Online doctoral programs in higher education prepare graduates for management and leadership positions in education and other fields. Obtaining this degree takes dedication from participants, many of whom are full-time professionals already engaged in academic or corporate administration. Aspiring graduate students should enter these programs with strong organizational and communication skills, a keen sense for critical analysis, and a drive to understand and orchestrate complex administrative architectural frameworks.
This page considers doctorate in higher education online programs -- from coursework to professional benefits -- to help you decide if this is the right path for you.
Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Higher Education?
One reason to earn a doctorate in higher education online is to broaden your employment horizons. To reach the top levels of academic administration, including department heads, deans, vice presidents, and provosts, you usually need a doctorate.
A second reason to continue your education regards personal financial stability. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for postsecondary education administrators in 2018 exceeded $94,000. A doctoral degree can bridge the divide between mid-level positions and your top-earning potential.
A doctoral degree can bridge the divide between mid-level positions and your top-earning potential.
Additionally, working as a leader in administration can be rewarding intellectually. While managing budgets, determining enrollment numbers, participating in academic conferences, and hiring and training new employees, top administrators take advantage of the communication and managerial skills they cultivated during their doctoral program.
With an extensive understanding of an institution's objectives regarding transparency, access, and productivity, a doctorate in higher education allows you to produce positive results through open communication with faculty, staff, students, and colleagues.
What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Higher Education?
Earning a doctorate in higher education suits those interested in improving the educational experience of postsecondary students. Many graduates help students navigate academia, demystify degree requirements, and introduce support options to undergraduates and educators. Higher education administrators also identify and advocate for resources that can benefit the overall community, and they may conduct independent research on subjects like system efficacy and student progress.
This degree in higher education can also inspire progress and innovation in noneducation fields, like healthcare, government, business, and finance. Outside academia, higher education graduates can use their analytical investigative skills and strong communication capabilities to train new colleagues in business settings. The private sector, government branches, and NGOs can all benefit from the interpersonal skills and organizational acumen a graduate track in higher education supplies.
According to the BLS, postsecondary education administrator positions are projected to grow by 10% between 2016 and 2026. Additionally, public relations specialists, career counselors, and top executive positions are all projected to experience steady growth in the coming years.
Postsecondary Education Administrator
Elementary, Middle School, or High School Principal
Higher Education Doctoral Program Overview
The following sections introduce different types of doctoral degrees in higher education and the application process. Through an overview of curriculum and program outcomes, you can gain a better sense of what a doctorate in higher education entails and the benefits of going back to school for this terminal degree.
Types of Doctoral Degrees in Higher Education
Two doctorates are open to higher education students: the Ph.D. and the Ed.D. While both degrees can work inside and outside the academic world, variations between program types do exist. Find the one that best fits your professional aspirations to make more effective use of your time and skills.
A Ph.D. in higher education is well-suited for those interested in a career in postsecondary education. Coursework and degree requirements revolve around the study and application of educational theories, with an emphasis on personal research. Ideal candidates for Ph.D. programs are scholars dedicated to higher education. Participants of Ph.D. programs usually hold early- or mid-career status. These individuals should be interested in teaching and/or research, and they often go on to become members of a university's administration or faculty.
Participants of Ph.D. programs usually hold early- or mid-career status.
Alternatively, an Ed.D. is designed for broader applications. Ed.D. holders can manage K-12 schools, nonprofit organizations, government branches, and even private corporations. Though also research-based, this path prioritizes interactive assessment and intervention, and it can carry graduates outside formal educational settings. Ed.D. students often have established careers in a field where further education and accreditation serve an explicit purpose. Graduates can take advantage of their communication skills in board meetings, organize healthcare providers, and advocate for underserved communities through compelling research.
In terms of curriculum, both degree paths entail similar coursework, though the focus of classes varies. Some schools provide specializations, such as curriculum development and administrative leadership. Regardless, both degrees culminate with exams and a dissertation or practicum project that showcases personal research discoveries and interpretations designed to enhance a job application portfolio.
Application Requirements and Admission Criteria
To qualify for a doctoral program, applicants typically need to hold a master's degree from an accredited institution. Some schools require that this degree be in education, instructional design, or a related field. Many online programs are designed for working professionals, so schools typically require at least two years of professional experience as an institutional administrator or in a similar position. GRE results may be required, although not all institutions ask for test scores.
The application process is fairly involved. In the fall of the year before intended enrollment, applicants submit official transcripts, 2-3 letters of recommendation, a resume or curriculum vitae, and a personal statement explaining their reasons for applying. Given the high level and intensive nature of doctoral programs in higher education, interviews may also be required of applicants -- either online or on campus. Applicants typically receive notice of acceptance or rejection during the following spring.
Learners who pursue a doctorate in higher education online complete coursework and research intended to prepare them for independent study. Though curricula vary depending on the institution's core requirements and the student's personal interests, all participants can expect to take practical courses covering organizational and technological tools, adult learning, educational frameworks, and composition and communication.
As with all upper-level degree paths, participants of online doctorate in higher education programs should expect to take qualifying exams towards the end of the coursework phase. These tests measure a candidate's understanding of central issues and theories explored during their classes. In the distance learning format, these exams may be available online, though some schools require tests to be proctored for the sake of transparency.
After completing qualifying exams, students transition into the dissertation phase of a program. Dissertation length and complexity depend on the institution and academic advisor, though you should expect to produce a project based on research stemming from your individual interests. To complete their degrees, candidates must defend their dissertation. Depending on a school's regulations, this can be conducted on campus or online.
The following list summarizes coursework you can expect to take while earning your doctorate in higher education online.
Organizational Leadership in Higher Education
SPSS/Quadratics Statistical Acquisition and Analysis
Dissertation Research and Composition
The main objective of the courses listed above is to furnish degree candidates with vital skills and training. Strong organizational skills represent the bedrock of a smooth-running institution. Additionally, interpersonal and problem-solving skills benefit those working with students, faculty, and staff from a variety of backgrounds and with diverse needs.
Postsecondary administrators must also have a working knowledge of digital tools -- from Microsoft Word and Excel to FERPA-compliant documentation storage. These professionals may work in settings where sensitive student records are accessed, maintained, and protected. As a custodian of private information and a representative of a college or university, your ability to understand and protect school data is vital.
Accreditation for Online Higher Education Doctoral Programs
Regardless of the program you choose, check the school's accreditation status. Without accreditation, your future employers and colleagues may be unable to verify the quality of your education. Accreditation is particularly important to the field of higher education, where the quality of a school is gauged not only in terms of student performance but also in the academic record of university employees.
Institutions that grant doctoral degrees should hold regional accreditation from organizations like the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the Higher Learning Commission, or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.