What is an Ed.D. in Higher Education?
The Ed.D. in Higher Education (and related degrees, such as the Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration, Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership, etc.) is intended primarily for college-level administrative staff. This includes community colleges, vocational/technical schools that offer degrees, universities, and advanced professional institutions such as law schools and medical schools. Anything above 12th grade is considered higher education, and a general degree in this field will equip administrators and related staff for a broad range of careers in this field.
Types of Doctorate in Higher Education Programs
The general higher education curriculum covers management and administration, organizational development, the history and structure of higher education, supervision and assessment, relevant public policy issues, and research skills.
Higher Education Leadership
In most cases, it would be fair to describe an Ed.D. in Higher Education as comparable to an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership that just happens to focus on post-12th-grade issues. That being the case, it’s not surprising to see the line between these two fields blurred a bit by programs such as Azusa Pacific’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership, Morehead State’s Ed.D. in Adult and Higher Education Leadership, or Nova Southeastern’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership. These programs should be understood as roughly equivalent to a standard Ed.D. in Higher Education. The differences between educational leadership and educational administration are also often semantic, so programs like Andrews University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration can also be seen as broadly equivalent to a more general Ed.D. in Higher Education.
Given all of this, you might be wondering: Is there any advantage to choosing an Ed.D. in Higher Education over an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with a specialization in higher education? That question, unfortunately, can be difficult to answer for two reasons:
- Not every program gives equal weight to its specializations; a specialization can be anything from four courses to half the curriculum.
- Employers have no way of knowing right away how intensive the specialization you completed might be.
For these reasons, it could be more advantageous in some cases to skip the specialization route and go directly for an Ed.D. in Higher Education. But unspecialized educational leadership doctorates remain popular among higher education administrators, so if there’s an educational leadership program with a specialization track in higher education that strongly appeals to you, you’re certainly not obligated to write it off out of hand.
Specialization tracks within the Ed.D. in Higher Education are also fairly common, and can help signal the kind of career in higher education that you’d like to pursue. West Virginia University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration has six optional specialization tracks (academic affairs, administration, curriculum and assessment, organization, policy, and student development), Immaculata University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education has four (academic affairs, enrollment management, nursing education, and student engagement), and so forth. So even after you’ve specialized in higher education, there’s room to customize your degree further. This comes as no surprise given the complexity of the field.
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. in Higher Education: What’s the Difference?
The Ph.D. is designed primarily for professors and researchers, while the Ed.D. is designed primarily for educational professionals who don’t focus on teaching and research. In most fields, this makes the Ed.D. a more obvious choice for people who aren’t looking for tenure-track positions. But in the field of higher education, where administrators have been known to teach and professors have been known to transfer into administrative roles, the career tracks of the two degrees are not so easily distinguishable.
As a general rule, the coursework requirements of an Ed.D. and those of a Ph.D. in the same field are similar. A Ph.D. in Higher Education will generally be just as focused on administration as an Ed.D. in Higher Education, and an Ed.D. is just as likely to feature courses on research methods.
Because career tracks associated with the Ph.D. and Ed.D. overlap more in the higher education sector than they do anywhere else, and course requirements tend to cover the same ground, other differences between the programs stand out. The Ph.D. always requires a dissertation, while the Ed.D. typically requires a capstone project based on field work or another active project.
If you’re more interested in traditional academic research, the Ph.D.’s dissertation requirement is likely to be a better fit for you. But if you’d rather do something more hands-on, the Ed.D. generally gives you an opportunity to do that.
Earning an Ed.D. in Higher Education
Higher Education Prerequisites
An Ed.D. program in higher education typically requires an M.Ed., M.A. in education, or comparable master’s degree. Holding an educational specialist degree (Ed.S.) usually grants advanced placement.
Some programs also require a minimum GPA of 3.0, a GRE exam, and/or an autobiographical admissions essay.
On-the-job experience is sometimes required, but programs seldom require the experience to be specific to higher education. In most cases, higher education administrative experience is – at minimum – a plus that can compensate for an otherwise flawed application. The University of Kansas’ Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration is fairly typical in this respect, incorporating both “prior academic eligibility” and “administrative experience” into its admissions criteria. Students with a great deal of administrative experience and a low GPA, or a high GPA and no administrative experience, can find programs whose admission requirements either directly match, or can accommodate, their strengths.
Higher Education Coursework
The core of the Ed.D. in Higher Education is educational administration, a field that tends to match up the specific managerial needs of educational institutions with broader principles of management and organizational development. You should also expect to study curriculum design (though mostly for assessment and supervision purposes), the history of education, relevant law and public policy issues, and general research methods in a manner relevant to the field.
Educational Administration Coursework
Educational administration is so central to the Ed.D. in Higher Education that many programs incorporate it within the title of the major. The University of Pennsylvania’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Management is a good example, covering topics such as strategic finance, international higher education reform, and community relations within the specific context of higher education management.
Curriculum Design Coursework
For a good example of the kind of curriculum design topics typically covered in an Ed.D. in Higher Education, take a look at the University of West Virginia’s optional specialization in curriculum, assessment, and academic affairs within their Ed.D. program in higher education administration. The five-course track covers academic affairs roles, adult and continuing education, assessment, assessment research, and curriculum development and reform. All of these topics are covered in microcosm within the curriculum design component of a standard Ed.D. in Higher Education.
