Online Ph.D. in Education Leadership

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Careers & Salaries with a Ph.D. Degree in Education Leadership

Educators who complete online doctoral programs in higher education leadership take positions at K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Graduates work as principals, superintendents, and school administrators, applying their leadership skills to strengthen their district or school. They also work in higher education as professors, deans, provosts, and presidents. These fields offer high salaries and growing demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 10% growth in higher education administration positions by 2026, and these professionals earn an average annual salary of $92,3600.

Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Education Leadership

As the highest degree in its field, an online Ph.D. in higher education leadership positions graduates for leadership roles at colleges and universities, such as dean, provost, or president. Unlike a master’s program, where students train to become administrative professionals at a college or university, a doctorate prepares graduates for advanced positions at higher education offices. For example, graduates work as the dean of admissions, dean of student services, or provost.

Online doctoral programs in higher education leadership train educators for the highest positions in their field, many of which require a doctorate. With a doctorate, for example, graduates can become university professors or academic deans. Doctoral programs also teach the research skills necessary to pursue careers at government and educational support agencies.

What Can I Do with an Online Doctorate in Education Leadership?

Studying education leadership leads to careers in K-12 schools, at colleges and universities, and in related educational institutions. Because most job postings do not use the phrase “education administrator,” professionals must become familiar with the variety of job titles graduates pursue. This includes curriculum director, principal, and superintendent. At every level of education, graduates with a degree in education leadership serve in the top positions, designing improvement plans, measuring progress toward institutional goals, and overseeing teachers and staff members.

Online doctoral programs in higher education leadership prepare graduates for a variety of career paths at colleges and universities. In addition to becoming a professor, graduates can also take jobs as the dean of student services, head of admissions, provost, or even university president. In each of these roles, education leadership graduates use their skills as leaders, educational theory experts, and policymakers to improve their institution.

Career Subfields Within Education Leadership


Source: BLS

Common Career Paths and Salaries

Graduates from online doctoral programs in higher education leadership or K-12 education leadership pursue a variety of career paths. They may work as principals or superintendents, as academic deans, or in other higher education administrative positions. While the degree positions professionals for diverse careers, the list below provides examples of some common job titles.

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

Median annual salary: $94,390

Principals working at the K-12 level oversee daily activities, educational instruction, and teachers at their school. They hire qualified teachers and staff members, ensure a school meets its goals, and manage other school operations.

Academic Dean

Median annual salary: $90,315

In higher education, academic deans manage the institution’s faculty and ensure the institution meets its academic goals. They hire new faculty members, oversee budgets, and set academic standards for departments under their authority.

Curriculum Director

Median annual salary: $72,931

Curriculum directors create educational guidelines which teachers follow to meet state standards. They design long-term strategic plans for a district or school, train educators on best practices for curriculum design and implementation, and evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum.

Postsecondary Education Leadership Administrator

Median annual salary: $92,360

At the college level, education administrators oversee student services, faculty research, and academic progress. They may work in admissions, the registrar’s office, student affairs, or as an academic administrator.

College or University President

Median annual salary: $104,700

College and university presidents act as the highest administrator for their institution. They set long-term goals for the college or university and work with the provost and academic deans to oversee the institution.

Salary Progression

The salary for professionals who hold an online Ph.D. in higher education leadership or in K-12 education leadership varies depending on the location, the employer, and the candidate’s experience. In higher education administration, for example, colleges and universities offer higher salaries than junior colleges or technical colleges. Salaries also vary by location, with professionals in higher cost-of-living areas often earning higher salaries.

Education Leadership Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

Online doctoral programs in higher education leadership vary in their admission requirements, program requirements, and on-campus expectations. Most programs prefer applicants hold a master’s degree in a closely related field, and many set a minimum GPA for acceptance. They may also expect an essay, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores. Once admitted, doctoral students complete approximately 60 credits of coursework, and most full-time students take 3-4 years to complete the degree. Depending on the program, doctoral students complete either a dissertation or a capstone project at the end of their program.

Some online programs incorporate in-person components, such as residency weekends or in-person orientations for online formats and required on-campus classes for hybrid formats. Doctoral programs that incorporate a practicum or internship component let online students arrange a local site to meet the requirement.

