Online Ph.D. in Education

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Educators must stay on the cutting edge of policy reform and research-based instructional strategies designed to give their students the best opportunity for a bright future. Experienced teachers can climb the educational ladder and advance their careers by earning an online doctorate in education. Doctoral programs provide advanced study and research in areas of education policy, curriculum development, and educational leadership.

When complete, educators can seek high-level administrative positions within their local or state school systems, take on teaching and leadership roles in higher education, or craft policy that provides rigorous, relevant academic standards. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), opportunities for career advancement remain steady with a projected 8% increase through 2026, thanks to national education reform efforts and the retirement of the baby boomers.

Top 10 Online Ph.D. in Education

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Best Online PhD in Education

Aspiring leaders in the world of education know that for some positions, a higher degree is required. But weeding through the numerous possible schools can be daunting, and choosing the right one often proves to be a time-consuming task. That’s where a solid rankings system can help. Our ranking of the Best Online PhD in Education Degrees for 2018 is designed to help prospective students find a school that fits their needs, without the hassle of searching through hundreds of possibilities.

  • Allen College

    Waterloo, IA



  • Ball State University

    Muncie, IN



    Prospective doctorate students atBall State Universitycan earn aPhD in educational studieswith 2 specialization options: educational technology or cultural and educational policy studies. The program incorporates both online and in-person courses and takes roughly 4 years to complete. The 91-credit program includes 12 research-based credits leading to a final dissertation. To offset the cost of higher education, graduate students can apply to an assistantship program. Ball State also offers atuition discountfor midwest natives.

  • Brandman University

    Irvine, CA



  • Central Michigan University

    Mount Pleasant, MI



    Prospective doctoral students at Central Michigan University can finish their EdD in educational leadership degree through a hybrid format. Students in the program take courses online and also in-person at CMU's Saginaw Center. The program offers 4 specialization paths and requires 63 credits for graduation. Of those credits, 12 are dedicated to dissertation research and between 3 and 9 credits are reserved for practicum experience. Students who have already earned a specialist in education degree are eligible to apply 27 credits towards their Ed.D. degree.

  • City University of Seattle

    Seattle, WA



  • Clarkson College

    Omaha, NE



  • Columbus State University

    Columbus, GA



  • East Carolina University

    Greenville, NC



  • East Tennessee State University

    Johnson City, TN



  • Gratz College

    Melrose Park, PA



Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Education

Consider the specific industry and work environment when selecting your advanced degree. For many seeking administrative roles in schools or colleges, a master’s degree fulfills most educational requirements. Individuals who seek to take on top positions within a school system or plan to teach at the collegiate level must continue their education with a Ph.D. or doctorate in education.

Individuals may sometimes use the term Ph.D. and Ed.D. interchangeably, but the two degrees are not the same. While both degree paths offer an in-depth study of educational theory and practice, many educators look to Ed.D. for its practical approach to issues they have personally experienced during their careers. The Ph.D. degree, alternatively, focuses on independent research that improves understanding of educational theories or provides insight into new instructional methods. While some professions may welcome graduates from either degree, the Ph.D. remains a requirement to teach at the postsecondary level.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Education?

Earning an online doctorate of education opens the door to advanced roles in a variety of industries and fields. A doctorate prepares educators to take on leadership roles within their current school system or to teach college courses either full time or to supplement their administrative salary. Organizational structure and specific job titles vary widely among schools and states.

When conducting your job search, filtering opportunities by skills or education level rather than for a specific job title may prove helpful. Also, consider an expanded search outside of public and private education sectors. Possessing an advanced knowledge of how students learn and the theories that lay the foundation for public education make graduates attractive hires for educational technology or textbook companies. Many graduates serve as consultants for school systems, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies looking to improve student performance, teacher effectiveness, and community support.

JUNIOR COLLEGES: State, local, and privateCOLLEGES, UNIVERSITIES, AND PROFESSIONAL SCHOOLS: State, local, and private
CONSULTING: External contractorELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS: Local and private
Source: BLS

Common Career Paths and Salaries

Recipients of an online doctorate in education often seek work in the careers listed below. These job descriptions represent only a sample of the work graduates can pursue once they have earned their doctorate. Specific career paths depend on the interests and experience of the applicant.

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

Median annual salary: $94,390

This role serves as the top administrator for a school facility, with responsibility for educational achievement, hiring personnel, developing and implementing a budget, and managing facility maintenance. The principal also provides discipline for students and communicates with parents regarding issues related to academic performance, attendance, or behavior.

