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The Online Doctorate in Education

Teachers, researchers and administrators pursue online doctorates in education that allow them to continue their current roles while building advanced credentials that are required qualifications for some educational professions. Employment opportunities are on the horizon for educators. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has established job growth projections for the period from 2012 to 2022, for the range of careers available to doctors of education. Occupations such as education administrators and post-secondary teachers should see a growth rate between 10 percent and 14 percent, while curriculum coordinators could see 20 percent growth.

Online doctoral programs in education can provide specific advantages. This one-stop comprehensive guide offers detailed resources for those seeking an online doctoral degree. There’s a listing of top schools with online doctorates in education, details on admissions and graduation requirements among the degree specialties, and licensing information. Also included is an interview with a graduate of an online education doctorate program. In addition, a search tool allows prospective students to discover degree programs that match their educational objectives.

Top Online Doctorate Degrees in Education

A doctorate in education is often the final goal of many students in the education track, specifically those who intend to go on to positions of leadership or administration within the education community. Colleges and universities across the country have seen an increased need for online programs, due to their flexibility and convenience, and have begun offering doctoral programs in education for those students unable to attend physical classes regularly. The programs listed here have ranked among the top in the nation for the online doctorate in education programs.

SCORE:  98.92 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: New Mexico

New Mexico State University offers two types of online doctoral programs in education: a Doctorate of Education (EdD) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Major areas of concentration include Curriculum & Instruction (C&I) and Education Leadership. For C&I, the curriculum covers a range of concentrations, such as Learning Design and Technology, Critical Pedagogies and Early Childhood Education. A blended program, C&I requires students to use the University’s online learning management system to take classes during the fall and spring semesters, and attend two weeks of on-campus courses during summer sessions. Like C&I, the Education Leadership program is also a blended program, requiring both online classes and on-campus instruction. The 63 credit-hour EdD includes 39 credit-hours in core educational leadership coursework, while the 78 credit-hour PhD option also requires an additional 15 hours of research-focused study.

  • ED in Educational Leadership
  • PhD in Educational Leadership
  • PhD in Curriculum and Instruction
SCORE:  98.29 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Wyoming

The University of Wyoming offers two online doctoral degree paths for students in education with a concentration in Adult and & Postsecondary Education: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Education (EdD). The PhD program can prepare graduates to pursue positions of academic scholarship and research, while the EdD program is designed to prepare graduates for leadership positions at postsecondary institutions.

The EdD in Adult & Postsecondary Education requires between 77 and 80 credit hours of study, delivered either through online classes or audio conferencing. Students are also required to complete two annual on-campus residencies at the Laramie, Wyoming campus. The PhD program requires 81 credit-hours of study, with classes delivered via online, on-campus or through a blended format. Students in the PhD program must complete an extended residency of one to two years of classwork on campus.

  • ED in Educational Administration (Adult and Postsecondary Education Cognate)
  • PhD in Educational Administration (Adult and Postsecondary Education Cognate)
SCORE:  98.07 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Nebraska

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers students the opportunity to select from two online doctoral paths in Educational Leadership and Higher Education: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Education (EdD). The EdD is a fully online doctoral program, while the PhD does include a 6-credit on-campus residency requirement.

Both programs share core curriculum components in topics such as administrative theory, educational administration research and educational law. The PhD is designed for individuals pursuing careers in academic scholarship, providing them with a firm understanding of both qualitative and quantitative research methods in education, as well as practical, real-world issues that impact educators and researchers alike. The curriculum of the EdD program is designed to develop the critical thinking and educational leadership skills of students looking to pursue administrative positions in higher education.

  • ED in Educational Leadership and Higher Education
  • PhD in Educational Leadership and Higher Education
  • ED in Education Administration (P-12 Educational Administration)
SCORE:  97.94 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Florida

The University of Florida offers a diverse array of online doctoral programs in education for prospective students looking to specialize in areas such as educational leadership and educational administration leadership. Each EdD doctorate program is designed for the working professional, delivered in a blended format of online learning and campus-based weekend or summer sessions.

The EdD in education at the University of Florida is a professional, application-based program of study designed to enhance and advance the skill sets of practicing educators working in areas such as in K-12 settings, higher education, faculty development and instructional design.

  • ED in Curriculum and Instruction (Educational Technology)
  • ED in Curriculum and Instruction (Curriculum Teaching and Teacher Education)
  • ED in Educational Leadership
SCORE:  97.63 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Tennessee

East Tennessee State University offers students a fully-online Doctorate of Education (EdD) degree in educational leadership. Students may customize their educational experience in one of three concentrations: administration, post-secondary and private sector leadership or school leadership. The goal of the program it to enhance and develop the skills of individuals working in educational leadership positions, whether in the K-12 setting, at community or four-year colleges or in private sector organizations.

The core curriculum focuses on quantitative and qualitative research, leadership studies and administration theory. A dissertation is required for graduation. Students may take classes via both asynchronous (no time-specific meetings required) and synchronous (requires scheduled class-time and instruction) formats through the university’s D2L online learning platform.

  • ED in Educational Leadership (Administrative Endorsement)
  • ED in Educational Leadership (Post Secondary and Private Sector Leadership)
  • ED in Educational Leadership (School Leadership)
SCORE:  97.33 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Georgia

The University of West Georgia offers a doctorate in education program with concentrations in School Improvement, Professional Counseling and Supervision and Nursing Education. While classwork can be completed entirely online or through distance learning technology, each concentration does have one on-campus orientation requirement.

