What is an Ed.D. in Higher Education?
The Ed.D. in Higher Education is designed for college-level administrators & leaders. Students work in a wide range of postsecondary settings, including 4-year colleges, universities, community colleges, vocational/technical schools, law schools, and medical schools.
An Ed.D. in Higher Education, Higher Education Leadership, or Higher Education Administration is a good pick for mid-tier professionals who wish to:
- Expand their leadership skills
- Effect organizational change
- Influence policy
- Make practical & research-based improvements within their organization
Ed.D. students often pursue a doctorate in higher education in order to:
- Take up key administrative posts in colleges & universities (e.g. President, Vice-President, Director, Dean, etc.)
- Become policy-makers or education consultants in higher education
- Lead university-wide instructional development initiatives
- Conduct research work in higher education issues
Types of Ed.D. in Higher Education Programs
Ed.D. in Higher Education, Higher Education Leadership & Higher Education Administration
The differences between an Ed.D. in Higher Education, an Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership, and an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration are often slight. They usually share the same DNA, with standard coursework in areas such as management, policy, law, financial administration, diversity, and strategic planning. There’s always a heavy research component.
You can see this play out in our listings. For example, there’s not a great deal of variation between UMass Boston’s Ed.D. in Higher Education, Azusa Pacific’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership, and Andrews University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration.
It’s always best to check the curriculum links to see which way the university leans. Some higher education doctorates may emphasize the 30,000-foot leadership view; others may focus on ground-level administrative concerns (e.g. academic services).
Ed.D. in Educational Leadership – Higher Education Leadership
You’ll also see a number of schools in our listings have chosen to make higher education leadership a concentration/specialization within an Educational Leadership doctorate. In this model:
- You’ll tackle a core set of courses in educational leadership, as well as concentration credits that deal specifically with postsecondary issues.
- Concentrations can range from 4 courses to half of the doctorate.
- In the end, the curriculum can end up looking a lot like a conventional Ed.D. in Higher Education.
Given this, you might be wondering if there is any advantage to choosing an Ed.D. in Higher Education over an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with a specialization in Higher Education. We recommend you choose the program that matches your career needs.
- If you favor an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration or Leadership that has unique electives in your realm of interest (e.g. budgeting & finance), go for that.
- If you like the look of an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership – Higher Education from a school that’s a member of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED), then you’ll be in good hands.
The title of the degree is not as important as the coursework and the university’s reputation.
Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education
Executive-level doctorates in higher education are geared toward middle- and senior-level postsecondary administrators. Executive Ed.D.s can have a higher work experience requirement for admissions (e.g. 5 years) and a modified degree structure.
For example, executive programs may contain on-campus intensives, summer experiences abroad, roundtables with higher education leaders, coursework in global issues and high-level management, and other elements that might attract aspiring executives (e.g. University President).
Ed.D. in Community College Leadership
As the name implies, doctorates in community college leadership are intended for administrators working within that specific setting.
- The curriculum often deals with issues surrounding community college leadership (e.g. policy, governance, equity), community college foundations, and learning concerns (e.g. instructional planning, assessment, and accountability).
- Some doctorates in this field contain courses that address state issues & community colleges, so we suggest you check home state options first.
Ed.D. in Higher Education Specializations
With an Ed.D. in Higher Education, you have the option to customize your degree even further. Our listings contain a number of specialization opportunities, including:
- West Virginia University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration with 6 optional specialization tracks: Academic Affairs, Administration, Curriculum and Assessment, Organization, Policy, and Student Development
- Immaculata University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education with 4 specialization tracks: Academic Affairs, Enrollment Management, Nursing Education, and Student Engagement
- North Carolina State University’s Ed.D. in Community College Leadership with 6 thematic research areas: Completion and Transfer, Learning Outcomes, Equity, Labor Market Outcomes, Technology, and Culture/Organizational Behavior
You can tailor your doctorate to a remarkable degree.
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. in Higher Education
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. Career Aims
A Ph.D. is geared toward professors and researchers; an Ed.D. is designed for educational professionals who want to apply their research in real-world situations. In most fields, this makes the Ed.D. the obvious choice for working administrators.
- 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.
- So we recommend you talk to your peers & mentors before you make a decision. In a research institution, a Ph.D. in Higher Education may be considered more prestigious, especially for high-level leadership jobs (e.g. Dean, President, Provost, etc.).
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. Curriculum
As a general rule, the basic coursework requirements of an Ed.D. and Ph.D. in Higher Education will fall along the same lines. You’ll see core credits in areas like leadership, law, governance, finance, diversity, and the like. Both types of doctorates will also contain training in research methods (e.g. analysis of qualitative & quantitative data), research design, and program evaluation.
Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. Dissertation
The key difference lies in the research project:
- A Ph.D. in Higher Education usually contains a traditional, 5-chapter dissertation that focuses on an original/unique research topic.
- An Ed.D. in Higher Education may contain a traditional dissertation, a Dissertation in Practice (DiP), OR a capstone project. You’ll be expected to take a practice-based approach to research and apply your learning in real-world situations.
