Online Master’s Programs in Higher Education

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What You’ll Learn with a Online Master’s in Higher Education and Career Potential

With so many career paths available to graduates, it’s no wonder that thousands of students enroll in online master’s programs in higher education each year. Whether a student wishes to work in academics, student services or research, roles exist to help master’s students find a perfect fit for their interests, passions and career aspirations. Learn more about what you can expect as you earn your master’s in higher education online, including an outline of coursework, career and salary potential after graduation, and see which colleges are providing the best value for students interested in online higher education master’s programs to help make your college choice.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Higher Education Program?

Students interested in studying higher education in graduate school have some options in terms of degree path. Understanding which online master’s degree fits your professional aspirations is an important part of the college search. Here are the distinctions:

  • Master of Arts, Higher Education (MA) – Often culminating with a thesis, the MA degree path focuses on professional classroom teaching strategies for higher education and academia.
  • Master of Education, Higher Education (MEd) – An MEd focuses less on subject-specific skills, and more on the evaluation of higher education as a practice. Students declare their specialization, in this case higher education, upon application.

Both master’s degree paths in higher education prepare students for roles in postsecondary settings. By equipping them with skills related to programmatic development, budgetary oversight, leadership, student affairs and working with people of varied backgrounds, students typically walk away with the following skills upon graduation:

  • In-depth understanding of the higher education system and postsecondary processes
  • Insight into teaching core concepts at the upper level
  • Data and research-based solutions for helping students learn
  • How to use data to determine the success of higher education programs

What common courses are offered in an MHA program?

Though all online master’s programs in higher education will provide unique coursework and areas of focus, here is a glimpse into the type of coursework and classes you can expect to encounter while pursuing a master’s degree in higher education.

Student Success Best Practices

This course introduces learners to the current student landscape and includes discussions and readings on how to adequately serve an ever-growing population of diverse degree seekers. Other topics explored include the planning, design, and management of student services, legal requirements and how to connect programs to student success.

Financial Management of Resources

Recognizing that many university systems experience budgetary constraints, this class takes a look at how higher educational professionals can expertly manage budgets, make use of incoming funds, oversee the financial and strategic planning processes and encourage innovative ways of conducting fundraising throughout the university community.

The Admissions Process

For students who hope to work in the admissions department upon graduation, this class begins by providing an overview of the current admissions landscape before diving into current issues, questions of access and ensuring equity and how to develop the soundest strategy for deciding which students to admit.

Using Data to Drive Decision-Making

Because many big decisions made within higher education administration rely on the review of data, this course introduces students to questions about how data can be best utilized, how to effectively collect data in their roles and which technologies can best help with this process. Students also learn how to communicate their findings and translate raw data into forms that are digestible by the wider university body.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Before graduation, many online master’s programs in higher education require students to complete a significant thesis comprised of independent research surrounding the higher education landscape or to engage in a comprehensive capstone project. These projects often examine a specific issue or topic within higher education and provide researched solutions. Additionally, schools may require certain teaching licenses or certifications before a degree is awarded.

What specializations are available in a master’s in higher education program?

Educational Leadership

Designed for the student who plans to move into the upper echelons of university administration, this specialization reviews issues surrounding educational policy, ethical practices, leadership skills, and how to encourage and support diversity from the top down.

Student Engagement

For degree seekers planning to work directly with students in either an academic or administrative capacity, this specialization focuses on best practices for engaging students and helping them stay involved throughout their college careers.

Instructional Design & Technology

Many students working towards an online master’s in higher education hope to use their skills in curriculum development and technology to design programs of study that meet the demands of the 21st century. Common classes include principles of design within online education, educational technology issues, and best technology practices.

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What Can I do with a Master’s in Higher Education Degree?

Given that the field of higher education covers a significant number of university departments and offices, completing an online master’s in higher education can open the door to many different roles within the higher education system. Check for those that suit your individual personality, offer the work/life balance you require, and have appealing salary and growth potential.

