Most Affordable Online PhD in Education Programs for 2015

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Students wishing to pursue a doctoral degree in education generally have the option of an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) or a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy). Earning a Ph.D. in Education prepares students for research-based careers, working at universities, colleges of education, policy centers, government agencies, or educational organizations. A Ph.D. in education differs from a doctorate of education degree, in that an Ed.D. is a professional degree appropriate for individuals seeking to become school administrators, superintendents or practitioners. An Ed.D. degree generally does not prepare you for a research or scholarly position as a Ph.D. degree does. Because of its scholarly focus, there are far fewer online Ph.D. programs than Ed.D. programs, making it difficult for a person wanting a research doctorate to complete their degree without relocating. However, it is definitely possible. The following are 15 institutions that offer an online Ph.D. in education, ranked by affordability. The programs vary in terms of specialization and format.

Variations in Online PhD in Education Programs

Each program featured on this list defines itself as an online program and allows students to complete at least the large majority of course work online. Some programs are 100 percent online and self-paced. Some programs offer courses online synchronously; that is, students must “tune in” to class at the same time, normally on weekends or evenings. Some programs require short residencies such as extended weekend or one-week intensive courses, which are normally scheduled based on school year schedules, to accommodate practicing educators. Unless otherwise noted, all programs require a master’s degree and often require a small number of years teaching in order to be considered for the program. Many of the programs are designed specifically for teachers working full time who wish to obtain their Ph.D. As research-based doctorate degrees, these are not professional certification degrees and because teacher certification varies so widely based on states, it is important to check your state’s educational licensure requirements before committing to an online degree that is located outside your state.

How We Calculated Affordability

The following affordability rankings are based on the total cost of tuition for the program, based on the number of credits required for the degree and the published tuition cost per credit. The figure does not include fees and other expenses. Because fees vary widely per program and individual situation, and because of rising tuition costs, interested students should inquire with specific programs about any additional costs. This list was compiled with the goal of finding the lowest possible total tuition cost per program. Accordingly, for programs where cost depends on pace of program (i.e. flat rate for a semester regardless of how many credits are taken), that is noted and the tuition is calculated based on the assumption students are taking the maximum number of credits in order to get the most for their money. As always, pace of the program will certainly affect the cost. Finally, when costs differed based on in-state or out-of-state residency, out-of-state residency was assumed, but in-state rates are also provided and may significantly reduce the cost.

A note about accreditation: All institutions on this list are regionally accredited and their accreditation agency is listed. When a school is also accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), that is also noted with the acronym.

#1. New Mexico State University

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The College of Education at New Mexico State University offers an online Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. All students take general course work in areas including bilingual/TESOL education, early childhood education, learning technologies, literacy/language/culture, and multicultural education/critical pedagogies. Independent studies allow students to explore a focus for dissertation research. Most coursework is completed online; however, students must attend a two-week face-to-face session each summer to complete course work in three years. In-state and out-of-state residents are charged the same tuition rate for coursework, provided they are taking six or fewer credits per semester, making it possible to earn the Ph.D. at a very affordable tuition rate.

Credits required: 72

Tuition: $267.90 (same rate for in-state and out-of-state provided one takes 6 credits or fewer each semester)

Total tuition cost: 19,288.80

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: In addition to the degree in Curriculum & Instruction, New Mexico State also offers a hybrid Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, but students must be able to attend weekend classes once a month for that program.

#2. Indiana State University

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Indiana State University offers an online Ph.D. in Educational Administration: School Administration (K-12) for individuals who already hold an Educational Specialist degree (Ed.S.), but wish to complete the terminal degree in their field. A Ph.D. in School Administration prepares students for positions as researchers, university faculty, policy makers, and superintendents. Since all students must already possess an Ed.S. (an intermediate graduate degree between the master’s and doctorate), the total cost and time needed to complete the degree is much lower than most programs. The Ph.D. from ISU requires 72 credit hours, but students may transfer up to 24 credits from their previous graduate degrees. Therefore, students may complete the additional 30 hours of required course work in as little as one year, if they take a full load of classes in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Dissertation work typically takes two additional years.

Credits required: 48 (in addition to 24 transfer credits)

Tuition: $475 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $22,800

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: Students located close to the school’s Terre Haute, IN campus have the option to include on-campus courses as part of the program. All students, regardless of location, participate in a cohort of other graduate students as they progress through the program.

#3. Old Dominion University

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Students can earn a Ph.D. in Instructional Design & Technology from Old Dominion University without relocating to the school’s Norfolk, Virginia home. Most courses are offered in a synchronous online format, meaning that students take the course from a distance, but “meet” online for lecture and discussion. These sessions are generally held every other week in the evenings. Sixty credit hours are required, including the dissertation. Coursework focuses on instructional design, distance education, evaluation and assessment, design of technology-mediated instruction, and quantitative and qualitative research. Students are able to choose their instructional design concentration, which culminates in their chosen dissertation research.