The EdD in Nursing Education is designed to prepare graduates to train the nurses of tomorrow through an 11-semester, 60-credit doctoral program. The EdD in School Improvement is a 3-year, 60 credit-hour doctoral degree that offers students the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to make systemic changes to K-12 schools and educational systems. The Professional Counseling and Supervision EdD is a 36 credit-hour program that can be completed in two years of continual studies, and can helps professional counselors to advance in their careers.

  • ED in School Improvement
  • ED in Nursing Education
SCORE:  96.88 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Louisiana

The online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Curriculum and Instruction is a professional degree designed to prepare individuals for administrative and leadership positions in both education and allied health. Students may select from two concentrations in the online EdD program: Curriculum and Instruction or Health Professions Education (HPRE). A 60-credit program, the curriculum is divided into three components, including program core classes, major concentration coursework and a dissertation.

The Curriculum and Instruction program prepares graduates to impact educational policy and instruction at both the K-12 and higher education level. The HPRE doctorate offers allied health professionals the opportunity to advance conceptual knowledge and practical skills in both health information and care delivery in today’s modern health care system.

  • ED in Curriculum and Instruction
  • ED in Health Professions Education
SCORE:  96.44 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

The Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EdD) at Lamar University is a fully-online, 60 credit-hour program. Students admitted to the program can typically complete the program in 8 semesters of study.

Designed for educators seeking advanced leadership positions in their school and community, the EdD in Educational Leadership allows students to specialize their studies in one of three concentrations: Effective Schooling, Diversity and Multiculturalism or Higher Education and Technology. Curriculum is divided into four major components, including 21 credit-hours of core classes, 15 credit-hours in elective classes, 12 credit-hours of research and a 12 credit-hour dissertation.

  • ED in Educational Leadership
SCORE:  96.25 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Virginia

The online doctoral education programs at Liberty University offer students the opportunity to complete a program of study in multiple areas of concentration, such as educational leadership or counselor education. Both Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Education (EdD) options are available, depending on the specific program. All programs can be completed entirely online; however, the EdD programs in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction require three on-campus intensive sessions at the university’s Lynchburg, Virginia campus.

The PhD in Counselor Education is a 63 credit-hour program that also includes a 6 credit-hour experienced-based internship as part of the graduation requirements. The EdD program is a 60 credit-hour degree that also requires a 6 credit-hour dissertation to graduate.

  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • ED in Curriculum and Instruction
  • ED in Educational Leadership
SCORE:  95.76 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

Texas Tech University offers students a robust selection of online doctoral programs in education, culminating in either a Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Specializations include Agricultural Education, Higher Education and Curriculum and Instruction. The graduate program is designed for the professional development of educators and higher education professionals to pursue advanced academic scholarship, research or leadership positions in their respective fields.

Both the EdD and PhD programs in Education are offered in a hybrid format, allowing students to complete a majority of their coursework online, with minimal face-to-face residencies. The EdD in Agricultural Education is a 64 credit-hour program which utilizes virtual learning environments and interactive video conferencing. The EdD in Higher Education requires annual, week-long visits during the summer session of the first three years of the program.

  • ED in Agricultural Education
  • ED in Higher Education
SCORE:  95.74 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Indiana

The online PhD programs in education at Indiana State University afford students the opportunity to select from two concentrations: school administration and higher education leadership. The PhD in school administration is designed for educators in K-12 settings, covering topics ranging from educational law to educational thought. Available entirely online, students typically can complete core coursework in one year of study, with another 18 to 24 months required to complete the dissertation.

The PhD in higher education leadership is taught through a blended model of online and on-campus instruction and workshops. Designed for higher education professionals working in administrative leadership at two- and four-year college institutions, the curriculum combines the conceptual study of higher education and its social and philosophical foundations. The program also requires a two-semester, field-based internship under the supervision of an on-site representative and university supervisor.

  • PhD in Educational Administration (Higher Education Leadership)
  • PhD in Educational Administration (School Administration)
SCORE:  95.57 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Tennessee

The online graduate programs in education at the University of Memphis afford students the opportunity to select from multiple degree avenues, including adult education and higher education. The Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees can be completed entirely online with one a one-week visit to campus during each summer of the program.

The EdD in Adult Education is designed to prepare graduates to pursue academic scholarship or for advanced positions in their respective industries. On the other hand, the EdD in Higher Education is for individuals seeking senior positions within higher education, both at universities and colleges at and education-related organizations.

  • ED in Higher Education
  • ED in Adult Education,
SCORE:  93.39 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

The doctoral programs in education at Texas A&M University offer prospective students the opportunity to complete their studies through an online learning format in multiple concentrations, including Agricultural Education and Curriculum and Instruction. The online Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction is a 64-semester credit-hour program, designed to prepare teachers for leadership positions in a K-12 setting. In addition to completing their coursework through online classes, students must also complete two 150-hour internships during the third year of studies.

The online Doctor of Education in Agricultural Education is a unique joint venture between Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University. The program uses a blended learning format including virtual learning environments and video conferencing, as well as two required face-to-face meetings each year.

  • ED in Agricultural Education
SCORE:  93.18 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Illinois

The Interdisciplinary Leadership Doctorate of Education (EdD) program at Governors State University is designed to effectively teach leadership and decision-making skills of professionals in four specialized areas: education superintendent (PK-12), higher education administration, public safety and social entrepreneurship (nonprofit).

