Online Doctorate Programs in Adult Education

An online doctorate in adult education is ideal for students interested in refining their educational leadership skills. Typically, adult education Ph.D. students think analytically and aspire to apply their research in educational theory to teaching practice. Ph.D. programs help students improve their critical-thinking abilities and provide opportunities to investigate practical issues in the education field.

Ph.D. programs help students improve their critical-thinking abilities and provide opportunities to investigate practical issues in the education field.

Many graduates pursue roles in nonprofit organizations, businesses, healthcare facilities, and government settings. Other Ph.D. holders work as professors and postsecondary educators. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for postsecondary teachers to increase 15% from 2016-2026, likely due to the growing number of individuals pursuing higher education.

Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Adult Education?

Earning an online doctorate in adult education can lead to many careers, including positions as postsecondary teachers and professors at colleges and universities. With a strong employment outlook, a career as a professor can prove stable and fulfilling. As enrollment in colleges and universities increases and student populations grow, institutions need more part-time adjunct professors and full-time faculty members.

An advanced degree can increase salary potential and employment opportunities. According to the BLS, postsecondary teachers earn a median salary of $62,000-$175,000, depending on the field in which they teach. The median annual wage for these educators reaches more than $78,000. For comparison, becoming a career, vocational, or technical teacher requires only a bachelor's degree, and these professionals earn a median annual salary of approximately $57,000, according to the BLS.

The benefits of pursuing advanced education extend beyond the professional advantages. A Ph.D. or Ed.D. program can serve as an enriching experience for learners who are curious by nature and who want to explore challenges and solve problems. Doctoral students perform thorough research, conduct analysis, challenge existing theories, and develop new experiments. These components of graduate studies help students grow both professionally and personally.

Pursuing an advanced degree also gives students opportunities to expand their networks and meet new people. Distance students, in particular, study alongside online learners from all over the world.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Adult Education?

Graduates of online adult education doctoral degree programs boast expertise in evaluating and assessing the individual educational needs of adult learners and in designing appropriate instructional programs. Students develop leadership, management, and problem-solving skills and prepare to contribute to the administrative and academic components of educational institutions.

Professionals with an adult education doctorate work in a variety of settings. Many graduates become adult literacy or GED diploma teachers in community and continuing education programs. Some doctorate holders pursue careers in government and military settings, while others teach at vocational and technical schools. Graduates can also work in higher education as postsecondary adjuncts or full-time professors; these educators may teach on campus, online, or both.

Many graduates of doctoral programs stay in academic settings and pursue scholarly work as researchers, scientists, analysts, research assistants, and technicians. Graduates who choose positions in academia often continue researching the topics they studied throughout their dissertation and Ph.D. program. Individuals who want to work at colleges or universities but who do not want to teach can pursue administrative roles such as dean, provost, college president, vice president, and director.

Adult education doctoral programs often include an available specialization or coursework in human resource development, which prepares learners for roles in nonprofit organizations and business settings. Graduates can work as full-time employees or independent consultants in roles such as grant writer, employee development specialist, instructional designer, training and development manager, corporate trainer, curriculum director, and learning specialist. Educational leaders can also make positive contributions in the healthcare field.

Adult Education Ph.D. Program Overview

Students planning to pursue a doctoral degree in adult education should consider several factors when choosing a program, including admission criteria and requirements, curriculum, coursework, and expected professional outcomes. Learners interested in earning a doctorate in adult education can pursue either a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of education. The following sections describe each degree, along with typical program requirements and career opportunities.

Types of Doctoral Degrees in Adult Education

Individuals pursuing an online doctorate in adult education can earn either a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. Both degrees are ideal for master's degree holders who want to enhance their expertise in the field of education. Both types of programs involve research and a dissertation, require 5-7 years, and confer equivalent degrees.

The main difference between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. in adult education is the curricular focus, which contributes to unique career outcomes. Students earning a Ph.D. in adult education online or on campus complete coursework emphasizing educational theory, research methodologies, and unique findings within literature. Courses cover topics including educational theory, sociology, history, and psychology.

Graduates of Ed.D. programs can also enter careers in nonprofit, healthcare, civic service, and business settings.

Ph.D. students focus on publishing work in academic journals and on presenting their findings at conferences. Ph.D. graduates often pursue careers as researchers and teachers at higher education institutions.

On the other hand, Ed.D. curricula emphasize practice-based research and public policies. Ed.D. students prepare to make changes and solve current challenges in the field of education. Most programs include classes in educational policy, curriculum design, and labor studies.