Director of International Student Services

Working with other members of the administrative body, these professionals walk alongside international learners to ensure their needs are met both before and during their time at school. Along with their international student services team, directors oversee the process for securing international student visas, help new learners acclimate to both life and school in a different country, arrange language classes (if needed) and ensure they settle into the campus community. International student services specializations are not common, but students may be able to find individual classes that touch on this topic, or they can focus their internship in this area.

Director of Student Affairs

A perfect role for the professional who enjoys working in many different parts of campus life, the Director of Student Affairs position typically oversees activities ranging from freshman orientation and student clubs and organizations to Greek life. They manage large budgets and often have many people who report to them. They may also be required to carry out some disciplinary actions, depending on the individual school. Students can often find student affairs specializations under the higher education master’s degree umbrella.

Admissions Director

Leading a team of admissions specialists, directors of these departments oversee the admissions process for incoming students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In addition to monitoring historical admissions data, these professionals also work to ensure the student body continues growing in terms of academic potential, diversity, and all-around preparedness for the rigors of college. They may partner with high schools to identify suitable candidates, or travel to various schools to discuss their college. Many higher education programs offer admissions specializations for learners pursuing this path.

Recruiting Specialist

Working under the admissions department umbrella, recruiting specialists travel around the region – or in some cases the country – finding suitable candidates for the university and encouraging them to apply. Some recruitment is done on a generic basis, while others focus on students with particular skills in areas of academics or sports. When not on the road, recruitment specialists spend their time following up with potential students and their families and overseeing the design of marketing materials to be used at recruitment events.

Research Director

Research directorships often appeal to higher education students who want to work in both academics and administrative affairs. In concert with professors and researchers, these professionals oversee the development of research in each department, create research objectives, oversee the departmental research budget and ensure laboratories and other research areas have the tools and supplies needed. They also collect data about the effectiveness of research conducted at their site as evidence of important work being done.

Professional Organizations

Students and graduates alike can derive benefits from membership in a higher education professional organization. Several options exist often provide opportunities for networking, professional development and other perks. Some of those within the world of higher education include:

American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers

AACRAO maintains a robust membership of more than 11,000 professionals in this line of work and provides services such as events and training, research and publications, advocac, and an active jobs board.

American Association of University Administrators

AAUA has existed since 1970 and continues working to support individuals in higher education administration. The Association does this by providing an annual awards program, journal, regional and national meetings and opportunities for professional development.

National Association of College and University Business Officers

With an active roster of members spanning 1,900 colleges and universities, NACUBO is a leader in the field. The organization provides conferences, workshops, e-learning, podcasts, research, publications and advocacy.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Higher Education?

While earning your master’s degree in higher education isn’t a direct guarantee for job placement, there are statistics to back up the idea that a degree could boost your career and salary potential. But especially in the higher education industry, jobs may require additional licensing, certification or training beyond your master’s degree. Salary data below is based on a earning a Master’s of Education and averaged, meaning numbers vary by position, experience and location.

CareerEntry-Level Salary (0-5 Years)Mid-Career (5-10 Years)Late Career (10-20+ Years)Job Growth 2016-2026
Postsecondary Education Administrator$52,960$92,360$182,150+10%
Instructional Coordinator$35,550$63,750$101,500+11%
Education Professors$32,540$64,020$122,340+15%

According to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for postsecondary education administrators are set to grow by 10 percent–faster than the national average–between 2016 and 2026. Put into perspective, that’s an increase of approximately 18,200 positions over ten years.

When reviewing pay for common higher education positions, grad students should remember that salaries depend largely the level of degree attained. Unless they have significantly more experience, individuals with bachelor’s degrees in education tend to earn less than their peers with master’s degrees.

Online Master’s in Higher Education Program Accreditation

Discussing accreditation often isn’t as interesting as talking about research areas, available coursework or student services, but it is an important factor in picking a great online master’s program in higher education. Online master’s in higher education degrees that receive programmatic accreditation submit to a rigorous evaluation by an independent accrediting body. This body sets standards related to how the program prepares graduates for higher education roles, how its services set learners up for success, and whether the curriculum adequately covers relevant materials.