Students may complete their coursework entirely online or choose from a hybrid (on-campus and online) learning format. In the EdD program, students are exposed to fundamental concepts and applications of strategic planning, ethical practices, organizational leadership, community relations and research. The program requires a final capstone project, which involves the creation and oral defense of a research-based practicum project.

  • ED in Interdisciplinary Leadership
SCORE:  93.18 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Idaho

The Doctor of Philosophy in Instructional Design at Idaho State University is a blended graduate program. Divided between 52 credits of instruction through fully-online classes and 15 core classes taught either online or via video conferencing, the program is designed to prepare students with the theoretical knowledge and technical skills required to assume leadership positions within the field of instructional design in education.

The PhD relies on practical, experience-based instruction in the research, design and implementation of educational curriculum to meet specific outcomes. Instructional design PhD students complete their coursework in four major areas: core professional studies (12 credits), research and statistics (15 credits), instructional design specialty studies (30 credits) and a dissertation (10 credits).

  • PhD in Instructional Design
SCORE:  92.00 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: North Carolina

The Doctor of Education (EdD) in Adult and Community College Education at North Carolina University is an executive program, designed to be completed through a blended model of face-to-face instruction on the weekends and online classes. The program is designed for education professionals in or seeking leadership positions in higher education, including 4-year institutions and community colleges.

Prospective students must possess a master’s degree and passing scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to be considered for admission. The degree program can be completed in three and half years of set curriculum.

  • ED in Adult and Community College Education
SCORE:  91.87 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

Texas Tech University offers students a robust selection of online doctoral programs in education, culminating in either a Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Specializations include Agricultural Education, Higher Education and Curriculum and Instruction. The graduate program is designed for the professional development of educators and higher education professionals to pursue advanced academic scholarship, research or leadership positions in their respective fields.

Both the EdD and PhD programs in Education are offered in a hybrid format, allowing students to complete a majority of their coursework online, with minimal face-to-face residencies. The EdD in Agricultural Education is a 64 credit-hour program which utilizes virtual learning environments and interactive video conferencing. The EdD in Higher Education requires annual, week-long visits during the summer session of the first three years of the program.

  • PhD in Learning Technologies
SCORE:  91.77 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Georgia

The online Doctor of Education in Teacher Leadership at Kennesaw State University is designed to prepare K-12 educators for leadership positions in both their schools and respective school districts. A 45-credit hour performance program, the EdD in Teacher Leadership includes four main areas of study: certification in teacher leadership, advanced teacher leadership, research and a dissertation. Students must also complete a 6-month residency in addition to a final capstone project to graduate.

Graduates of the program earn a Service (S) certificate in Teacher Leadership and are prepared to serve as teaching mentors, have an understanding of best teaching practices, the ability to take a research-based approach to teaching and advanced knowledge of curriculum design and implementation.

  • ED in Teacher Leadership
SCORE:  91.44 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Delaware

The Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership and Innovation at Wilmington University is an online doctoral program that can typically be completed in three years of study. The program is designed for the professional development of individuals working in higher education, such as administrators or faculty. A 57-credit program, the EdD is divided into three major components: core coursework, an experienced-based field internship and an applied research dissertation/capstone project.

The EdD curriculum covers areas such as adult development, supervisory behavior, higher education policy and material resources. The internship requires at least 120 hours of work, which offers students the opportunity to apply their classroom-based knowledge to real-world situations and problems.

  • ED in Higher Education Leadership and Innovation
SCORE:  91.21 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: South Carolina

The Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of South Carolina is an online degree program that prepares educators and administrators for leadership positions in both K-12 and higher education settings. A 36-month program, the doctoral degree requires 60 credit-hours of study including an applied research dissertation.

The program is divided into core curriculum courses, research courses, cognate courses, a comprehensive examination and the dissertation. Topics of instruction range from curriculum leadership and diversity in curriculum to research in education and research in teaching.

  • ED in Curriculum and Instruction
SCORE:  91.06 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Indiana

The Education Doctorate (EdD) in Information Systems Technology is Indiana University’s first fully online doctorate program, one that is designed for professionals working in either human performance improvement or instruction design. A 60 credit-hour program of study, the curriculum offers a comprehensive instruction in a variety of related-areas, including educational technology, instructional design, performance technology, instructional technology and workforce learning and performance improvement.

Through conceptual and practice-based instruction in learning environments, analysis and design, students are able to apply their research to craft a range of instructional materials. A single on-campus visit is required to attend the university’s annual instructional technology conference. In addition, a dissertation is required of all students in the program.

  • ED in Instructional Systems Technology
SCORE:  90.98 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Maine

The Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership at the University of New England is a fully-online doctoral program that does not have a residency requirement. A 51 credit-hour program, the degree is accredited by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC).

Divided into a three-year program of study, the EdD in Educational Leadership concentrates the curriculum around areas such as policy analysis, transformative leadership, qualitative research methods and ethical leadership. During the final year of the program, online students are required to complete and defend a 12-credit dissertation that focuses on applied research in the field.

  • ED in Educational Leadership
SCORE:  90.22 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: New Jersey

The online EdD in Educational Leadership is designed to be completed in five years (10 semesters) of study. The program includes 60 semester hours of coursework, including 12 semester hours dedicated to the dissertation. Students may select from a variety of concentrations for the EdD, such as higher education, P-12 and community college leadership.