Higher Education Dissertations
Like Ed.D. programs in other fields, the Ed.D. in Higher Education doesn’t always require a dissertation. Students sometimes complete the program by submitting a less formal capstone project, provided that it demonstrates a comparable level of understanding of the field.
Higher Education Internship
Internships and field work are optional in some Ed.D. programs, and those that do require it generally allow students to satisfy these requirements off-campus. A good example is the internship requirement in the University of Virginia’s Ed.D. in Higher Education: it’s rigorous (20 hours per week for two years), but can be done anywhere with faculty approval.
Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Programs
Are Ed.D. in Higher Education Programs Offered Online?
Yes. While doctorates in higher education are less common in general than doctorates in curriculum and instruction or educational leadership, and online doctorates in higher education rarer still, there are several dozen online Ed.D. programs in higher education in our database.
Among the most prestigious online programs in this field are Northeastern University’s low-residency Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s low-residency Ed.D. in Educational Studies with a concentration in educational leadership and higher education.
Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Residency Requirements
Most programs require some time on campus (typically a week or two on campus per year), but some can be completed with no residency at all. Concordia University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education and Northcentral University’s Ed.D. in Leadership in Higher Education can be done entirely online, and require no on-campus residency of any kind. Residency in other programs, typically a week or two per year over the summer, may be negotiable under special circumstances.
One program that incorporates negotiable residency into the model is East Tennessee State University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership, where students visit the campus 10 times over the course of the program doing something, with prior faculty approval. This is typically done alongside other students as a group (usually called a cohort), and consists of a seminar or discussion panel.
Higher Education Careers
Ed.D. in Higher Education Jobs
Most people who earn doctorates in higher education work in an administrative role of some kind at a college, community college, or university. This can mean a wide range of job titles and career tracks in the fields of administration, strategic finance, student services, admissions, research supervision, and other related fields, all of which are classified under the umbrella of postsecondary education administration by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ed.D. in Higher Education Salary
The salary range for higher education administrators is much larger than that of most other fields. In the education sector, only coaches have a more variable payscale.
Median pay for a postsecondary education administrator is $92,360 per year, slightly less than that of a K-12 principal ($94,390), but there are typically numerous administrative jobs at an institution of higher learning. And this isn’t likely to change; the BLS estimates the field to grow by 10% over the 2016-2026 period.
According to Forbes magazine, the president of Wake Forest University makes over $4 million per year. As you might expect, that isn’t a typical salary; an average public university president makes $464,000 per year. And for the vast majority of postsecondary administrators who never become president, a six-figure salary is not the norm. Indeed.com lists average salaries for deans of students ($68,148), admissions directors ($57,169), senior registrars ($44,201), and admissions coordinators ($38,144) that fall well below BLS median estimates.
Is an Ed.D. in Higher Education Worth it?
Higher education administration is one of the few fields in the education sector that can make you truly wealthy, but most of that earning potential is concentrated in competitive, highly sought-after positions at top-tier private universities.
If you’re working in higher education, that implies you’re basically dealing with two categories of students: young adults who are just finding their place in the world, and older adults who, having made the decision to return to college or graduate school, are working to change or enhance their place in the world. Both categories present unique challenges.
If you already work as a higher education administrator and want to stay in the field, an Ed.D. can help you transition into more influential, higher-wage administrative positions. It won’t necessarily make you the multimillionaire president of a private university, but if that’s your long-term goal, a specialized terminal degree certainly won’t hurt. At minimum, it can help you make a more comfortable living and exercise more influence over the institutions you serve.
If you don’t already work as a higher education administrator, an Ed.D. in Higher Education is one of many options you might choose. If you’re certain that you would enjoy working with college students, faculty, fellow administrators, and alumni to help an institution of higher learning make ends meet and build for the future, this terminal degree will set you up to do that in a specialized way. If you’re not completely sure, a more general degree like the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, or a more subject-focused degree like the Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, might be easier to adapt to other careers.
Ed.D. in Higher Education Resources
- Association of American Colleges and Universities
The AAC&U works to improve the quality of American institutions of higher learning through publications, conferences, grants and awards, and networking opportunities. Central to their mission are the LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) standards, which aim to provide every student with both the educational foundation and soft skills to flourish in the global economy.
- Center for International Higher Education (CIHE)
Hosted by Boston College, the CIHE features international conferences, a peer-reviewed journal, and an online certificate program dealing with higher education in an international context.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education
The most widely-read and influential magazine dealing with U.S. institutions of higher learning, the Chronicle features breaking news, long-form journalism, op-eds, job postings, and considerable networking opportunities. If you’re considering a career in higher education administration, bookmark the Chronicle’s homepage and visit often.
- Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)
This leading international higher education think-tank has a British focus, but there’s still more than enough here for Americans to digest and learn from. Pay special attention to the blog, which regularly discusses interesting developments both within and beyond the UK.
- Inside Higher Ed
The Chronicle’s younger, hipper sibling offers an eclectic mix of news and networking. It doesn’t cover the field of higher education as comprehensively, but it’s still well worth your time to read.