There has never been a better time to consider a high-level computer science job. Scholars in Computer and Information Research Science not only operate at the cutting edge of innovation, are engaging in a field that defines innovation with every new idea. Online computer science Ph.D. programs are making the Mathematicians and Engineers of yesterday and rebranding them as the data architects and software creators of today. A doctorate in one of the many areas of computer science will establish any scholar as an expert on their particular focus.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the field will grow by 5,400 jobs by the year 2026. Although this seems like a small amount, given that the field is so small, this accounts for an up to 19% growth. For those who wonder if getting an online Ph.D. in computer science is worth it, the BLS data seems to point to a resounding yes. People who go into areas like software publishing and research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences average a salary of $130,000 per year, nearly 500% the national average salary. For workers in the computer systems design industry and the federal government, the figure is closer to $112 thousand. Post-secondary educators and researchers average closer to $80 thousand according to BLS.
Online Doctoral Degree Options
Doctoral degrees in Computer Science are in demand more now than ever before. For the Ph.D. seeker who is also hoping for a fully online educational experience are in luck, because more schools are offering this option every year. The following top 20 Online Doctoral Programs in Computer Science are the best examples of this option available. The degree options include Ph.D. programs in Computer Science, Computer Science and Engineering, Informatics, Information Science, Intelligent Systems Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, a Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Computer Science or in Information Systems, and one option for a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) with an Emphasis in Data Analytics from Grand Canyon University. Many schools offer an embedded master's degree program, but some require graduate courses already underway before admission. Some institutions, including UPenn, Johns Hopkins, and Columbia promote the option of being funded with the right combination of grades and prior coursework, and nearly all of these programs require recent completion of the GRE.
Many of these programs focus exclusively on research in the field of computer science and take the innovative aspects of the field very seriously when advising on doctoral research. For the subject matter, the online can also be hands-on, as many of the programs are project-based and problem-solving focused. The Schools were evaluated for this ranking based on their affordability, reputation, and track record. The metrics are:
- Cost (from IPEDS data)
- Reputation (from Niche rating)
- ROI (from College Scorecard data)
Just like your own education, these programs were born out of a commitment to developing the field of computer science beyond what was ever believed to be possible, by pushing the limits of what has ever come before.
All of the institutions included in the Top 20 Online Doctorates in Computer Science Programs are fully accredited, either by their regional accrediting agency or by the DEAC.
all images were sourced from the institution's website
1. UPenn Engineering – Philadelphia, PA
The Penn Engineering department proudly offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Computer and Information Science (CIS) program that is a specifically research-oriented degree program for students who have a demonstrated ability to perform at a high level. Graduates of this program will be expected to make original contributions to theory and practice in their CIS. The Ph.D. CIS candidates' professional trajectory includes a research career in academe, government, or industry. The curricula at UPenn are purposely designed to develop the intellectual skills essential for the dynamic and quickly changing character of research in the computer science world. In this way, students are taught how to learn and change with the content, as much as the content itself.
Degree: Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science
2. Columbia University – New York, NY
Columbia University was founded in 1754, as a private Ivy League research university. It is located in Upper Manhattan, New York, and is the oldest college in the state. Columbia is the fifth oldest postsecondary in the country, and one of the nine colonial colleges established before the Declaration of Independence. Columbia is comprised of 20 distinct schools, both graduate, and undergraduate. Columbia is a member of the Association of American Universities and is one of the fourteen founding members. They are known for many things, including the fact that they are the institution that grants the Pulitzer Prize each year. Columbia alumni have won 125 Pulitzer Prizes and 39 Academy Awards.
The Columbia University Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science offers an online Computer Science Doctorate Degree for existing Columbia Computer Science MS students only. The primary focus of the doctoral programs is a continuation of the master's level focus from the angle of research. The guiding philosophy for this model is that students learn best by doing, and so they begin in this research process as apprentices, eventually becoming junior colleagues who work with faculty on scholarly research projects. Every student must have an advisor throughout the program. Many of these same advisors go on to become thesis advisors after research is complete or wrapping up. Focus areas for research can be in the areas of network security, programming languages, machine learning, computer graphics, quantum computing, web technologies, robotics, databases and information systems, compilers, AI, software engineering, computational biology, natural language processing, and algorithms.