Designed for professionals pursuing administrative or leadership positions in K-12 or higher education settings, the EdD program offers a comprehensive curriculum that covers core topics in areas such as educational research, qualitative analysis and leadership theory. Although students may complete their benchmark classes via online studies, the doctoral program does require two residencies at the Glassboro, New Jersey campus: a four-day visit before the program starts and a three-day visit at the conclusion of the second year of study to prepare for dissertations.

  • ED in Educational Leadership
SCORE:  89.70 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Illinois

The online Doctor of Education in Higher Education and Organizational Change from Benedictine University is a professionally-oriented degree that offers students a specialized, interdisciplinary program of study. It also sets the foundation for the pursuit of advanced careers in higher education administration and leadership.

The degree program is split into thirds. Year one focuses on foundational instruction in organizational change and institutional planning. Year two moves to the study of current issues and trends that impact the organization of higher education, including emerging technologies or resource management. Year three is dedicated to the student’s research, writing and defense of a dissertation.

Online students receive customized, personal support from an advisor, access to instructors and professors through online chat and virtual office boards, and may access their coursework online at their convenience.

  • ED in Higher Education and Organizational Change
SCORE:  89.24 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Illinois

The online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Educational Psychology and Technology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is a research-focused, professional degree. The degree offers students the opportunity to select from one of three concentrations: Higher Education (Learning and Technology), Organizational Learning and Technology and K-12 Education (Learning and Technology). A 60-credit program, the degree is designed to be completed in three years of part-time study.

Although students may complete their coursework through online classes, the department does require students to participate in two 2.5 day residencies at one of the university’s campuses.

  • ED in Educational Psychology and Technology
SCORE:  88.85 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: No STATE: Kentucky

The Doctor of Education (EdD) program at the University of the Cumberlands offers two specialization tracks for prospective students: Educational Leadership and Counselor Education. The EdD in Educational Leadership is a 60 credit-hour doctoral program that can be completed entirely online. The curriculum focuses on preparing educators for academic leadership roles through comprehensive instruction in areas such as strategic planning, leadership theory, adulthood learning and online learning.

The EdD in Counselor Education and Supervision is a hybrid-model doctoral program that allows students to complete a majority of their studies online, with minimal face-to-face residencies required. Curriculum in the program is designed to prepare graduates to develop advanced administrative and clinical counseling skills to pursue supervisory or leadership positions both in higher education teaching environments and in private practice.

  • ED in Educational Leadership
  • ED in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision
SCORE:  85.61 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: No STATE: Idaho

The doctoral programs in education at Northwest Nazarene University are available in two formats: a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a Doctor of Education (EdD). Although both focus on educational leadership, the PhD is a research-based degree that emphasizes the study of educational trends, while the EdD is an application-based degree that focuses research on policies and practices that impact school systems.

A 22-month program, the doctoral program in education can be completed through online classes that allows flexibility for students, as well as a two week on-campus session held during the summer to prepare students for their dissertation. Curriculum covers a spectrum of topics, from data analysis, policy development and effective leadership to qualitative research.

  • ED in Educational Leadership
  • PhD in Educational Leadership
SCORE:  83.37 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: No STATE: Georgia

The online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Leadership seeks to foster a better understanding of complexities of educational organization, studying the intersection of knowledge and inquiry, to maximize the leadership skills of current and future educational administrators in both the K-12 and higher education settings. The program includes multiple concentrations of study including Teacher Leadership, Technology Leadership, Executive Leadership, Curriculum Leadership and Higher Education Leadership.

Graduates of the program will have completed an application for graduation, maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA as well as completed the university’s Advanced Inventory of Leadership Experiences.

  • ED in Leadership

Types of Online Education Doctorates

There are two major doctoral degrees in education, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education and the Doctor of Education (EdD), each with a set of specializations, distinctions and outcomes. The choice ultimately depends on the career goal of the student. For an online PhD, education programs focus on scholarship and research into theoretical subjects, while the EdD is designed for professionals who apply best practices in the educational workplace. The PhD is a dissertation-focused program suited for educational theorists and university-based educators. The EdD is an advanced project-focused program appropriate for superintendents, curriculum administrators and school district policy leaders. The following breakdown sheds greater light on the curriculum and outcomes as they align with career objectives.

PhD

The Doctor of Philosophy in Education

The PhD is recognized as the pinnacle of academic achievement in education. Pursuing an online PhD, education students typically spend from three to five years, depending on specializations and requirements. These PhDs typically require completion of 90-95 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree. Applicants usually must hold a master’s degree in education. PhD studies include focused research in fields such as early childhood and special education, instructional technology, educational psychology, curriculum development, statistical methods, experimental design and critical pedagogy. Mid-path examinations are common to benchmark a student’s understanding of the subject matter and qualify them for PhD candidacy.

When seeking an online PhD, education students commonly devote the first two years to completing doctoral-level courses in the major specialization and related colloquia. The balance of the program is applied to completion of a scholarly dissertation focused on the synthesis of applied research that results in the student’s contribution to the field. Credits are offered for research and dissertation preparation. The degree is appropriate for scholars preparing for a career in higher education as a professor, researcher or consultant. Graduates may work in colleges and universities, private and governmental educational research organizations, curriculum development and educational testing firms.