If you’re interested in traditional academic research, the Ph.D. is going to be a better fit. If you wish to get stuck into a problem of practice, the Ed.D. may suit you best.
Earning an Ed.D. in Higher Education
Higher Education Prerequisites
- Master’s Degree: You’ll usually have to hold an M.Ed., M.A. in education, or comparable master’s degree. An educational specialist degree (Ed.S.) should give you advanced placement.
- Work Experience: Prior work experience is often required, but it may not have to be in higher education. In most cases, higher education administrative experience is a plus that can compensate for an otherwise flawed application. The University of Kansas’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration is fairly typical in this respect. It considers both “prior academic eligibility” and “administrative experience.” Students with a great deal of administrative experience and a low GPA—or a high GPA and no administrative experience—should find opportunities.
- Additional Requirements: Some programs also require a minimum GPA of 3.0, a GRE exam, and/or an autobiographical admissions essay.
Higher Education Coursework
As we noted, Ed.D. programs in Higher Education primarily focus on high-level leadership & administrative issues in postsecondary education. Most programs include coursework in areas like law, finance, policy, equity, and the like. But there will be variations according to the slant of the program. For example:
- The University of Pennsylvania’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Management covers topics such as strategic finance, international higher education reform, and community relations.
- The University of Northern Iowa’s Ed.D. in Postsecondary Education: Student Affairs includes coursework in college effects on students, social justice & inclusion, and organizational processes & communication
- West Virginia University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration – Curriculum, Assessment, and Academic Affairs covers adult and continuing education, assessment, assessment research, and curriculum development & reform.
Higher Education Internship
Some—but not all—Ed.D. programs in Higher Education will contain internships and field work. Those schools that do require it generally allow students to satisfy requirements off-campus. A good example is the internship requirement in the University of Virginia’s Ed.D. in Higher Education. It’s rigorous (e.g. 20 hours per week for two years), but can be completed anywhere with faculty approval.
Higher Education Dissertation
Like Ed.D. programs in other fields, the Ed.D. in Higher Education will include a traditional dissertation, Dissertation in Practice (DiP), or research-based capstone project. We talk more about the relative benefits of capstone projects & DiPs in our guide to Ed.D. Programs without a traditional dissertation component.
Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Programs
Are Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Programs Available?
Yes. There are several dozen Online Ed.D. in Higher Education options in our listings, including online doctorates in Higher Education Leadership and Higher Education Administration. You’ll see an “Offered Online” marker under each option. A number of them come from CAEP-accredited schools.
Do Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Programs Contain Residency Requirements?
In most cases, online doctorates in higher education are not 100% online—there will usually be short, on-campus requirements. For example:
- Northeastern University’s Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration contains two-day residencies each year that are designed for networking and career success. Students can attend these residencies in Boston, Charlotte, or Seattle.
- The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Studies – Educational Leadership & Higher Education requires that doctoral students be on campus to present their dissertation proposal and defend their dissertation.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. Northcentral University’s Online Ed.D. in Leadership in Higher Education appears to be offered entirely online, with no on-campus residency of any kind.
Higher Education Careers
Ed.D. in Higher Education Jobs
Most people who earn doctorates in higher education work in an administrative role at a college, community college, university, or postsecondary institution. They hold job titles in fields of administration, strategic finance, student services, admissions, research supervision, and other related areas. All of these categories fall under the job umbrella of Postsecondary Education Administrators.
Ed.D. in Higher Education Salary
As you might expect, salary ranges for higher education administrators vary widely. The highest paid private university presidents are millionaires. However, an average public university president may only make $400,000 per year. College-level and university-level administrators tend to earn much more than their junior college & community college peers. Administrators in technical & trade schools are at the bottom of the heap.
- You can get a sense of regional salary numbers by examining Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) wage data for Postsecondary Education Administrators. The best salaries can often be found in California and the Northeast, but these states come with a much higher cost of living.
- Salary sites like Payscale, Indeed, and Glassdoor can also help in your research. For example, Indeed lists average salaries for deans of students (~$68,000), admissions directors (~$57,000), and senior registrars (~$44,000).
Is an Ed.D. in Higher Education Worth it?
Higher education administration is one of the few fields in the education sector that pays well. However, we would warn that most of that earning potential is concentrated in competitive, highly sought-after positions at top-tier private universities.
- 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 and well-paid administrative positions. 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. If you’re certain that you would enjoy working with college students, faculty, fellow administrators, and alumni to help an institution of higher learning meet its financial goals and plan for the future, a doctorate in the field is a sensible choice.
- If you’re unsure of your job goals, 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—will be easier to adapt to careers outside of postsecondary institutions.
Ed.D. in Higher Education Resources
- Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U): AAC&U works to improve the quality of American institutions of higher learning through publications, conferences, grants and awards, and networking opportunities. Central to its 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 Chronicle is the most widely-read and influential magazine dealing with U.S. institutions of higher learning. It features breaking news, long-form journalism, op-eds, job postings, and 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 as the Chronicle, but it’s still well-worth your time.