Earning a Master's in Higher Education Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue a Master's in Higher Education Online?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for postsecondary education administrators will grow by 10% through 2026, a faster pace than the economy as a whole. In addition to strong job prospects, roles in college and university management also promise excellent salaries. In 2017, higher education administrators earned a median salary of $92,360, or nearly $55,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations.

To take advantage of the lucrative opportunities in this growing field, however, you need an advanced degree. By pursuing a master's in higher education online, you enjoy the freedom to watch lectures, complete assignments, and even take exams almost entirely on your own schedule. This flexibility makes it easier to balance your studies with a full-time job or family responsibilities.

Below, you can read more about online higher education master's programs, including information on common coursework, possible career paths after graduation, and helpful resources for higher education students and professionals.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Higher Education Graduates

Master's in Higher Education Salary

Earning a master's in higher education online can greatly improve your earning power. According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, college administrators with a graduate degree make, on average, roughly $13,000 more per year than those with just a bachelor's degree. Many of the highest-paying positions specifically require candidates to complete higher education master's programs.

The BLS also projects continued growth in employment for postsecondary administrators, driven primarily by increasing enrollments at colleges and universities. As new positions at public schools depend on the availability of government funding, expect the best job outlook in states that invest heavily in higher education.

Top Paying States for Education Administrators, Postsecondary

State Employment Annual Mean Wage
New Jersey 2,070 $154,300
Delaware 290 $146,430
Maryland 2,530 $125,350
California 12,840 $123,630
Hawaii 450 $121,560
United States 142,160 $107,670

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Master's in Higher Education Careers

Earning a master's in higher education online opens up a variety of opportunities in academia. For example, you may work in a college financial aid office, helping newly admitted students identify ways to help pay for their education. Pursuing a master's degree in higher education and student affairs online prepares you for roles such as dean of students or senior diversity and inclusion officer.

Regardless of the path you choose, careers in higher education demand strong interpersonal, problem-solving, and organizational skills. Read on for a few examples of common careers in the field.

Postsecondary Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $76,000

Projected Growth Rate: 15%

Postsecondary teachers instruct students and conduct research at colleges, universities, and trade schools. Many take on additional administrative responsibilities, such as reviewing prospective student applications and providing input to the dean on faculty hiring. Generally, these positions require a doctorate, though an online master's degree in higher education administration may qualify you for teaching roles at a community college.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Annual Median Salary: $92,360

Projected Growth Rate: 10%

Postsecondary education administrators oversee a variety of functions at colleges and universities. For example, academic affairs staff support the hiring and promotion of faculty, while student services staff design extracurricular programs and respond to student complains. Many of these jobs require master's degrees in fields like higher education.

Instructional Coordinator

Annual Median Salary: $63,750

Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Instructional coordinators design syllabi, create individual lesson plans, and ensure that teaching methods adhere to institutional or state standards. Instructional coordinators at the postsecondary level often work closely with new faculty to build courses that meet the needs of the school's student body. Instructional coordinators typically must possess master's degrees.

College or University President

Annual Median Salary: $150,184

Projected Growth Rate: N/A

College and university presidents hold ultimate authority for the academic and executive operations of their institution. They hire and supervise the work of the deans, directors, and department heads beneath them. Presidents often play a critical role in fundraising and serve as the primary public representative of their school. As presidents often first hold faculty positions, most possess doctorates in their fields of expertise.

Academic Dean

Annual Median Salary: $90,778

Projected Growth Rate: N/A

Academic deans lead a school's educational offerings and initiatives. In consultation with a dean or president, they make faculty hiring and promotion recommendations. They also approve curricula and syllabi, form and lead governance committees, and resolve student disciplinary cases. In addition, academic deans hold faculty appointments and must also typically possess doctoral degrees.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statstics / PayScale

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Higher Education Program?

The nature of higher education programs varies considerably from school to school. Some programs may offer concentrations in areas like student affairs, while others provide more general training in college administration. Certain programs require students to complete internships or field experience, but online programs typically do not. Below, you can read about five common foundational classes in higher education master's programs.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Higher Education

Best Practices for Student Success

Primarily for those who plan to enter the field of student affairs, this course introduces theories and best practices associated with designing student programming. The course emphasizes methods for promoting the inclusion of diverse groups in these activities and ensuring that student programs meet legal and regulatory requirements.