EdD

The Doctorate of Education

The EdD degree program is the choice for advanced educators seeking leadership or administrative roles that focus on assessment, organizational improvement, policy development and education strategy. Online doctorates in education may take from three to four years to complete, depending whether the student participates in full-time or part-time studies. Graduation requirements vary but closely mirror those in PhD education programs with 90 credits needed beyond the bachelor’s degree.

EdD students spend the first year of studies completing required core courses and selected concentration areas in areas including education administration, policy, higher education management and leadership, and resource development and design. The balance of the program is dedicated to research and preparation of a dissertation. Whereas PhD dissertations seek to add to scholarship in the field, EdD dissertations typically concentrate on problems in practice, assessments and remedies. Admissions requirements vary by program; most online schools require completion of a master’s degree in education with up to 36 hours that can be transferred for credit.

Researching Education PhDs: Key Questions

Online degree programs have gained acceptance by educators. A 2012 Sloan Consortium study found that more than three-quarters of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face instruction. Today, universities with online doctoral programs in education have extended degree options and specializations. These institutions may offer both an online PhD and EdD degree. The challenge for advanced students is to identify the academic path that matches their career aspirations, and to explore how prospective programs meet their academic and course-delivery standards. Before applying to schools, here are three critical areas to research or ask departmental representatives, counselors or faculty advisors about:

1. Is the program accredited, and by which accrediting organization?

Accreditation is the voluntary process through which institutions of higher learning are evaluated on academic standards of quality by an independent agency. National, regional and specialized bureaus may offer accreditations for an entire institution, its school of education, or specific online programs. Accreditation serves to protect the value of a degree, attest to the eminence of one’s education and qualify the institution to participate in federal financial aid programs. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a searchable database of accreditations held by postsecondary degree programs.

2. What are the strengths of the program?

Depending on the choice of PhD or EdD programs, which academic qualities distinguish this university? Which online faculty members are known for their subject-matter expertise, publications, professional service or awards? Is the program ranked? Does it participate with state, regional or federal or private research institutions, educational associations or partnerships?

3. What percentage of doctoral students complete their degrees?

Doctoral programs are long and strenuous endeavors. Online doctorates in education present unique challenges for students. Colleges and universities offering an online doctoral education keep track of student progress and degree completion metrics. In some cases, students may temporarily be delayed from completing their dissertation research and writing – even though they have satisfied all course requirements. Ask about the time-to-completion data on previous candidates as well as the percentage of students who earn their degrees.

Doctoral Concentrations and Careers

Online PhD and EdD degree programs provide a core advanced education, allowing students to devote the balance of their studies to specializations pertinent to their career goals. Specialties can overlap across the professions. Some students may focus on research track programs, or they may apply their learning in a number of verticals applicable to teaching and education administration. Here’s a detailed list of some of the more popular concentrations at the doctoral level at online schools of education:

Educational Leadership

This doctoral specialty focuses on developing leadership competencies in strategic planning, operations, teacher recruitment, change management, team building and organizational leadership. Curriculum focuses on leadership applications to K-12 and postsecondary education, global business, non-profit organizations and government.

Postsecondary Educator

Doctoral grads join the faculties of postsecondary institutions as community college teachers or college and university professors. At research universities, professors engage in scholarship in their education specialties in addition to leading classes.

Health Care Education and Administration Officers

Graduates holding a Doctor of Education (EdD) with a concentration in Health Care Education serve as instructional designers, researchers, consultants, innovators and administrators in governmental, nonprofit, academic and community settings. They develop and lead initiatives in educational technology, public policy, health promotion and education, and professional development.

Principals and Superintendents of Schools

Armed with an EdD, these education leaders may serve as elementary, middle and high school principals. Advanced roles include leadership officers with school districts, state boards of education or governmental entities overseeing teacher licensing and educational program administration.

Curriculum Developer / Instructional Coordinator

Curriculum developers and officers work with colleges, universities, K-12 school districts, state education organizations and private educational firms in developing and monitoring teaching standards, curriculum, testing and student assessment. They may hold specializations in art, early childhood, stem curriculum, special populations, reading and literacy education.

Special Education

Major studies and research prepare doctoral candidates in leadership theory and evidence-based practice in special education delivery in public or private K-12 schools, education agencies and district-wide organizations. Courses can include studies in behavior analysis, early intervention, disabled – including deaf and blind – populations, emotional disorders, learning disabilities and socioeconomic challenges.

Principals and Superintendents of Schools

Armed with an EdD, these education leaders may serve as elementary, middle and high school principals. Advanced roles include leadership officers with school districts, state boards of education or governmental entities overseeing teacher licensing and educational program administration.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Education administrators work across the college spectrum in specialties including student advising, admissions and student affairs. They may be appointed as registrars, officers, college deans and provosts. Specializations can include education leadership and policy, technology and innovation.

Educational Counselor/Psychologist

To work in this field, educators are required to complete multidisciplinary degrees that include a psychology specialization. Counselors need to complete state licensing and professional certificates to work as school psychologists.

Educational Psychology/Community Counseling

This specialization focuses on the development of research, theoretical and methodological skills in research, evaluation and measurement in educational psychology. Core studies include courses in child development, cognitive science of teaching, prevention and intervention, educational assessments, and data-driven/evidence-based decision making.

Postsecondary Educator

Doctoral grads join the faculties of postsecondary institutions as community college teachers or college and university professors. At research universities, professors engage in scholarship in their education specialties in addition to leading classes.