Instructional Coordinator

Median annual salary: $63,750

Instructional coordinators develop guides that map academic standards or curriculum resources, such as textbooks, online sites, and supplementary materials. They often provide feedback to teachers on instructional strategies and may lead department or grade-level collaborative teaching groups.

Curriculum Director

Median annual salary: $72,947

Curriculum directors often analyze student achievement data to help find appropriate resources for teachers. They often develop instructional priorities for a school system and lead the implementation of new curriculum resources or professional development for new academic standards.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Median annual salary: $92,360

Administrators may work in admissions offices, evaluating student applications; with the registrar maintaining student academic records; in the student affairs department coordinating services such as housing or student activities; or as provost or dean of a college.

University Professor

Median annual salary: $76,000

Develops lesson plans and teaches introductory or advanced courses in the field of educational practice or theory. Many schools encourage professors to seek grant funding for institutional research projects and to publish scholarly work in academic journals.

College or University President

Median annual salary: $104,700

President of a college or university leads overall operations, from academic standards to budgeting to facility maintenance. The president often serves as spokesman for the school in communication with the community, regulatory agencies, and lawmakers.

Salary Progression

Your location and specific industry will impact how much you can expect to make. For example, top-earning elementary and secondary educational administrators make upwards of $140,000 annually, while individuals in the 10th percentile for the profession earn $60,760 each year, with a median wage of $94,349. Wages can vary due to experience or location.

School systems often base their compensation on years of experience and educational attainment, as well. Connecticut, for example, pays the highest median salary, at $128,690, while administrators in West Virginia earn a much lower median salary of $69,930. While schools offer the most employment opportunities, management companies and local governments present the highest earnings.

Education Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

When applying to online education doctoral programs, always review the admission requirements for your selected schools. Most require individuals to have already earned a master’s degree in education, but some programs offer combined master’s and doctorate coursework. Applicants must also possess practical experience from working as a teacher. Students will draw on this hands-on experience when discussing theory and policy or developing a research question. Consult your selected schools for requirements regarding Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, writing samples, and professional references.

Many online Ph.D. programs offer full-time or part-time enrollment options, allowing students to continue working. While full-time students may complete the 60-credit programs in as little as three years, part-time students may take five or more years to complete their coursework and dissertation.

Some schools may organize students into cohort groups, which move through classes together in a specific sequence. Other schools may present accelerated semester formats and individual degree plans. While most online programs allow flexible scheduling with asynchronous courses, some schools provide in-person orientations and occasional on-campus requirements. These face-to-face sessions offer an opportunity to meet classmates and faculty while also taking part in leadership and team-building activities.

Common Courses

  • Research Methods
    The course covers both qualitative and quantitative research methods in academic research. Students learn to design research questions with a focus on adhering to scientific standards. The course also teaches students how to find, manage, and interpret relevant data.
  • Education Policy
    Students review the history of public education in the United States and significant policy changes over the past 200 years. It also considers the educational models used around the world, as well as the ways cultural and societal norms impact instruction, curriculum, and student achievement.
  • Learning and Development
    This course reviews research related to brain development and the instructional methods most appropriate for students of different ages. This course may offer specialization in areas of early childhood, elementary, secondary, or adult education. Students consider evidence of instructional effectiveness and alternative instructional methods.
  • Data-Driven Instruction and Assessment
    Most states collect volumes of data for every student. This course helps educators understand how to interpret that data and use the information to drive student achievement while developing appropriate learning interventions.
  • Instructional Change
    Effective school leadership helps teachers adapt and excel among changes in educational policy, initiatives, or laws. The course covers how administrators can utilize different leadership styles to help implement changes and communicate responsibilities and requirements to all staff members.

Other Requirements

Research Project

Students may spend several semesters researching a practical instructional problem or education policy. Many students draw on the classroom challenges to develop their research proposal. Some schools require the student’s employer to support the research project through access to non-proprietary data.


Students work with a panel of faculty members to develop their dissertation proposal, report the results of their research project, and write an academic paper. Students also present their dissertation to a panel and defend their research methods.

Comprehensive Exam

Students must pass a comprehensive exam before graduating. The test can vary from school to school, but it typically includes a written test or answering oral questions from a panel of faculty members. The test content covers all coursework completed during an online doctorate in education program.

Academic Publication

Some schools may require Ph.D. candidates to submit academic writing projects for publication in peer-reviewed academic journals or present their work at national academic conferences. This requirement ensures that candidates can contribute to the scholarly literature in an area of professional interest.