Degree: Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science (for existing MS only)
3. Indiana University – Bloomington, Indiana
Indiana University (IU) Bloomington was founded in 1820 and is the flagship campus for the eight-campus Indiana State University System. The Bloomington campus is also the home of the IU School of Informatics and Computing, which is connected to the Department of Library and Information Science, as well as the School of Public Health, The School of Optometry, and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. IU Bloomington's total enrollment is close to 44,000 students. The US News and World Report Consistently ranks them among the top 100 public universities in the country. They offer many online degree programs, including within their Kelley School of Business.
The School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at IU offers four doctoral degrees to consider, for computer science enthusiasts who have earned a bachelor's degree in computer science or a closely related field. The four options are a Ph.D. in Computer Science, a Ph.D. in Informatics, a Ph.D. in Information Science, and a Ph.D. in Intelligent Systems Engineering. Much of the structure is the same for these programs, the main differences being the following content. The Computer Science explores computing through interdisciplinary research, while the Informatics focus highlights specializations ranging from bioinformatics to complex networks and systems. The Information Science degree is especially for students who aspire to the role of researcher, teacher, or consultant while the Intelligent Systems Engineering focus explores the engineering of small-scale, mobile, and networked technology.
Degree: 4 options online
4. Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, MD
Johns Hopkins University was established in 1876 when Quaker Johns Hopkins passed away and left his $7 million fortune to the founding of a hospital and university in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. This was the largest philanthropic donation in United States history at the time it was granted. Johns Hopkins University has a legacy of innovation as an institution that synthesized research and teaching. They are one of the founding members of the American Association of Universities and was ranked 10th among global universities by the US News and World Report. They are considered to be the first research institution of higher learning in the nation, modeled after Heidelberg University in Germany.
The Whiting School of Engineering, located in the Computer Science Department at JHU, offers a Ph.D. in Computer Science degree, in a non-traditional format. Candidates can work remotely but are expected to complete a one-year residency requirement at some point in their studies. All JHU graduate students receive support, including an annual stipend. They are also paired with external and internal competitive fellowships, research fellowships, or teaching fellowships. As a Ph.D. candidate, students are expected to collaborate with faculty on cutting-edge research. They will also develop independent research skills and begin networking to build a professional reputation as a member of the research community. New Ph.D. candidates are carefully matched with faculty advisors based on mutual research interests, as this relationship can be paramount to the success of a candidate in school.
Degree: Ph.D. in Computer Science – part time available
5. University of North Texas – Denton, TX
The University of North Texas, often referred to as UNT, was established in 1890. When they first opened their doors, they were called Texas Normal College and Teacher Training Institute. Their primary focus was to train teachers in the region. They underwent many name changes and continued to evolve a more comprehensive education platform, settling on the name the University of North Texas in 1961. In 1964 and 1965 they began launching doctorate programs, which primarily focused on Physics, Business Management, Biology, Chemistry, and Philosophy. Their College of Engineering has offered Ph.D. Programs since 2003 when this College first opened.
The UNT Department of Computer Science and Engineering offers a Ph.D. degree in Computer Science and Engineering. All applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree in computer science and the GRE exam within five years of applying. Students will have the opportunity to work with faculty in cutting-edge Computer Science applications and shape their education within the field. They are expected to become scholars, contributing to the field through innovation and theoretical concepts. Research methods are highly emphasized in the department and throughout the whole of the doctoral student's process. Dissertation or thesis work begins early in the process of study, offering structure and a jump start on a long and important process.
Degree: Ph.D. in Information Science-Data Science
6. Mississippi State University – Starkville, MS
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Mississippi State University offers a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). Even though the distance degree is conducted via remote communication, they operate identically to their on-campus counterparts. Department-approved proctors may be required to administer examinations to distance students who cannot come to campus for these events. Oral examinations like the preliminary examination and the thesis or dissertation defense may be conducted via on-campus visit by the student or interactive video conferencing. The department is committed to providing the same research support to distance learners as to on-campus students. Research may be conducted on-campus if that is available to students, or at an off-campus site such as the student's place of employment, if appropriate to their course of research.