Educational Counselor/Psychologist

To work in this field, educators are required to complete multidisciplinary degrees that include a psychology specialization. Counselors need to complete state licensing and professional certificates to work as school psychologists.

Curriculum Developer/Instructional Coordinator

Curriculum developers and officers work with colleges, universities, K-12 school districts, state education organizations and private educational firms in developing and monitoring teaching standards, curriculum, testing and student assessment. They may hold specializations in art, early childhood, stem curriculum, special populations, reading and literacy education.

Health Care Education and Administration Officers

Graduates holding a Doctor of Education (EdD) with a concentration in Health Care Education serve as instructional designers, researchers, consultants, innovators and administrators in governmental, nonprofit, academic and community settings. They develop and lead initiatives in educational technology, public policy, health promotion and education, and professional development.

Language and Literacy

The specialization is designed for research scholars, policy leaders and curriculum developers. Courses focus on literacy theory, language and literacy development, instruction, and special problems arising from social, cultural and linguistic factors.

Principals and Superintendents of Schools

Armed with an EdD, these education leaders may serve as elementary, middle and high school principals. Advanced roles include leadership officers with school districts, state boards of education or governmental entities overseeing teacher licensing and educational program administration.

Curriculum Developer/Instructional Coordinator

Curriculum developers and officers work with colleges, universities, K-12 school districts, state education organizations and private educational firms in developing and monitoring teaching standards, curriculum, testing and student assessment. They may hold specializations in art, early childhood, stem curriculum, special populations, reading and literacy education.

Postsecondary Educator

Doctoral grads join the faculties of postsecondary institutions as community college teachers or college and university professors. At research universities, professors engage in scholarship in their education specialties in addition to leading classes.

Educational Counselor/Psychologist

To work in this field, educators are required to complete multidisciplinary degrees that include a psychology specialization. Counselors need to complete state licensing and professional certificates to work as school psychologists.

Learning and Technology

This program was designed for teaching and research professionals working in both academic and non-academic settings. The curriculum centers on data analysis and issues including modeling, interpretive analysis, learning theory, problem solving, cognitive psychology, technology and organizational change, the design and implementation of online learning environments and related digital materials.

Principals and Superintendents of Schools

Armed with an EdD, these education leaders may serve as elementary, middle and high school principals. Advanced roles include leadership officers with school districts, state boards of education or governmental entities overseeing teacher licensing and educational program administration.

Curriculum Developer / Instructional Coordinator

Curriculum developers and officers work with colleges, universities, K-12 school districts, state education organizations and private educational firms in developing and monitoring teaching standards, curriculum, testing and student assessment. They may hold specializations in art, early childhood, stem curriculum, special populations, reading and literacy education.

Postsecondary Educator

Doctoral grads join the faculties of postsecondary institutions as community college teachers or college and university professors. At research universities, professors engage in scholarship in their education specialties in addition to leading classes.

Educational Counselor/Psychologist

To work in this field, educators are required to complete multidisciplinary degrees that include a psychology specialization. Counselors need to complete state licensing and professional certificates to work as school psychologists.

Corporate Training Manager/Consultant

Training consultants work in the business and nonprofit sectors to plan, develop and enhance employee-education programs. Professionals use the methodologies and problem-solving practices gleaned in their doctoral work to conduct research in best practices and curriculum delivery.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Education administrators work across the college spectrum in specialties including student advising, admissions and student affairs. They may be appointed as registrars, officers, college deans and provosts. Specializations can include education leadership and policy, technology and innovation.

Postsecondary Educator

Doctoral grads join the faculties of postsecondary institutions as community college teachers or college and university professors. At research universities, professors engage in scholarship in their education specialties in addition to leading classes.

Curriculum Developer / Instructional Coordinator

Curriculum developers and officers work with colleges, universities, K-12 school districts, state education organizations and private educational firms in developing and monitoring teaching standards, curriculum, testing and student assessment. They may hold specializations in art, early childhood, stem curriculum, special populations, reading and literacy education.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Education administrators work across the college spectrum in specialties including student advising, admissions and student affairs. They may be appointed as registrars, officers, college deans and provosts. Specializations can include education leadership and policy, technology and innovation.

Health Care Education and Administration Officers

Graduates holding a Doctor of Education (EdD) with a concentration in Health Care Education serve as instructional designers, researchers, consultants, innovators and administrators in governmental, nonprofit, academic and community settings. They develop and lead initiatives in educational technology, public policy, health promotion and education, and professional development.

Educational Counselor / Psychologist

To work in this field, educators are required to complete multidisciplinary degrees that include a psychology specialization. Counselors need to complete state licensing and professional certificates to work as school psychologists.

Principals and Superintendents of Schools

Armed with an EdD, these education leaders may serve as elementary, middle and high school principals. Advanced roles include leadership officers with school districts, state boards of education or governmental entities overseeing teacher licensing and educational program administration.

Corporate Training Manager/Consultant

Training consultants work in the business and nonprofit sectors to plan, develop and enhance employee-education programs. Professionals use the methodologies and problem-solving practices gleaned in their doctoral work to conduct research in best practices and curriculum delivery.

