 2019-2020 year, while out-of-state students paid $968; students in this program aren't required to pay student taxes.

4. University of Southern Mississippi

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Hattiesburg, MS $8,624

The University of Southern Mississippi offers an online Master of Education in Higher Education with an emphasis in Student Affairs Administration degree program that requires 36 total credits. This online program features a range of student affairs-focused courses, such as:

  • Administration and student affairs
  • Assessment in student affairs
  • Helping skills in student affairs
  • Student development

Students also complete a supervised field placement in the higher education field. After they earn their degree, they may be prepared to work in various student affairs-related careers in college admissions, administration, or recruitment. Online graduate students attending full-time pay $4,448 per semester, while part-time students have a per-credit tuition cost of $494.

5. Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Fort Lauderdale, FL$28,272

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale's online Master of Science in Education degree has a special focus on career college administration. This program requires that students earn 36 credits and features classes in the below subject areas:

  • Higher education marketing
  • Enrollment theory and practice
  • Curriculum design
  • Managing career colleges

Students also take 2 action research courses that require they conduct research in the field of higher education and career colleges. If attending full-time, students can complete their master's degree in only 1 year, and if attending part-time, in about 2 years.

Rank School Name Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
6 Appalachian State University Boone, NC $7,961
7 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse La Crosse, WI $9,915
8 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV $9,990
9 Marywood University Scranton, PA $11,300
10 University of Sioux Falls Sioux Falls, SD $6,930
11 John Brown University Siloam Springs, AR $13,440
12 Northeastern State University Tahlequah, OK $4,903
13 Murray State University Murray, KY $9,114
14 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX $7,791
15 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX $18,262
16 Robert Morris University Moon Township, PA n/a
17 Central Washington University Ellensburg, WA $11,116
18 National University Columbia, SC $9,960
19 Dakota Wesleyan University Mitchell, SD $13,550
20 Adams State University Alamosa, CO $ 7.,311
21 University of North Texas Denton, TX $7,338
22 University of Louisville Louisville, KY $12,880
23 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA $34,995
24 Concordia University-Chicago River Forest, IL $9,180
25 Lenoir-Rhyne University Hickory, NC $10,620
26 University of Houston Houston, TX $9,216
27 McKendree University Lebanon, IL $9,291
28 New England College Henniker, NH $13,560
29 Fairleigh Dickinson University-Metropolitan Campus Teaneck, NJ $23,802
30 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL $20,620
31 Florida International University Miami, FL $11,097
32 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY $13,007
33 Abilene Christian University Abilene, TX $21,492
34 Saint Leo University Saint Leo, FL $8,498
35 Hofstra University Hempstead, NY $25,162
36 Andrews University Laurinburg, NC $15,960
37 Bay Path University Longmeadow, MA $23,787
38 University of St Francis Joliet, IL $13,839
39 North Park University Chicago, IL $14,112
40 Tiffin University Tiffin, OH $13,000

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year'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 Higher Education Master's Degree Programs

Master's degree programs in the field of higher education prepare students for professional careers in teaching or administration in universities, community colleges, and adult education organizations. Online degrees of these type can include Master of Education, Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees, all of which have a focus on higher education topics.

Credits and Length

Online master's programs in higher education can require anywhere from 30 to 36 total credits. Many programs have flexible attendance options, allowing students to choose a part- or full-time class schedule. That means it can take anywhere from about 1 year to 3 years to earn this degree, depending on attendance status and program requirements.


Most online higher education master's programs have a general focus on the higher education field; however, some programs offer students the opportunity to center their studies on one subfield of higher education. Below are some examples of concentration areas that are offered in online master's programs.

  • College Teaching
  • College Administration
  • Student Affairs
  • Student Engagement
  • Institutional Research
  • Distance Learning
  • Community College
  • Career College

Students typically take core coursework in higher education subjects as well as courses within their concentration area.

Real-World Requirements

Many, but not all, online higher education master's programs require that students complete some type of real-world field placement or internship within the field of higher education in addition to online coursework.

Other Degree Requirements

Although higher education master's programs generally don't have thesis requirements, some programs require a final project. This could be a portfolio that consists of essays and other written statements that speak to the skills and knowledge that the student has learned in their program. Other programs might require a final research capstone.

Common Courses in Higher Education Master's Programs

The specific coursework of online master's programs in higher education depends on core degree requirements and whether the program offers concentrations. However, there are common subjects that all higher education programs focus on, some of which you can explore below.

Organization and Governance in Higher Education

This course is designed to teach students about the structure of higher education institutions in terms of the way they are organized and managed. Along with learning about the governing structures within higher education, students also learn about different leadership and management roles in higher education and how public and private institutions function.