Degree: PhD Computational Engineering
7. Syracuse University – Syracuse, NY
Syracuse University was established in 1870 after the idea of it was birthed at the Methodist Episcopal Church's annual Conference in Lima, New York in 1831. Even though they continue to maintain relationships with the United Episcopal Church, they consider themselves to be a nonsectarian institution. Their campus is in an urban center of Syracuse, New York, situated on 683 acres of land in the neighborhood called University Hill. Among their schools and colleges with national recognition is their College of Engineering and Computer Sciences. The US News and World Report have ranked Syracuse University as number 60 among all national universities.
The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University offers Ph.D. degrees in Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) and in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). Students will be trained to conduct independent research by synthesizing original ideas that are proven to be contributions by other researchers. They will be able to communicate their ideas effectively as evidenced by the dissertation process, project completion, and research proposals throughout their coursework. The CISE doctoral program is designed for students whose research focus is in computer and information science, as well as the software side of the computer engineering field. Both degrees are similar but different in the areas of focus, faculty, and dissertation requirements. A unique feature of this program is its interdisciplinary nature, allowing students to hone in on exactly their interest, without sacrificing components they deem valuable.
Degree: Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science and Engineering
8. University of South Carolina – Columbia, SC
The University of South Carolina was established in 1801 under the name South Carolina College. Often referred to as USC, they are the flagship institution of the University of South Carolina System. Located in Columbia, South Carolina, they are situated on 359 acres of land in an urban center. They have seven satellite campuses in addition to the primary site in Columbia. The entire University of South Carolina system has a total enrollment of 50,000 students, and the South Carolina campus alone has over 34,000. The US News and World Report has ranked them as an "Up and Coming" University, and their International Business Program has also been ranked within the top three in the country for over a decade.
The University of South Carolina College of Online Degree Programs offers a Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction with an Educational Technology Concentration fully online. The coursework component of this 60 credit hour program and be completed in 36 months. South Carolina certified teachers receive a tuition discount when they enter with a computer science and education background. The Educational Technology Concentration is designed for professional educators in K-12 and higher education institutions. The program prepares leaders for the challenges of technology-based learning, instruction, and training with a practical and project-based emphasis on design, development, implementation, evaluation, and research. Program faculty utilizes sound principles and techniques of instructional systems design plus technological competence development.
Degree: Ed.D. Educational Technology
9. Capella University – Online
Capella University was originally founded as the Graduate School of America in 1993. Their programming is primarily delivered online, though their headquarters are situated in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Among their 1600 online course offerings, students can choose from 142 graduate and undergraduate degree programs, and at least 25 certificate programs. Not only do students participate in classes from all over the world, but faculty teaches from 48 states and 6 countries. Eighty-six faculty members hold a doctoral degree. Each year about 36,000 students are enrolled in their programming, the majority being graduate students. Up until 2010, Capella had an open enrollment policy, requiring prospective students to have a GED or high school diploma to participate in their bachelors or certificate programs. They now have an application process.
School of Business and Technology at Capella offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Information Technology. Students are encouraged to develop excellent research skills in the specialized area of General Information Technology. The goal of the program is to develop leaders in IT, who move the entire field forward. The online Ph.D. in Information Technology degree is designed to prepare students for leadership, teaching, research, or consulting in IT. This program also gives students the opportunity to design a doctoral program to meet the specific interests and career goals of the individual, while being guided through market trends and needs. Students can choose dissertation topics in information security or network architecture and design, or choose to focus on IT advancement within a specific industry.
Degree: Ph.D. in Information Technology
10. Capitol Technology University – Washington, D.C.
Capitol Technology University was founded in 1927 and originally went by the name Capital Radio Engineering Institute. Based on the original name, it probably won't come as a surprise that the founder of the school was a US Navy Radioman. They underwent many name changes and settled on their current title in 2014. They are known for their graduate and undergraduate programming that centers information technology, engineering, computer science, and business. The Carnegie Foundation Classified Capitol Technology University as a Special Focus Institution within Schools of Engineering. Their first doctoral degree program was inaugurated in 2010 and is delivered both with online classes that are live, and face to face residencies.