Managing Financial Resources

Nearly all higher education administrators must understand the fundamentals of financial management to succeed in their roles. Topics covered in this course include the basic operation of endowment funds, asset management, and public financing and government appropriations. Students also explore common revenue streams for colleges and universities, such as major gifts and sponsored research.

Foundations of Research

Whether to prepare to write a master's thesis or evaluate programs as an administrative professional, this class offers invaluable instruction in research methods, data collection and analysis, and qualitative and quantitative study design. Students also learn to conduct literature reviews, formulate research problems, and critique research findings.

Globalization in Higher Education

In this class, students explore the challenges and opportunities presented by the increasing globalization of higher education. Learners observe distance education technologies that allow colleges and universities to extend their reach to countries around the world. They also grapple with the increased competition created by online learning.

Capstone Project

Students pursuing an online master's degree in higher education typically must complete a capstone project. This project allows them to apply their learning to a real-world issue in university administration. For example, they may work with their school's admissions office to create a program that better supports students of color through the application process.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Higher Education Prepares For

  • Certified Higher Education Professional: The Career Education Colleges and Universities Association offers multiple certifications in areas such as career services, campus operations, and online teaching. To receive a credential, each candidate must complete a series of training courses from an accredited provider or demonstrate professional excellence by submitting a portfolio of work. The cost of certification varies by area and provider.

  • Certified Financial Aid Administrator: Administered by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), this certification program signals expertise in helping students pay for their postsecondary education. Certification requires at least a bachelor's degree and a combination of years of professional financial aid experience and the completion of multiple NASFAA continuing education units. Each applicant must also pass an exam.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Joining a professional organization can help you expand your professional network, hone new skills, and discover new opportunities in higher education administration. Many of these groups organize local events and national conferences, giving you the chance to learn about new trends and best practices in the field. They also typically offer online and in-person continuing education programs on topics such as increasing faculty diversity and responding to sexual harassment on campus. Some organizations cater to specific groups, such as women or college administrators of color.

  • National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators: NASFAA offers live and on-demand training webinars, policy and research briefs, and compliance toolkits. It also hosts a national conference on financial aid legislation.

  • American Association of Blacks in Higher Education: AABHE serves as the voice of African-Americans in higher education, expanding opportunity and support for faculty and staff. The association publishes a newsletter, organizes an annual conference, and hosts an online career center.

  • National Association of Student Affairs Professionals: NASAP specifically represents student affairs administrators in the United States. Members can access a scholarly journal, participate in a leadership institute, and nominate their colleagues for service awards.

  • American Association of University Women: Founded in 1881, AAUW empowers women working and studying at colleges and universities. The association conducts and disseminates research, combats gender discrimination on campuses, and offers scholarships to aspiring female academics.

  • American Association of University Administrators: As a comprehensive professional organization for postsecondary administrators of all stripes, AAUA offers membership benefits like liability insurance, open access to peer-reviewed articles on higher education management, and a wealth of professional development programming.

  • Office of Federal Student Aid: In addition to providing fellowships, grants, work-study opportunities, and student loan services, the Office of Federal Student Aid also shares advice on how to find private forms of financial support.

  • Harvard Usable Knowledge: The Harvard Graduate School of Education shares the research of its faculty members through this website. Both higher education students and professionals can benefit from research briefs on topics like Title IX compliance and expanding career pathways.

  • EdWeek: EdWeek stands as one of the most well-respected voices in education journalism. The online magazine covers issues like campus safety, philanthropic trends, and the use of data in educational assessment.

  • Chronicle of Higher Education: Rather than focusing on education issues more generally, the Chronicle specializes in news relevant to college faculty and administrators, such as fluctuations in government funding and prominent leadership transitions. Its website also features a career center for higher education jobs.

  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: The Purdue OWL serves as a comprehensive resource for writers, offering guidance on properly citing sources, drafting an effective cover letter, and shaping an argumentative essay. It also provides advice on writing recommendation letters for students.