Timeline for Online Doctorate, Enrollment to Graduation

By the moment students round their potential degree programs into a short list for applications, the march toward the doctoral begins. The clock is already ticking toward admissions and first-year studies. Keep in mind that many online PhD in Education and EdD programs begin with a pre-semester orientation session, with classes running through all four seasons, including summers. It’s time to investigate the application deadlines and requirements, the academic calendar and multi-year course progressions through graduation day – for each school on the short list. The following sample timeline maps out the typical sequence for three-year online doctoral programs in education:

Year 0

Application requirements can have distinct variations among the online PhD and EdD programs, with required items such as transcripts of previous academic work, letters of recommendation, applicable test scores and, for international students, test scores for proof of English proficiency. There are drop-dead deadlines for submissions of all applications and support materials. Missing a deadline may not only disqualify students for entry, but can push back the schedule for completing the degree by a semester or more. Here are tips for hitting all the applications deadlines:

Submit transcripts and test scores

Most doctoral degree programs in Education do not require Graduate Records Examination (GRE) scores since entry requirements include the satisfactory completion of a post-baccalaureate master’s in education from an accredited college or university. Students can order official transcripts from previous undergraduate and graduate schools on the Internet or by mail.

Gather professional endorsements

A critical component of all applications at the doctoral level is the submission of three letters of recommendation from former professors, education administrators or work superiors that attest to skills in the classroom or other current employment. It can take time to contact potential references and more time to receive letters. Start early.

Complete application essays

Essays can make a positive difference in applying to competitive doctoral programs. Target programs indicate the topic and suggested length of application essays, but major components include a declaration of academic goals and interests, a statement of what the student can contribute to the college community, and how the program matches their educational goals and research interests. Be sure to touch up a resume or CV for inclusion in the application packet.

Schedule and complete entry interviews

Online doctoral programs in education may require an interview. In many cases, the requirement can be completed virtually through Skype or school video conferencing tools.

Submit and track application materials

A deadline has the power of a slammed door. Don’t miss them. Check with admissions offices to ensure that the packet is complete and arrived on time.

Years 1
Research residency requirements

Depending on the program, students may be required to attend short-term, on-campus orientations or beginning seminars with their cohorts. These can be required in the summer proceeding the initial fall semester.

Begin applicable research assistantships

One way students can offset tuition costs is to perform directed research for a mentor or education professor.

Identify specialization or area of interest

Typically the School of Education requires first-year students to declare an academic area of interest. The choice not only informs first-year studies but can lay a foundation for work leading up to the thesis or dissertation in the third year. This is the strategic time to begin the challenging amount of reading for the dissertation, along with working with faculty mentors in focusing the research.

Complete introductory and first-year core classes

First-year students may begin the sequence undertaking courses in a review of literature in the field, research methodology, statistics and measurement. In the spring semester, the curriculum turns to initial studies in their specialization.

Years 2
Undertake advanced studies in the specialization

Depending on the degree and focus, students complete courses beyond the core foundation. Classes may include work in school finance, education law, school psychology, ethnographic methods, educational leadership, language arts and reading, curriculum development and instructional design, educational technology, approaches to educational problems and politics in education.

Begin dissertation research

Working with faculty advisors or mentors, students further refine their research toward solving education problems or evaluating scholarship in their field.

Years 3+
Complete required courses

Students that have not completed the curriculum use this year in finishing core and specialization coursework.

Pass comprehensive examinations

At the beginning of the third year, students sit for a comprehensive examination and assessment of candidacy for the doctorate. The examination covers the academic studies completed in years one and two, measuring the student’s integration of key theoretical concepts and educational practices in their field. This is a critical time in measuring progress toward the completion of the degree.

Complete and defend the dissertation

Working with mentors and advisors, students propose a thesis to a departmental panel. Courses this year offer direct credits dedicated to research and writing of the dissertation.

Graduation

Depending upon the degree, students typically submit a formal application for graduation. The select department committee evaluates the student’s academic record, satisfaction of course requirements and dissertation defense in recommending approval of the application.

Spotlight: Johns Hopkins University Online EdD

Johns Hopkins University

The School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, established in 2007, has been named #1 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Scholars at Johns Hopkins Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education have created the pioneering Best-Evidence Encyclopedia which provides scientific reviews in K-12 education. The department also supports the university’s Center for Social Organization of Schools, and the Center for Technology in Education

The School of Education offers an online Doctor of Education program requiring 90 graduate credits beyond the bachelor degree, with 54 credits completed in the Johns Hopkins program. Foundation studies are in the science of learning; educational organizations, contexts and systems; and applied research and evaluation. Students may choose one of five specializations: entrepreneurial leadership in education; mind, brain and teaching; instructional design for online teaching and learning; and urban leadership. Coursework is spread over three years, enabling students to enroll part-time so they may continue in their current jobs. Requirements include the completion of three interconnected projects that develop into an applied dissertation on a “problem of practice.”

Coursework is completed entirely online, however EdD students are required to attend a residence program at the end of their third year to defend their dissertation. The School of Education is accredited by The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

About Licensure

All states require teachers to hold licenses, also known as teaching credentials. It is important to note that doctoral programs in education do not confer licenses. Each state board of education establishes and enforces licensing regulations for practicing teachers and administrators. Voluntary National Board Certification is available for pre-K-12 teachers. Advanced students in online doctoral education degree programs may already hold pre-K-12 licenses.

Most states require separate licensing for public education administrators and principals and require completion of a graduate degree. There are usually no licenses required for postsecondary teachers and researchers, however it is customary for college-level teachers to hold licenses in their education specialties. Community colleges may ask for a subject-specific state credential.