Skills and Competencies

In addition to the specialized knowledge gained through an online doctorate in education, students also build valuable skills that allow them to perform their duties more effectively as attractive hires after graduation.

  • Communication
    Class assignments, discussions boards, presentations, and the final dissertation provide opportunities for graduates of an online doctorate of education program to improve their writing, speaking, and visual communication skills.
  • Leadership
    Administrators often set priorities or champion initiatives to address shortcomings in a school, district, or state. Online Ph.D. in education programs help students identify their leadership style, understand the pros and cons of that style, and how to address any leadership weaknesses.
  • Problem-Solving
    Many classes evaluate a specific educational problem and require students to devise possible solutions. Final research projects often have their root in classroom problems the teacher may have experienced.
  • Data Analysis
    Education research produces volumes of data, which students learn to manage, interpret, and present by utilizing a variety of software applications. Classes in qualitative research provide practical experience by using data to draw conclusions./p>
  • Interpersonal Relationships
    Students learn to build strong professional networks and communicate through discussion boards, collaborative class activities, and in-person meetings and events.
  • Evaluation
    Lead teachers or administrators often review the performance of classroom teachers, making recommendations for improvement or noting ideas and methods the teacher could share with others. These evaluations often play a central role in retention and promotion.

Education Licensure

All states require educators to gain state certification through a combination of educational preparation and examination. Students must also graduate from a school accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Many states offer provisional licenses, providing the new teachers. After earning an initial teaching license, educators can add endorsements for new subject areas, additional educational roles, or administrative responsibilities.

These endorsements often require further education or additional testing. Usually, states will grant teachers reciprocal teaching licenses when they move from state to state. Visit the Education Commission of the States to learn about specific teaching certification requirements across the country.

Requirements for postsecondary certification vary but often depend on standards set by the school’s institutional accreditation organization. A master’s degree remains the minimum degree for a postsecondary professor, but master’s-level professors often take on introductory courses. Professors in educational practice also commonly need active state certification and classroom experience to teach.

Schools often seek doctorate-level professors to teach advanced courses in their field. In addition to teaching, postsecondary teachers also usually take on independent research projects and publish their work in peer-reviewed academic journals. Many college and university leadership positions also require in-depth knowledge of how students learn, best practices for developing student knowledge, and how to advocate for higher education policies.

Education Professional Organizations

Many states require educators to complete professional development sessions to ensure they remain current on changes in law, instructional research, and educational priorities. Professional organizations offer in-depth educational discussions that meet these requirements while also providing access to a network of teachers and administrators. Networking allows teachers to share their best practices, seek out mentors, and identify career advancement opportunities. When choosing an organization for membership, individuals should consider their research interests, current and prospective position, and area of specialization.

Most organizations present opportunities to showcase leadership abilities through volunteering for committees, publishing original research, and serving on local or state boards. Many provide guidance and advocacy for legislative priorities, explaining to constituents, elected officials, and educators how policy and changes in law may impact teachers and students at the classroom level. These opportunities build valuable skills and knowledge in addition to enhancing an individual’s resume.

  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
    Membership includes school superintendents, principals, and teachers along with education advocates to support educators throughout their career. Members receive subscriptions to Educational Leadership magazine, multiple newsletters, and professional development webinars.
  • American Educational Research Association
    AERA promotes educational research to improve schools with an emphasis on educational processes. Members can take part in 12 divisions and 155 special interest groups, with numerous lectures and webinars throughout the year. Members receive a subscription to Educational Researcher and access to the AERA job board.
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
    Elementary principals can find affiliate organizations of the NAESP in every state, as well as Canada and overseas. Members advocate for professional standards and national efforts that prioritize education. Monthly webinars provide ongoing professional development, while conferences and conventions promote professional networking and leadership opportunities. Members also enjoy discounts on office and school supplies and travel.
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
    NASSP offers specialized professional development resources and an online networking community to help secondary principals advance their careers. Newsletters provide quick updates on new legislation and education news, and their webinars tackle essential issues in education, such as emotional learning or recruiting new school leaders.
  • American Association of University Professors
    AAUP provides university professors access to professional development webinars and conferences, with tools to help them navigate current issues in higher education, such as advocating for additional funding or ensuring a robust exchange of student ideas. Members receive the bimonthly magazine Academe and enjoy discounts on the organization’s collection of policy documents and reports. It also offers access to medical and professional insurance.

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