Credits required: 60

Tuition: $456 per credit hour for students living outside Virginia

Total tuition cost: $27,360

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: Students living in Virginia qualify for a slight in-state discount for online tuition: $437/credit.

#4. University of Kentucky

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University of Kentucky offers an online Ph.D. in Educational Sciences with a Specialization in School Technology Leadership. The program requires 42 credits of course work and a minimum of 4 dissertation credits, making it one of the fastest online Ph.D. programs offered. Students take two courses per semester, completing their coursework in 2.5 years before moving on to the self-paced dissertation. Students progress through the program in cohorts and may be required to participate in some weekend synchronous online meetings throughout the year, as well as a limited number of on-campus summer sessions in Lexington, KY. In addition, all online students qualify for in-state tuition, making the degree extremely affordable.

Credits required: 46 (42 course hours plus minimum of four dissertation credits)

Tuition: $596 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $27,416

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: UK Department of Education is a founding member of the University Council for Educational Administration and is the institutional home of CASTLE (Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education).

#5. University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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The University of Nebraska at Lincoln offers a Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a Specialization in Educational Leadership and Higher Education. Students study theories and issues related to higher education, including leadership, finance, philosophy, law, technology, student affairs, and community college administration. Although the program is a hybrid of online and real-time courses, students may complete the degree from a distance by tuning into most synchronous class portions via the Internet.

Credits required: 60 (in addition to 33 credits transferred from a master’s degree)

Tuition: $609 per credit (Non-Nebraska residents)/$325.50 per credit (Nebraska residents)

Total tuition cost: $36,540 ($19,530 for Nebraska residents)

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: University of Nebraska does requires six hours of on-campus coursework, but also offers short intensive hybrid courses to facilitate distant students, so travel to Lincoln would be limited to a few times through the course of the degree.

#6. Hampton University

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Hampton offers an online Ph.D. in Educational Management with concentrations in Higher Education or K-12 Leadership. With the program’s focus on practical applied research and internships, students prepare for leadership positions in their preferred setting (k-12, community college, university, government agency, or organization). Students can finish the program in as few as three years.

Credits required: 66

Tuition: $695 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $45,870

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: Most coursework is done online; however, this program does require two-week summer residencies on campus in Hampton, Virginia, where on-campus housing is provided for a nominal fee.

#7. Capella University

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Capella University, a virtual for-profit university based in Minneapolis offers multiple online options for a Ph.D. in Education. Areas of concentration include Instructional Design for Online Learning, Leadership for Higher Education, Leadership in Education Administration, Postsecondary and Adult Education, Professional Studies in Education, Training and Performance Improvement, Curriculum and Instruction, K-12 Studies in Education, Special Education Leadership, and Nursing Education. Most coursework is completed online, but Capella also requires three 4-day weekend residencies to complete the program. These colloquiums take place annually at different hotel conference centers throughout the United States.

Credits required: 120 quarter credits (4 credit courses)

Tuition: $4,698 flat rate per quarter (students may take up to three courses per quarter)

Total tuition cost: $46,980 (if students take the maximum 3 classes per quarter)

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: Since Capella operates on a flat per quarter tuition fee, regardless of credit hours, the total price will vary depending on the pace at which students complete the program. Additionally, Capella offers an opportunity to transfer up to 48 credit hours from previous graduate work, if applicable. This would reduce the cost and time of the program overall.

#8. Colorado State University

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Through Colorado State University’s OnlinePlus program, students can earn a Ph.D. in Education and Human Resource Studies with a Higher Education Leadership Specialization. Students prepare to obtain faculty, research, or administrative positions in higher education settings. A hybrid program, students are required to spend one week each summer and one extended weekend each January on the Fort Collins campus, but all other course work is completed online. Students can finish the degree in five years, but this varies since the program accommodates for students who are professionals working full time in their fields.

Credits required: 60

Tuition: $823 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $49,380.

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: The small cohort size (10-12 students) and on-campus experiences are designed to more closely connect students with each other and faculty.

#9. Keiser University

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Florida-based Keiser University is a private non-profit school and offers two of its Ph.D. education programs in an online format: Educational Leadership, and Instruction Design and Technology. Keiser charges tuition on a per semester basis, rather than per credit basis. Therefore students who are wiling to take a fuller course load are at an advantage in terms of cost. By taking a full course load, they can compete course work in as short as two years before moving on to the dissertation. Courses are generally offered in short 8-week sessions and students can take up to two classes per session.