Within the world of online master’s programs for higher education, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation serves as the main accrediting agency. Students should pay attention to proper institutional and programmatic accreditation, as attending schools that meet accreditation standards makes it easier for them to transfer credits, compete for jobs and, if necessary, receive licensure.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Higher Education Degree

Even if a student gets into a top online master’s in education program, many still feel concern over cost of the program. Learners can draw from numerous sources to lessen the overall financial burden. Always check with your college learn about available institutional funding, and research scholarship opportunities from outside funding groups such as nonprofits, foundations, and state/local governments.

  • Scholarships Some programs, such as Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Higher Education, offer full and partial scholarships to offset costs.
  • Graduate Assistantships Other institutions, such as the University of Kansas, provide graduate assistantships to cover costs. Students still lacking the funding needed after exhausting all scholarship, grant, and assistantship options often turn to federal student loans to cover the remaining portion, which starts by filling out a FAFSA form.

Online Master’s in Higher Education Programs 2021

See Our Rankings Methodology

  1. Appalachian State University

    Boone, NC



    From its campus in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian enrolls over 20,000 students. The public institution offers more than 150 degrees, including online programs. At Appalachian, graduate students can earn an online master's in higher education. The program builds the knowledge and skills required for higher education administration careers.

    Master's students learn how to encourage student growth, expand enrollment, and manage student affairs. Degree-seekers choose a concentration to focus their studies. Appalachian offers a concentration in community college and university leadership focusing on mid-level and upper-level administrative roles.

    Appalachian uses synchronous and asynchronous coursework designed to increase engagement and interaction. The 36-credit, part-time master's program offers a tuition discount for North Carolina residents. Applicants with a 3.0 undergraduate GPA receive a GRE or MAT waiver. Appalachian is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  2. Florida International University

    Miami, FL



    FIU's 342-acre campus makes it the largest university in the Miami area. The public research institution offers on-campus and online degrees, including a master's in higher education administration. The online program trains graduate students to manage student services and academics at the college level.

    Master's degree-seekers study college student development theory, legal issues in higher education administration, and educational research. The program includes unique courses, such as access and choice in higher education. Graduate students strengthen their student-focused careers through coursework on counseling skills and a practicum in higher education administration. The practicum provides hands-on experience in different administrative settings.

    Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. The higher education administration program does not require GRE scores. FIU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. Stony Brook University

    Stony Brook, NY



    A public university, Stony Brook features a sprawling campus in Suffolk County, New York. At Stony Brook, graduate students can earn their master's in higher education online. The program offers a customizable degree for new higher education professionals and experienced mid-level staff seeking career advancement.

    The 36-credit master's program covers key topics like student affairs administration, enrollment management, and diversity in higher education. Leadership training remains a focus throughout the curriculum. Students choose 18 elective credits to personalize the degree. Options include technology in higher education, career counseling, and community college administration.

    Distance learners complete courses with five terms offered each year. Full-time higher education administration students can complete a master's in as few as 16 months. Admission does not require GRE scores. Stony Brook is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  4. Sam Houston State University

    Huntsville, TX



    From its Huntsville, Texas campus, SHSU enrolls over 21,500 students as a public institution. SHSU offers online degrees, including a master's in higher education administration. The fully online program trains graduates for mid-level administrative roles in higher education institutions.

    Learners earning their master's in higher education online at SHSU study academic affairs, student services, and enrollment management. The program emphasizes current issues in resource allocation and information technology. Degree-seekers choose a thesis or non-thesis track to earn their 36-credit master's degree. SHSU offers an academic advising certificate and a certificate in higher education assessment and institutional research.

    Master's students customize their degree with electives in career advising, institution research, or academic advising. Applicants provide official transcripts, a current resume, three reference forms, and a professional statement. SHSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. Grace College and Theological Seminary

    Winona Lake, IN



    A Christian college in Winona Lake, Indiana, Grace offers multiple online degrees, including a master's in higher education program. The program uses a biblical worldview to examine legal, governmental, and financial issues in higher education. Graduates pursue higher education administrative roles at Christian colleges and other institutions of higher learning.