Common Courses

  • Organizational Leadership
    Doctoral students study the theory and research in organizational leadership for the education sector, including at the elementary, secondary, and higher education levels. The course may examine the role leaders play in improving educational policy and practice, recent research on organizational leadership, and methods of organizational leadership.
  • Research and Data Analysis
    Education leadership doctoral students build valuable skills in quantitative research and data analysis. The course covers research design, methodology, and interpreting results. Students may analyze data sets, interpret statistical results, and learn to work with large databases.
  • Educational Policy
    The course addresses the lifecycle of educational policy, from creating policies to their adoption and implementation. Doctoral students study the relationship between educational policies and the political process, including at the federal, state, and local levels. The course may also examine how educational policies evolve when put into practice.
  • Ethical Leadership
    Doctoral students study ethical behavior in educational settings, including academic integrity, student assessment, community relations, the role of parents, and ethical curriculum design. The course may include readings, case analysis, and research papers, which introduce students to the consequences of unethical practices.
  • Technology and Education Leadership
    Courses on technology examine the relationship between education leadership and technology, including the role of technology on educational systems. Doctoral students learn how technology can improve student learning, professional development, and educational management. The course may also address creating strategic plans for technology use.

Other Requirements

Comprehensive Exams

In many doctoral programs, graduate students complete comprehensive or qualifying examinations after finishing the coursework requirements. This exam tests a student’s knowledge of the material covered in the program, and determines whether the doctoral student can begin their dissertation or capstone project.


Doctoral students in Ph.D. programs typically complete a dissertation to demonstrate mastery in their field. The dissertation requires original research, which students analyze and interpret in the dissertation. Doctoral students defend their dissertation before their faculty adviser and a committee of faculty members.

Skills and Competencies

During a Ph.D. in higher education leadership online, doctoral students build valuable skills and competencies that help them pursue careers in their field.

  • Leadership
    Graduate students study leadership techniques and methods, research leadership approaches in education, and develop their leadership style.
  • Research
    Doctoral programs train graduate students in research, including designing and conducting their own research.
  • Policymaking
    Students study how to create effective policies, design an implementation plan, and carry out a new policy in an educational organization.
  • Organizational Effectiveness
    Education leadership students develop skills in organizational effectiveness, including managing staff and teachers, implementing policies, and measuring institutional effectiveness.
  • Advocacy
    Education leadership programs build advocacy skills, including research-based proposals, to work in leadership positions within education.
  • Mentoring
    As an administrator, dean, or superintendent, education leadership graduates develop mentoring relationships with the coworkers and educational professionals they supervise.

Education Leadership Licensure

Some positions require education leadership graduates to earn a state license. These positions include K-12 teachers in public schools, administrators, or superintendents. The licensure requirements vary depending on the state. Teachers typically need a bachelor’s degree from a teacher training program, student teaching experience, and passing scores on any required content area or teaching skills examinations. Principals and superintendents may need a master’s degree to earn a license in their state. Completing a doctorate in education leadership may meet the state requirements for a license. Because the licensing requirements vary, students considering a field that requires a license should visit Education Commission of the States’ website to learn more about their state’s requirements.

Other career paths do not typically require a license, including positions in higher education as a professor or an administrator. In these roles, completing a doctoral degree from an accredited institution meets the hiring requirements.

Accreditation plays an important role for professionals pursuing careers in education leadership. In some states, only candidates with an accredited degree meet the licensure requirements. Employers may also choose to hire candidates with an accredited degree over other applicants. Schools of Education apply for accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). An independent, nonprofit agency, CAEP evaluates programs based on their graduation requirements, faculty qualifications, and student learning outcomes.

Education Leadership Professional Organizations

Graduate students enrolled in online doctoral programs in higher education leadership pursue careers in K-12 and higher education. When transitioning between a graduate program and the workforce, many students benefit from the resources offered by professional organizations. These organizations provide support for students and professionals, including scholarships, grants, and awards to recognize excellence in education leadership. Professional organizations also offer resources for graduates to improve as leaders in education, including research in the field, publications like Educational Leadership, and training classes.

Some professional organizations feature certifications that help education leadership professionals on the job market. They may provide career services like job boards, resume tips, and career counseling to help job seekers identify opportunities in the field. By joining a professional organization, educators can strengthen their resume, particularly if they volunteer, serve on a committee, or become a board member.

Association of Leadership Educators
The association hosts an annual conference for leaders in education, provides grants to members, and offers career resources for job seekers.

National Education Association
The largest association of educators that represents professionals working from the preschool level to higher education, NEA provides research and publications, opportunities to network with other educators, and professional development tools.

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
ASCD provides research-based training tools, webinars for members, and events with networking opportunities. The organization also publishes a magazine called Educational Leadership.

American Association of School Administrators
Educational leadership graduates who pursue school administration careers benefit from the professional development resources offered by AASA. Members can also pursue certifications or complete continuing education programs.

American Association of University Professors
AAUP represents professors at higher education institutions across the country. The association promotes professional standards and values, advances academic freedom, and provides reports and publications. AAUP also offers awards.

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