What are Executive Ed.D. Programs?
Executive Ed.D. programs are doctorates in education that are specifically designed for mid- to senior-level professionals with significant leadership experience. These cohort-based degrees are packed with advanced coursework in workplace practices, collaborative seminars & discussions, international field research, and a culminating project (e.g. Dissertation in Practice).
They can be expensive, but they’re often the ticket to executive roles in schools, universities, government, and the corporate world. Choose a university that has a track record of strong Executive Ed.D. cohorts and great professional connections.
Who are Executive Ed.D. Programs Designed For?
Executive Ed.D. students tend to be PreK-12 educational leaders, higher education administrators & leaders, policy makers, non-profit & corporate leaders, and the like.
Universities are often looking for Ed.D. candidates with a relevant master’s degree and at least 7-10 years of existing work experience. Each doctorate is unique, so check the admissions requirements in our program listings for specific details.
After earning this type of doctorate, you can pursue top-level leadership positions in a wide range of fields. Typical job titles for Executive Ed.D. graduates include:
- Executive Director
- Associate Director
- Senior Manager
- Vice President
- Vice Provost
- Head of Department
- National Policy Advisor
- Minister of Education
Types of Executive Ed.D. Programs
Executive Ed.D. programs tend to fall into broad categories. Here are the most common titles you’ll see cropping up in our program listings.
- Executive Ed.D. in Educational Leadership: These programs are often designed for PreK-20 administrators—USA’s Executive Ed.D. in Educational Leadership is a good example. It allows students to specialize in either K-12 or Higher Education. In some cases, you may be able to earn superintendency licensure as well.
- Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education: As the name suggests, these doctorates are specifically focused on higher education challenges. For instance, the University of Miami’s Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership has concentrations in either Higher Education (i.e. colleges & universities) or Community Leadership (i.e. non-profits, government, faith-based organizations, etc.).
- Executive Ed.D. in Leadership Studies: These types of doctorates can have a broader focus than educational leadership programs—check the curriculum. For instance, Ashland’s Executive Ed.D. in Leadership Studies attracts students from a range of employment sectors, including the corporate world, non-profits, healthcare, and education.
- Executive Ed.D. in Specialized Areas: You may even be able to choose an Executive doctorate that focuses on a specific area of interest. Examples include Yeshiva’s Executive Model Ed.D. in Jewish Educational Leadership and Innovation, the University of Houston’s Executive Ed.D. in Professional Leadership with an Emphasis in Health Science Education, or Boston College’s Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education – Catholic Education.
Keep in mind that “Executive” can be a malleable term. For example, NYU’s Online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation is—without question—an Executive program. It’s only open to candidates with 7-10 years of experience, including leaders of educational institutions, non-profits, and the private sector.
But CU Denver’s Ed.D. in Leadership for Educational Equity – Executive Leadership has a lower admissions threshold. It’s still designed for working professionals who are seeking leadership roles, but its structure is much more like a traditional doctorate in education.
Executive Ed.D. Curriculum & Structure
Executive Ed.D. programs are typically cohort-based—you’ll go through the program with a small group of well-qualified peers. Standard Executive doctorates might take 3 years; accelerated programs can be as short as 2 years. Colleges of Education like to individualize the Executive experience, but you’ll generally encounter 3 key components.
1. Advanced Coursework
Executive Ed.D. courses focus on high-level administrative issues, current leadership challenges, and applied research (e.g. qualitative & quantitative methods). The tone of the curriculum will depend on the degree. For example:
- An Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education could contain classes in law & higher education, college student development, university organization & administration, global education, and the like.
- Whereas a more general Ed.D. in Executive Leadership might cover areas such as public policy, data-based decision-making, organizational behavior, ethics, and the like.
Check the curriculum to be sure that credits are relevant to your professional goals.
2. Campus Residencies
Almost every Executive Ed.D. will include campus residencies. To make it easy for working professionals to attend, week-long residencies are often scheduled in the summer. You may also be expected to visit the campus on select weekends.
Executive Ed.D. residencies are designed to encouraged collaboration and networking. You’ll often have the opportunity to participate in faculty roundtables & institutes, attend in-depth seminars, work on elements related to your dissertation or capstone, and more.
3. International Experiences
Executive Ed.D. programs also include global trips. Europe and Asia are frequent destinations, but some universities have connections all over the world. At UPenn, for example, Ed.D. students use their experiential field research project to meet and collaborate with higher education leaders in an international context.
Ask about expenses. International travel costs, including airfare, may or may not be included in tuition.
Executive Ed.D. Dissertations & Capstone Projects
Executive Ed.D. programs are just like standard doctorates in education. Some will have a traditional, 5-chapter dissertation; some will have a Dissertation in Practice (DiP); some will have a capstone project. The bulk of your work on this “final project” will occur in the last year of the doctorate.
Dissertation in Practice (DiP)
To ensure the Executive Ed.D. is relevant to real-life scenarios, universities like USC Rossier and College of William & Mary tend to favor the DiP model. For example, you might be challenged to create solutions to a complex problem of practice in your workplace or a partner organization. You’ll be able to conduct field-based research, develop recommendations, implement interventions, and write up your results & conclusions.
Alternatively, you could opt for an Executive Ed.D. program with a capstone project. This is the model that schools like Boston College, NYU, and Wingate follow. It’s not that different from a DiP—you’ll still be required to complete an action research project that tackles a significant problem of practice—but it may be more collaborative. For instance, BC’s capstone project is group-based.
If you’d like to know more about DiPs and capstones, check out our guide to No Dissertation Ed.D. Programs. NYU also has a helpful list of common Problems of Practice in K-12, higher education, government, and corporate settings.
Fastest Executive Ed.D. Programs
If time is of the essence, accelerated Executive Ed.D. programs are available in our program listings! These fast-track doctorates usually take ~2 years to complete.
Be prepared for a high octane experience—fast-track programs will still contain on-campus meetings, international trips, and a dissertation, DiP, or capstone project. Here are the fastest Executive Ed.D. programs in the country:
- Ashland’s Executive Ed.D. in Leadership Studies
- UGA’s Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Management
- UPenn’s Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Management
- NYU’s Online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation
- GMercyU’s Online Accelerated Executive Ed.D. in Education Leadership
Online Executive Ed.D. Programs
It’s important to note that nearly all executive doctorates in education contain online courses & meet-ups. In addition, universities understand that Ed.D. students are working professionals. So they do their best to schedule any campus visits on weekends and in the summer.
However, you’ll notice that some Executive Ed.D. programs are more online than others. For example, an on-campus or hybrid Executive Ed.D. might have mandatory monthly campus sessions. But an online Executive Ed.D. could only require 1-2 visits per year.
If you can’t manage regular trips to campus, have a look at the following options:
- GMercyU’s Online Accelerated Executive Ed.D. in Education Leadership—it includes online coursework, a field experience, two on-campus residencies, and one international study experience.
- The College of William & Mary’s Online Executive EdD in Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership: International School Leadership—the International School Leadership specialty is 100% online.
- Boston College’s Online Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education—the annual, on-campus summer residencies last for one week; a global trip to Ireland is also included.
- NYU’s Online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation—the doctorate begins and ends with one-week residencies at NYU; the rest of the coursework is online.