Certifications are voluntary, but can bolster qualifications in special education, early childhood education, art education, music education, reading specialists and education administration.View specific certification requirements for each state

Interview with Graduate of an Online PhD Program

This advice for students is offered by Dr. Marcus K., graduate of an online PhD program in education and currently an associate professor of education.

Why did you choose an online PhD over an EdD degree?

I explored more than 20 graduate programs to find the right way to go. I’m a licensed K-12 teacher and found myself drawn to emerging theoretical issues in working with at-risk populations. I want to have an impact on training new educators.

What were the challenges of completing your doctorate online?

You have to be proactive in building relationships in your cohort as well as in communicating clearly with your advisors. It’s really on you if you expect to sustain your progress over a number of years. Professors are not hired to be motivators or hold your hand. And you have to find balance between your teaching work, time with your wife and kids, and hitting all the milestones without falling behind.

How would you measure the success of completing your PhD?

I’m sure every graduate has a different take on the outcome and the value of their degree. I couldn’t find a faculty position right away and worried, even with my teaching to fall back on. But now I’m on the tenure track in an education department that is breaking fresh ground in minority education. It’s thrilling.

Do you have advice for students entering online PhD or EdD programs?

Despite the pressure of completing the program, keep your hand in teaching. Stay ahead of readings and assignments, and use all the online tools that keep you engaged in the community.

The Education Doctorate: Cost and ROI

The pragmatic question students face when considering doctoral work in education is, “can you get where you want to go without one?” If the response is “yes” then the second question is whether the degree is ultimately worth what it costs. One way to gain perspective is evaluate the time and money that went into undergraduate work, the outcome, and whether a doctorate is a financially sound investment in building on expertise and experience to advance in the professions. When it comes down to money, each individual should assess their goals and what financial returns accompany career changes or advancement. Let’s begin by looking at the associated costs for completing online doctorates in education.

Footing the Bill

The fundamental cost of an online PhD or EdD is tuition, mapped to the total credits or years comprising the program. Tuition can vary dramatically by type of institution – public or private, and for-profit or nonprofit. Colleges and universities calibrate tuition by the charge per academic credit, by semester or quarter. Accredited institutions can also offer scholarships, tuition waivers and federal education loans to qualified candidates. For example, in 2014 the Department of Education at Johns Hopkins granted doctoral degree scholarships between $250 and $1,000 per course based on academic merit. Depending on the institution, graduate students enrolled in the PhD pathway may receive student teaching or research assistantships to offset tuition costs, although these commitments can extend the time needed to complete a program. In addition to tuition, institutions usually charge miscellaneous service fees, and students are responsible for buying books and materials. Short residencies for program orientation or the presentation and defense of a dissertation could represent expenses, depending on the program. There are cost benefits of pursuing an online doctorate – students realize savings by averting commuting or parking fees, relocation expenses and other costs commonly related to campus-based doctoral programs. Some institutions do not charge out-of-state tuition for online doctoral degree students.

Because online PhD programs are designed to dovetail with family and employment commitments, many students continue to earn income during the course of their degree work. Every educational budget should factor in current costs of living in addition to the price of the degree. But in looking at the return of investment (ROI) in time and money in completing a doctorate, potential students should determine whether their earnings and opportunities would keep pace at their current level of educational attainment and what they stand to gain by adding a degree.

The Doctoral Payoff in Earnings

The 2011 Georgetown University study, “What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors,” reported that the median income of a bachelor’s degree holder in education was $42,000 per year, totaling five-year earnings of $210,000. In contrast, the study found median annual earnings of an educator with a graduate degree of $57,000, or $285,000 in five years’ earning potential. Yet those projections in increased earnings don’t reflect the scope and range of earnings for those with doctorates who have completed specializations and become administrators or professors.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has compiled a listing of educational careers and related 2013 median annual pay in K-12 education, administration, and postsecondary teaching and research roles. Earnings of college professors vary widely. For example, the BLS reports a profound difference in median annual earnings for law professors ($99,950) and education professors ($68,970). The following earnings do not take into account promotions within the field.

Occupation Median Annual Wages (2013) Top 10% of Earners
High School Teachers $55,050 $85,690
Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School $85,220 $124,820
Superintendent of Schools $69,698 $178,634
Postsecondary Teachers $68,970 $142,270
Postsecondary Education Administrators $86,490 $128,110

Projecting income and tuition costs is one way to examine the ROI of an education doctorate. The range in tuition for three-year EdD and PhD programs is extensive. Let’s examine ROI for programs at the low end of the scale and those near the top.

Using the tuition calculator of a for-profit university offering an online EdD program in 2015, the estimated 30-month tuition cost totaled $45,360. Using salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2013, the estimates below show potential doctoral earnings, suggesting that a school administrator could recoup tuition costs for the EdD in less than three years.

Doctorate Year EdD Salary(K-12 Administrator)
School Year 1 $0
School Year 2 $0
School Year 3 $0
Work Year 1 $85,220
Work Year 2 $85,220
Work Year 3 $85,220
Total Earnings $255,660

For further comparison, the total tuition for one public university’s online PhD in Education in 2015 tallies $81,660. Using salary estimates from the BLS for 2013, data shows that the increased earnings of advancing to postsecondary teaching could pay off the degree in less than four years.

Doctorate Year PhD Salary (Postsecondary teacher)
School Year 1 $0
School Year 2 $0
School Year 3 $0
Work Year 1 $68,970
Work Year 2 $68,970
Work Year 3 $68,970
Work Year 4 $68,970
Total Earnings $275,880