Program Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education

Courses like these center on the study of evaluating and assessing the effectiveness of higher education programs. Students learn about the techniques and methods for assessing student learning and outcomes inside and outside the classroom. Some courses also teach students how to create and execute an educational program.

Research Methods in Higher Education

Research methods courses center on the methods for conducting research specifically within the higher education and behavioral science field. Methods that students study might include qualitative, quantitative, and historical research methods. The goal of this course is to prepare students to design and conduct their own research.

Curriculum Design and Implementation

In this class, students study the history and theories behind curriculum creation and implementation. Students learn about different kinds of curriculum, including general education, continuing education, degree major, and career curriculums.

The College Student

This class focuses on student development theories, which are then applied specifically to college students. Key developmental concepts that may be covered include intellectual growth, moral development, and personal values. The idea is to understand the diverse experiences of college students so that educators can better facilitate their development and learning.

Student Affairs Foundation

This is a foundational course that covers all aspects of the purpose, function, and history of study affairs in a higher education setting. Students learn about ethical frameworks, professional associations, and different kinds of careers in student affairs. Some courses will also cover developmental theories related to students and the design of educational programs.

How to Choose an Online Higher Education Master's Degree Program

There are several factors that you should consider when choosing an online higher education master's program, including total cost, the type of university, practical requirements, and accreditation.


The tuition for online higher education master's degree programs is usually calculated on a per-credit basis, with rates ranging from $237 to $1,517 per credit. And different programs have different credit requirements, which means a 36-credit program at $237 a credit would cost a total of $8,532, and a 30-credit program at $1,517 a credit would cost a total of $45,510.

Universities typically charge additional fees on top of your tuition. These fees can be as low as $10 to as high as $150 or more. Fees can be charged every semester, per course, or just once. Some examples include transcript fees, technology fees, distance education fees, and course fees.

Another factor to consider when calculating total tuition price is your residency status. Many universities charge out-of-state students, even online students, more than their in-state peers. Often, it is cheaper to attend an online program in the state in which you reside.

Public or Private

Both public and private universities and colleges have their advantages and disadvantages. Private institutions tend to be smaller, so you may get more one-on-one attention and may benefit from smaller class sizes. On the other hand, public institutions are larger and tend to have a more diverse student body and more access to resources like facilities and networking.


The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is an organization that approves agencies that grant accreditation to intuitions within a specific regional area. When looking at a university, you want it to be accredited by one of the following agencies:

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

Along with being assured that your school has met outside standards in terms of quality of learning, facilities, and faculty, only students who attend accredited schools are eligible for financial aid.

Job Options with a Higher Education Master's Degree

With a master's degree in higher education, there are two common career paths: becoming an instructional coordinator or an administrator in a university.

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators are experts at designing and implementing teaching curriculums. They conduct classroom and teacher observations, analyze student learning and outcomes data, and consult with school staff to determine curriculum needs. Instructional coordinators also train teachers on new curriculum, technologies, and teaching techniques.

To become an instructional coordinator, you must hold a master's degree in curriculum and instruction or education. Those working in public schools are often required to achieve state teacher licensure.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), instructional coordinators earned a median salary of $64,450 in 2018, and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 6% from 2018-2028.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Postsecondary education administrators work in universities, where their job duties are based on the type of administrator they are and their area of focus. Below are examples of the different kinds of postsecondary education administrator careers you could pursue after earning a master's degree.

Admissions Officers

Admission officers focus on the college admissions process, including recruiting students, reviewing applicants, and managing and analyzing admissions data and numbers.


Provosts, also know as academic deans, are more focused on the academic side of a university. They are responsible for designing and implementing academic policy, hiring faculty, managing tenure, and overseeing department budgets.


Registers are primarily responsible for maintaining, preparing, and managing all kinds of student data and records. Some of their job duties include:

  • Overseeing transcripts and diplomas
  • Scheduling class offerings
  • Supplying student data
  • Helping student meet their graduation requirements
  • Handling student registration

Student Affairs

Student affairs administrators work on the non-academic side of higher education. They can concentrate their studies in several areas of student life, such as multicultural affairs, house and residential life, or student activities. Their job duties could include creating student programs, planning athletic events, or advising students about their academic or personal issues.

As per the BLS, postsecondary education administrators earned a median salary of $94,340 in 2018, and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 7% from 2018-2028.

Salary information provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Professional Higher Education Associations

Several national organizations work to promote and support those working in higher education careers.

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA)

NASPA represents the field of student affairs and offers professional development resources and courses, conducts research in the field, and provides grant opportunities. This organization also offers paid memberships for institutions, professionals, non-profits, and students. As an individual member, you get access to discounted registrations to NASPA conferences, networking opportunities, and educational resources.

American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)

AACRAO is a higher education non-profit that now has over 11,000 members. AACRAO puts on conferences and training events, produces research and journals, and has a number of initiatives promoting professionals in the field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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