Online EdD Programs in Higher Education Leadership and Administration

College and universities are complex organizations, functioning as institutions of advanced learning, self-contained communities, and substantial businesses, all at the same time. Schools big and small rely on an army of staff and administrators to keep things running smoothly, as well as ensure students have a safe and supportive learning environment. In order to lead in these settings, professionals must possess a broad skill set, with expertise in everything from organizational management to best pedagogical practices.

Online Doctor of Education (EdD) programs in Higher Education Leadership help prepare students with the advanced knowledge and skills they need to take on leadership roles in postsecondary administration. With a doctorate in the field, graduates can go on to manage significant portions of academic or student services at a college or university, or even assume top leadership roles such as dean, provost, or college president.

Curriculum for Online EdD Programs in Higher Education Leadership

Students have a number of options to choose from when it comes to pursuing an EdD in Higher Education Leadership online. Some schools offer doctoral programs entirely dedicated to the concentration, while others include Higher Education Leadership as a specialization option within a more general Educational or Organizational Leadership EdD program. In either case, students should be sure to closely examine the curriculum and course topics in order to find a program that best aligns with their academic and professional goals.

Most online EdD programs in Higher Education Leadership consist of 40 to 70 course credits, and require three to five years to complete. Curriculum will vary by school and program; however, most include some combination of core courses, specialization coursework, electives, and dissertation research. Core courses generally cover fundamental topics in the field, focusing on the advanced theories, principles, and research methods used by administrators in modern postsecondary settings.

While exact course titles and content may vary, the following are a few examples of core topics typically covered in a Higher Education Leadership program:

  • Leadership in Education: Students learn about the fundamental theories and skills employed by effective leaders in postsecondary education, exploring different approaches to interpersonal communication, organizational management, and the various challenges college administrators might face.
  • Legal Issues and Ethics: In this course, students examine laws, court cases, and ethical issues related to higher education and life on campus, gaining insight into topics such as student rights, privacy, sexual harassment, discrimination, grading policies, and academic misconduct.
  • Educational Assessment and Evaluation: This course looks at the various methods and tools used in higher education to assess academic programing and student success, and how to use this empirical data to refine instruction and improve learning outcomes.
  • Organizational Theory: A study of the different theories and approaches used to understand, analyze, and manage organizations both big and small, examining classical, neoclassical, contingency, and systems theory, as well as organizational structure.

Once students have completed their core courses, they generally move onto more specialized coursework, studying specific topics in postsecondary education and college administration. The content of these concentration courses will depend on each program’s particular focus; however, below are some subjects common throughout Higher Education Leadership programs:

  • Trends in Higher Education: This course examines current and emerging social, academic, and technology trends in the higher education space, from changing student demographics to the rise of competency-based education (CBE) and online learning.
  • Postsecondary Academic Programs: Analyzing the development and implementation of forward-thinking curriculum plans and effective course instruction, with a focus on advanced learning theories and their application in postsecondary classrooms.
  • Finance and Administrative Affairs: This course explores the business-side of college administration, looking at budgetary concerns, tuition and financial aid policies, state funding, and institutional fundraising strategies, as well as aspects such as resource allocation and facilities management.
  • Diversity Issues in Higher Education: How to address racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in postsecondary enrollment and degree attainment, along with related issues concerning accessibility, equality, and support services for underrepresented students.

Along with core and concentration courses, most online EdD programs in Higher Education Leadership give students the opportunity to round out their curriculum by choosing a number of electives. These courses allow students to explore specific areas of interest or skills related to their chosen career path, and may be offered by the same department as the EdD program or come from an outside department, with approval of program faculty. Here are two examples of potential electives that might appeal to students in a Higher Education Leadership program:

  • Enrollment Management: Strategies for and challenges related to recruiting and retaining the ideal student body, examining marketing tactics, admissions policies, financial aid awarding, and the collection and analysis of enrollment data.
  • Higher Education Student Services: This course provides an in-depth study of the various extracurricular resources available at most colleges today, such as academic advising, career services, and athletics, as well as their impact on student development and success.

EdD programs typically culminate in the completion of a dissertation, which students work on throughout their studies under the guidance of a faculty advisor. For this project, students must identify an issue currently facing higher education leadership, and then produce original research and analysis on the topic. At the end of the process, these findings are typically submitted as an extensive document and presented in front of a dissertation committee for evaluation. EdD programs generally include one or more courses specifically related to dissertation research and development, as well as award students credit hours for the independent study involved.

For more information regarding the dissertation process and EdD capstone requirements, check out our in-depth Dissertations and Doctoral Capstone Projects resource page. To learn more about online EdD programs in general, please refer to our Structure of Online EdD Programs and Admission Requirements for Online EdD Programs pages.

Career Paths for Graduates of EdD Programs in Higher Education Leadership

There are a variety of postsecondary administrative positions one might pursue with an EdD in Higher Education Leadership. The majority of these roles are found in college and universities, and individual responsibilities or qualifications may vary depending on the size of the institution. In the case of certain top-level roles, such as college president, provost, or dean, professionals often start out as instructors or professors before moving into administration.

To give students a better idea of potential careers paths available to graduates of Higher Education Leadership EdD programs, here are a few examples of common positions:

  • College President: These professionals are essentially the CEOs of the college or university they work for, serving as the public face of the institution while handling a wide range of administrative, academic, developmental, and PR duties. They report to the board of trustees, and typically have final say on decisions such as significant hires, facility expansion, major spending, fundraising campaigns, civic engagement, and more.
  • Provost: Also known as chief academic officers, these administrators oversee all academic, faculty, and budgetary affairs at a college or university, taking part in policy development, decisions regarding hiring and tenure appointments, and even the management of faculty research. They typically work directly underneath the president, and may even take over their duties when the president is away or unavailable.
  • Dean: These higher education administrators handle many of the same responsibilities as a provost, but typically do so for an individual school or collection of departments within the college or university (such as the School of Business or College of Arts and Sciences). Their duties often include supervising faculty, overseeing academic programming, handling budgets, and overall planning or development, all with the goal of creating the best possible environment for students and staff.
  • Other Postsecondary Administrator: There are many other essential administrative roles found in colleges and universities that students might pursue with an EdD in Higher Education Leadership. Depending on the particular area they work in, these administrators might oversee anything from admissions, finance, or business operations, to student services, alumni relations, or athletics. Graduates could also become registrars or manage the registrar’s office, which is responsible for maintaining student and course records, as well as planning commencement ceremonies.