Earning a Ph.D. in Higher Education Online

Become Team
Become Team
Updated November 18, 2020

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Graduates with an online doctorate in higher education can pursue leadership positions in higher education and increase their earning potential. Online doctoral programs in higher education attract professionals who possess extensive experience in education, working professionals in higher ed who desire a career change, and master's students who want to pursue higher-level positions in higher education.

Graduates of these programs work as leaders in the education field, including at the elementary, middle school, high school, community college, and university levels. They take jobs such as college or university president, postsecondary teacher, postsecondary higher education administration, instructional coordinator, and elementary, middle, and high school principal. Ph.D. higher education online programs offer several benefits, including affordability, convenience, and flexibility.

What Can You Do with an Online Doctorate in Higher Education?

People who earn a doctorate in higher education online qualify for a variety of career paths in the education field. They often find jobs as college and university presidents; postsecondary teachers; postsecondary higher education administrators; elementary, middle, and high school principals; and instructional coordinators. Higher education professionals possess strong communication and problem-solving skills.

College or University President

Annual Median Salary: $104,700
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

College and university presidents serve as the chief executive officers of their institutions. They lead the school and help it meet goals by developing effective strategies and policies. They promote student success, build relationships with stakeholders, and work on budgets. Applicants with an advanced degree may qualify for more positions, partly because they demonstrate a personal understanding of academia.

Postsecondary Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $76,000
Projected Growth Rate: 15%

Postsecondary teachers instruct students beyond high school. They work in higher education and at technical schools. Many also publish articles and conduct research. They plan lessons, teach classes, evaluate students, serve on academic committees, and develop instructional plans. Most postsecondary instructors need a Ph.D.

Postsecondary Higher Education Administrator (colleges, universities, and professional schools)

Annual Median Salary: $94,320
Projected Growth Rate: 10%

Postsecondary higher education administrators work at universities and colleges. They coordinate faculty research, student services, and academics. Specific job duties vary depending on the part of the college they administer. Most hold at least a master's degree and extensive experience in higher education.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

The Top-Paying Industries for Postsecondary Education Administrators

Traits of a Successful Educator

Higher education administrators assess student learning outcomes; they also recruit, hire, train, direct, and evaluate staff members. Many manage budgets and keep track of financial records.

Higher education professionals should possess skills in administration and management, education and training, customer and personal service, and personnel and human resources. Additionally, they typically hold superior critical thinking, active listening, reading comprehension, instructing, and monitoring skills. What's more, many professionals in this position understand how to use accounting, analytical, project management, enterprise resource planning, and database user interface software.

Salary by Experience Level

Salaries for higher education professionals vary based on level of education, years of experience, type of position, employer, and region. Individuals who earn an online Ph.D. in higher education increase their chances of making higher salaries. Pay also varies considerably depending on the experience held by higher education professionals.

The chart below outlines the salary postsecondary education administrators can expect to make by level of experience. Entry-level professionals make $48,000 a year, and late-career professionals earn $65,000 annually. The higher education field highly values experienced professionals and compensates them accordingly.

Pay by Experience Level for Postsecondary Education Administrators

Source: PayScale

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Higher Education Prepares For

Steps to Earning an Online Doctorate in Higher Education

Each program and school differs; however, prospective Ph.D. in higher education online learners can find common steps for earning this degree. Below, we explain how to find the right program, how to apply, and what types of graduation requirements to expect.

Find the Right Program for You

Before choosing a program, determine the factors that matter the most. For example, do you want a 100% online degree, or are some in-person requirements acceptable? Does the school offer your desired concentration? Is it accredited? Do faculty members with research interests similar to your own work there? What learning management system does the program use?


Prospective distance higher education Ph.D. candidates should begin the application process six months before the deadline. Waiting until the last minute to apply can result in a sloppy application package, and it might signal to the admissions committee a lack of seriousness. Most Ph.D. in higher education programs require applicants to submit letters of recommendation, GRE scores, transcripts, a personal statement, and resume or CV. Some programs require an admissions interview.

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

Most Ph.D. in higher education online programs require a dissertation. A dissertation is a lengthy research project students complete with the supervision of faculty advisors. Part of the dissertation process generally includes a pass/fail oral defense. A capstone entails less research than a dissertation or thesis and usually does not include an exam.

Fellowship or Internship

As part of your Ph.D. in higher education, you might complete a fellowship or internship. Many schools offer optional fellowships and internships. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and they typically involve real-world practice at an organization outside of the school. Fellowships almost always include a stipend and typically require students to work on a long-term academic project. Fellowships usually go to graduate students, whereas both undergraduates and graduates can apply for internships.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Higher Education

  1. Governance and Administration in Higher Education: This course explores the governance and internal administrative organization that supports colleges and universities. It investigates issues like accreditation, assessment, centralization, decentralization, mission, and accountability. Students look at historical and contemporary issues surrounding the administration of higher education institutions.

  2. The Globalization of Higher Education: Students learn to approach higher education from a global perspective. The course covers governance, policy, administration, economics, reform, finance, admissions, and organization. Learners study higher education systems in other countries, including the administration of study abroad programs.

  3. The Economics of Higher Education: Learners explore sources of revenue for higher education and investment from public and private sectors. They examine how budgets inform policy-making in higher education. They also learn about budget preparation, capital funding, and endowment management.

  4. Strategic Planning and Decision-Making: Learners investigate the process of creating strategic plans for colleges and universities. They learn about strategic analysis, objectives, mission, goals, implementation, and evaluation. The course also focuses on the data-driven theory of decision-making.

  5. Evaluation and Assessment in Higher Education: Students receive an overview of the history of evaluation models used for university and college programs. They learn how assessment and evaluation change over time, with emphasis on the role of regional accrediting bodies and federal and state agencies.

Become Team
Become Team
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