Credits required: 60

Tuition: $10,253 per semester during coursework; $5,126 per semester during dissertation

Total tuition cost: $51,264 (if student completes coursework and dissertation in three years)

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Highlights: In addition to its online offerings, Keiser has campuses in 14 locations throughout the state of Florida.

#10. Trident University International

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Trident University, a private for-profit institution, offers an online Ph.D. in Education in one of three specializations: Educational Leadership; Educational Technology; and Teaching, Learning and Development. Because Trident is an exclusively online institution, students can complete 100 percent of their coursework online and will not need to travel to a campus for any portion. Students complete the requirements at their own pace, normally taking three to five years.

Credits required: 56

Tuition: $900 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $52,000 (for course work and two required continuing dissertation sessions)

Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Highlights: Trident was founded in 1998 as a Ph.D. only university, but has since expanded to include bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Trident offers special assistance for members of the military wishing to obtain an online degree.

#11. Walden University

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Walden offers online Education Ph.D. degrees in two different formats. In the “course-based format,” online course work simulates traditional university classes (weekly discussions and peer interaction online) and the timeline for degree completion is very structured; in the “mixed-model” format, students combine online courses with independent research projects called Knowledge Area Modules and the timeline for completion is less structured. Students can choose 13 different specializations, depending on which model they prefer. In the course-based format, students may specialize in assessment, evaluation, and accountability; educational technology; leadership, policy, and change in education; learning, instruction, and innovation. In the mixed-model format, students can choose from adult education leadership; community college leadership; curriculum, instruction; and assessment; early childhood education; global and comparative education; higher education; special education; and self-designed and general tracks. All programs are primarily completed online, but four 4-day residencies are also required.

Credits required: 85 to 96 credit hours (varies based on program)

Tuition: $625 per credit hour (course-based); 4,835 per quarter (mixed-model)

Total tuition cost: $53,125 to 72,525 (varies based on program)

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: Walden allows students to transfer credits from previous graduate work (up to 48 for some concentrations), when applicable. Doing so could greatly reduce the cost of the program.

#12. Northcentral University

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As a fully online for-private institution, Northcentral University offers an extremely large number of degree concentrations for students interested in earning a Ph.D. in Education online. Specializations include Curriculum and Teaching, Early Childhood Education, Educational Leadership, E-Learning, English as a Second Language, Global Training and Development, Instructional Leadership, International Education, Leadership in Higher Education, Organizational Leadership, Special Education, and Sports Management. All course work is completed online and students may begin each class at any point in the year, since Northcentral does not have a cohort structure or specific course start dates.

Credits required: 60

Tuition: $986 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $59,160

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, GTEAC (Graduate Teacher Education Accreditation Council)

Highlights: Northcentral includes fees within their base tuition rate, so the total cost includes everything except books and other incidentals.

#13. Regent University

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A private Christian college founded by Pat Robertson in Virginia Beach, Regent University offers multiple online Ph.D. programs in Education. Students may specialize in Adult Education, Advanced Educational Leadership, Character Education, Distance Education, Educational Psychology, Higher Education, K-12 School Leadership, and Special Education. All programs require a one-week residency each summer the student is enrolled as a student. The programs are normally completed in four years.

Credits required: 72

Tuition: $870 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $62,640

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Graduate Teacher Education Accreditation Council (GTEAC)

Highlights: Regent offers several scholarship and financial aid options that students may qualify for based on military experience, specific church affiliation, career status, and other life situations.

#14. University of the Rockies

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University of the Rockies, a private, for-profit graduate school, offers degrees online and at its instructional site in Denver. Students can earn a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Distance Learning or Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Students take the majority of course work online in an accelerated six-week format per session. To complete their degrees, participants attend three in-residence weekends in Denver.

Credits required: 62

Tuition: $1,082.00 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $67,084

Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and School

Highlights: The University offers specific grants for members of the military, their families, and certain Department of Defense employees.

15. Nova Southeastern University

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Fort Lauderdale-based Nova Southeastern University is a private non-profit university. Through the Fischler School of Education, students can complete an online Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in Educational Research and Evaluation. Classes are offered online both synchronously and asynchronously and students attend at least one summer conference during their program. Nova Southeastern is unique in online Ph.D. programs in their focus on Educational Research and Evaluation. Students specialize in theory and practice for evaluating educational setting and engage in an extensive research practicum to prepare them to complete the dissertation.

Credits required: 72

Tuition: $1375 per credit hour

Total tuition cost: $99,000

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, NCATE

Highlights: With significantly higher tuition than other online education Ph.D. programs, Nova Southeastern is an investment. However, the university does offer numerous scholarships and grants for graduate students, so interested students should explore these options through the financial aid office when calculating their individual costs.