An Ed.D. caters to students pursuing leadership positions at colleges and universities, such as provost, dean, president, and vice president. Graduates of Ed.D. programs can also enter careers in nonprofit, healthcare, civic service, and business settings. Programs prepare learners for roles as human resources directors, chief learning officers, and talent development directors.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Specific admission criteria and requirements vary by school, but the application process is similar for most programs. Generally, applicants to adult education doctoral programs must hold a master's degree from a regionally accredited university in an education-related field. Applicants must submit official transcripts from each institution they attended and must provide a current resume, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

Many doctoral programs require applicants to participate in an interview with program faculty or an admissions committee. Some schools set a minimum GPA, and some require GRE, MAT, or GMAT scores. Non-native English speakers must typically qualify for an English proficiency waiver or submit TOEFL or IELTS scores. Most schools require all prospective students to complete an online application and pay a nonrefundable application fee. However, some schools waive the fee for eligible applicants.

Curriculum

Curriculum requirements for an online doctorate in adult education vary. Doctoral programs generally require 48-90 credits. Programs with greater credit requirements may award up to 30 credits for a master's degree. The curriculum typically comprises core courses, research coursework, specialization courses or electives, and a capstone project and dissertation.

Core coursework generally consists of at least 36 credits and, for a Ph.D. in adult education program, often includes classes in adult learning and leadership, history and philosophical foundations, and characteristics of the adult learner. Core courses for an Ed.D. in adult education may include principles of leadership, action research and grant writing, and legal and ethics in adult education.

Research courses often cover topics including research methods, advanced data analysis, and quantitative and qualitative foundations. If available, a specialization typically requires at least 12 credits. Elective options often include internships, practicums, and seminars.

Students generally devote 12-24 credits to dissertation research, and many doctoral programs require students to continuously engage in dissertation research during their studies. Doctoral candidates must propose and defend their dissertation to qualify for graduation. Some programs also require a comprehensive examination.

Although specific courses for an online doctorate in adult education vary, most programs include coursework in organizational and educational leadership, the history of adult education, and research methodologies. The sample courses below are common to many doctoral programs in the field.

Organization and Administration of Adult Learning and Leadership

This course explores the organizational procedures and administrative practices of adult learning programs. Topics include organizational and leadership theories, change management, and effective decision-making.

History and Principles of Teaching Adults

This course examines the scope and history of adult education. Students learn how adult education has emerged and evolved over the years. Coursework covers the history of education and educational theory, techniques for effective instruction, and pedagogy and the learning process.

Ethics for Educational Leaders

This course explores principles, issues, and current trends surrounding ethics in educational leadership. Learners examine values, decision-making, social justice, and the tensions between ethics and leadership. Students consider how ethical leadership applies to their own teaching practice.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research Design and Analysis

This course focuses on the design and implementation of qualitative and quantitative research. Students explore topics including descriptive statistics, purposeful sampling techniques, researcher-participant relationships, data collection methods, developing theory, and reporting research.

Adult Literacy

This course explores the reading and writing needs of adult students with low literacy levels. Topics include adult English language learners, reading and writing comprehension, adult literacy legislation, best practices for instruction, and teacher evaluation.

Program Outcomes

As lifelong learning becomes increasingly important for adults, so does the need for new research in teaching and learning methodologies. Earning a doctoral degree in adult education prepares individuals to become scholar-practitioners and help adult learners achieve their academic goals.

With advanced problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, doctoral graduates help solve current issues and improve adult learning. These professionals examine the history and foundations of education, conceptualize educational philosophy, and examine academic research and literature in the field. Graduates create positive educational outcomes for students, both by providing direct teaching, instruction, coaching, and mentorship and by developing and leveraging new research-based techniques and strategies.

By studying educational theory, policy, social justice, literacy, and research, doctoral students develop the skills, knowledge, and competencies necessary to succeed in the field. Graduates often work as researchers, teachers, change agents, and learning specialists in educational institutions, healthcare settings, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and businesses.

Accreditation for Online Adult Education Doctoral Programs

Accreditation ensures the academic quality of educational institutions and programs. To receive accreditation, a college or university must undergo a rigorous evaluation of its academic offerings to ensure that it meets or exceeds established standards. To maintain accreditation, institutions must submit to annual reviews and unannounced visits.

To ensure that they receive a high-quality education, learners researching online adult education doctoral programs should only consider institutions with accreditation. Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation in the United States. Regional accrediting agencies include:

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