Study Higher Education Administration: Master's Degree, PhD & Graduate Program Info

About this article
What will you learn in a higher education administration program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers.
View available schools

Master's and PhD: Higher Education Administration at a Glance

If you are interested in a leadership position at a college or university, you may complete graduate work in higher education administration. These programs cover a variety of topics relating to governance, legal matters and policy as they affect postsecondary education. Master's programs are designed to prepare you for taking on roles in administration, while doctoral programs can lead to both promotion and teaching positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment for postsecondary administrators is expected to rise 19% from 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov). The BLS indicates that positions will be created out of the need to accommodate growing college enrollments.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working in higher education administration roles People who want to work in academia as high-level administrators or are interested in teaching at the university-level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) Academic administrator ($84,000)* specializing in:
- Student affairs
- Admissions
- Registrar
- University president ($167,000)*
- Provost ($137,000)**
- Postsecondary teacher, other ($64,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time 4-6 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10-15 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis (some programs)
- Master's exams
- Field experience (some programs)
- Roughly 12-20 graduate level courses
- PhD candidacy exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's or master's degree, depending on program
Online Availability Yes Blended

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (retrieved October 2012).

Master's in Higher Education Administration

While some entry-level positions at colleges and universities may be filled by applicants who have only completed a bachelor's degree program, the majority of these positions go to master's degree holders. A master's degree in higher education administration prepares students for roles in college and university administration in areas like admissions, academic advising, financial aid and student affairs. These programs usually take 1-2 years to complete and may have field experience options or requirements.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • These programs typically offer internships that provide work experience
  • Credits may transfer to a PhD program should you choose to further your education
  • Thesis requirements in these programs will teach you the basics of formal research methodology

Cons

  • You may not be eligible for teaching positions at the university-level
  • A master's degree in higher education administration may be difficult to translate to careers outside of academia
  • Online programs may not be able to provide the same internship options as a classroom setting

Courses and Requirements

Those seeking a master's degree in higher education administration study the history and organization of postsecondary education, as well as diversity, organizational theory and student development. Some programs also train their students to conduct original research. Most programs will require internships. Some of the topics you may take include:

  • College organization and processes
  • Community college administration
  • Cross-cultural advising and counseling
  • Higher education as a diverse environment
  • Higher education leadership
  • International perspectives on education
  • Legal aspects of higher education

Online Degree Options

Some higher education administration master's programs have been made available fully online, although there are blended options as well. These online programs provide flexibility for students, allowing those who are currently working professionals to maintain their career trajectory while achieving their educational goals through asynchronous, distance and student-centered learning.

Stand Out with This Degree

You may want to look for an internship in the division of university administration which interests you. If possible, you may try to seek out an internship at the school you want to work at after graduation. You may also seek opportunities to become involved in research that will lead to publication, which is an excellent way to strengthen a resume. Technically, you may want to develop your computer skills in areas that will help with creating and managing a budget.

Doctorate in Higher Education Administration

For the highest leadership positions, such as provosts and deans, a doctoral degree may be required. In addition to practical application, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs are also committed to training candidates in formal research techniques as part of the dissertation process. Doctoral programs may grant either PhD or Doctor of Education degrees. Some programs may offer both.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • For those already employed at a college or university, educational waivers, grants or fellowships may be available for those seeking career development opportunities
  • These programs provide training in formal research methods
  • A doctoral degree in higher education administration qualifies graduates for the highest positions in postsecondary administration

Cons

  • A doctoral degree in higher education administration is a serious commitment of time and effort
  • Earning a PhD in higher education administration does not guarantee promotion
  • Graduates who are seeking tenured teaching positions will likely face stiff competition

Courses and Requirements

In addition to practical application, PhD programs are also committed to training candidates in formal research techniques as part of the dissertation process. Coursework supports positive functioning in postsecondary leadership roles through advising students and setting policies. Some programs will require that applicants have already completed a master's degree, though this is not true of all programs. The coursework of PhD program may cover such topics as:

  • Postsecondary institution organization
  • Postsecondary administration and leadership
  • Higher education policy and law
  • Postsecondary student culture
  • Quantitative and qualitative research in education

Online Degree Options

Fully online PhD programs in higher education administration are not currently available, though there are blended programs that have limited residency requirements. You may need to attend meetings on campus and other limited functions. These requirements vary from school to school and you should research any prospective program.

Stand Out with This Degree

You may consider involving yourself early on in research that is headed for publication and developing your dissertation topic in conjunction with your advisor. Since this is a competitive field, developing close professional relationships during your time in graduate school can expand your professional network. Similar to individuals in a master's program, you may want to develop computer skills that will help you with maintaining a budget.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Higher Education - College Admin./Leadership
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
      • MSE in Instructional Technology - Adult Learning/Higher Ed
      • Master: Higher Education - Online College Teaching
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.Ed. in Educational Administration
      • M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
      • M.Ed. in Elementary Education
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. - Education: Higher Education
      • M.A. - Education
      • MA/Education - School Leadership in the 21st Century
  • Campus and Online Programs
    4. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Instructional Design and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.Ed. - Higher Education Leadership
      • M.Ed. - Educational Leadership
      • M.Ed. - Education Technology and E-Learning
      • MEd - Accelerated Educational Leadership
      • MEd - Accelerated Leadership in Higher Education
      • M.Ed. - Adult Learning and Workforce Education
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Trident University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master's - Education
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction - Educational Leadership
      • MS in Higher Education Administration
      • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Dyslexia Studies & LBLD
  • Online Programs Available
    8. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations
      • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
      • M.Ed. - Adult Education and Training
      • Master of Education - Elementary Education
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organization Development & Leadership
      • MS in Education - Instructional Technology
      • MS in Education - Instructional Technology and Instructional Technology Specialist Certification
      • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Higher Education - College Admin./Leadership
  • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
  • MSE in Instructional Technology - Adult Learning/Higher Ed

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • M.Ed. in Educational Administration
  • M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
  • M.Ed. in Elementary Education

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • M.A. - Education: Higher Education
  • M.A. - Education
  • MA/Education - School Leadership in the 21st Century

What is your highest level of education?

Full Sail University

  • MS - Instructional Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • M.Ed. - Higher Education Leadership
  • M.Ed. - Educational Leadership
  • M.Ed. - Education Technology and E-Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Trident University

  • Master's - Education

What is your highest level of education completed?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction - Educational Leadership
  • MS in Higher Education Administration
  • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations
  • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
  • M.Ed. - Adult Education and Training

Are you a US citizen?