    The fully online program emphasizes trends in higher education, research methods, and assessment skills. The 36-credit curriculum covers higher education leadership, student affairs, finances for nonprofit organizations, and grant writing. The program culminates in an integrative application project to strengthen professional skills.

    Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Admission requires a minimum 2.75 GPA. In response to the pandemic, Grace lowered its online program tuition rates by an average of 19.5%. Grace is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  6. University of Louisville

    Louisville, KY



    A research institution located in Louisville, Kentucky, UofL offers more than 50 programs through its online campus. The online master's in higher education administration helps current and prospective college employees advance their careers. The fully online program emphasizes data-informed decision-making, higher education organizational change, and inclusive and equitable policies.

    The 30-credit master's program explores campus management, project management, and organizational improvement. The curriculum includes assessment, research methods, and legal issues in postsecondary education classes. Through coursework in educational resource management, master's students prepare for higher education leadership positions.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. The program requires two letters of recommendation, a current resume, and a professional goals statement. UofL does not require the GRE. UofL is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  7. University of North Texas

    Denton, TX



    A public institution with over 32,000 students, UNT offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs. Graduate students can earn their master's in higher education online at UNT. The flexible program blends coursework and practical experience opportunities. Graduates train for administrative roles in academic advising, student affairs, and diversity programs.

    At UNT, master's students customize their degree with a specialization. The program offers specializations in student affairs administration, community college leadership, and general administration. Learners complete 15 core credits and 12 specialization credits. The program lets degree-seekers choose between an internship or field problem.

    The admission committee considers applicants based on undergraduate GPA, career objectives, and the admissions essay. The program waives the GRE or GMAT requirement for applicants with a minimum 3.3 GPA. UNT is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  8. Mississippi College

    Clinton, MS



    Mississippi's oldest higher learning institution, MC dates back to 1826. Today, MC maintains Mississippi Baptist Convention affiliation and enrolls over 5,000 students as a private, Christian university. MC offers an online master's in higher education administration. Designed for working professionals, the program prepares graduates for administrative opportunities in higher education.

    The master's in higher education program emphasizes administrative theory and practice. The curriculum includes classes in higher education finance, legal issues in higher education, and student development theories. Learners strengthen their leadership and research skills through their coursework. MC incorporates practicum experiences to build the administrative skills necessary for higher education careers.

    Admission requires a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution. Prospective students submit transcripts and a statement of purpose outlining their motivations and goals for a master's in higher education. MC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  9. Michigan State University

    East Lansing, MI



    From its campus in East Lansing, MSU awards degrees as a public land-grant institution founded in 1855. Today, MSU offers multiple online degrees. Graduate students can earn their master's in higher, adult, and lifelong education through MSU's flexible online program. The 30-credit master's degree emphasizes higher education while also providing training in adult and lifelong learning.

    Students in the master's in higher education program study curricular development, higher education policy, and finance. They also examine learning across the lifespan. MSU lets graduate students customize the program around their interests. After completing two core courses, degree-seekers choose eight electives. Elective options include adult learning, program planning, and educational administration. The program features a final portfolio project that links theory and practice.

    Over 75% of students in MSU's higher education program work full time while earning their degree. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. The program strongly prefers candidates with professional experience in postsecondary education. MSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  10. University of Houston

    Houston, TX



    Founded in 1927, UH enrolls students as a public institution. At UH, graduate students can earn their master's in higher education online. Designed for full-time professionals, the program's cohort model lets learners complete their degree in two years.

    The 36-credit master's program teaches about student support services, student development theory, and educational policy. The program incorporates a semester-long internship to strengthen administrative skills.

    Master's students complete online coursework through the Blackboard Learn classroom management system. The courses use the same design and layout, making the online format accessible to first-time distance learners. The program includes no residency requirement.

    UH admits new students once per year. Applicants should hold a bachelor's degree. The program typically requires the GRE, but waived the test for fall 2021 applicants. UH is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Portrait of Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

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