Capitol Technology University offers five unique doctoral degrees in Computer Science and Systems. Students with an undergraduate background in the field and at least three years of graduate study can apply for one of these programs. The Unmanned Systems Applications (Ph.D.) provides students with the opportunity to conduct extensive and sustained original research in areas like artificial intelligence and robotics. Technology Combination Program (MS/ Ph.D.) begins with an MS degree in Research Methods and carries on to a doctoral studies program in Technology. Both degrees will be awarded at the completion of the Ph.D. Students with a Master's already can earn simply a Technology Ph.D., adding to their experience of research and project completion in the form of a dissertation. The Cybersecurity (DSc) offers students an opportunity to contribute to the ways that technology security systems are kept safe in a world that relies on the constant upkeep of such a process. Finally, the Business Analytics and Decision Sciences Ph.D. offers students an opportunity to contribute to the growing field of creating new solutions to business problems using computer skills and applications.
Degree: 5 options
11. Clarkson University – Potsdam, NY
Clarkson University was founded in 1896, and initiated by the sisters of an entrepreneur named Thomas S. Clarkson, who died of an accident in his sandstone quarry. He lived not far from Potsdam, New York, where the institution was established and remains. Clarkson is comprised of four distinct schools, including the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering, The Institute for a Sustainable Environment, the School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Business. They have been ranked many times by the US News and World Report; in 2015 they were placed among the top tier of National Universities. They were also ranked number 12 the category of Best Online Graduate Business School. According to Payscale, graduates from Clarkson are receiving some of the highest salaries in the nation.
The Ph.D. in Computer Science is offered at Clarkson is offered by the Departments of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science. Doctoral students will take courses in both departments on a range of topics, both theoretical and applied. Students should have an undergraduate background in a computer science context, as well as the discipline for a self-motivated dive into the depths of computer science from every angle. They will explore advances in computational theory, programming languages, software systems, hardware integration, and information technology. Doctoral candidates will complete an original research project, which must be submitted as a written thesis. To complete the Ph.D. degree requirements they will present this thesis orally and be approved before a committee of at least five faculty members.
Degree: Ph.D. in Computer Science
12. Colorado Technical University-Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Technical University was established in 1965 with the intention of educating military personnel in vocational and technical disciplines. Their primary campus is located in Colorado Springs with additional campuses in Aurora and Denver. Their degree programming emphasizes business, management, and technology. Though they are located in Colorado, they have no official affiliation with the state and over 90 percent of their classes are actually delivered online. They are regionally accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA), as well as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The majority of their funding comes from the United States Government, including a significant sum from the Department of Defenses and the GI Bill funds.
CTU offers a Doctor of Computer Science degree program that is mostly online. Students are encouraged to choose from four doctorate concentrations, Enterprise Information Systems, Information Assurance, and Cybersecurity and Big Data Analytics. Along with intensive research and writing projects, students will evaluate and propose new models of cybersecurity, develop complex software with a problem-solving focus, and explore issues that pertain to tech and software design at a high-level. Within the process, students will design, test and implement an organizational-based improvement experiment–including reporting on the results. The program can be completed in three years and offers several start dates throughout each semester. The development of the dissertation is integrated into the program process beginning early in the study.
Degree: Ph.D. in Computer Science
13. Dakota State University – Madison, SD
Dakota State University was established in 1881, under the name Madison Normal School. Their original mission was to provide an effective education for teachers. Engaging contemporary technology is a critical aspect to Dakota State University's pedagogical practice. As a result, they require all undergraduate students who are enrolled full-time to use laptops and tablets in their classes and to begin their education by taking an introductory programming class. Dakota State was recognized as a National Center of Academic Excellence by the United States Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. In 2017 they were gifted $60 million in donations to contribute to their efforts of becoming a cybersecurity hub.
DSU offers a Doctor of Science in Information Systems (D.Sc.) degree program that is completely online. For a school that prides themselves on technology education, earning a doctorate in Information Systems (IS) is a no-brainer at DSU. Students leave this program as experts in the areas of practice and theory of qualitative, quantitative, and design research techniques. The program offers three research specializations, Analytics and decision support, Information assurance and computer security, and Healthcare information systems. The goal of the program is to grow the field by developing leaders who will support new IT innovations. People with a master's level degree in IS or IT finish this program in three years of full-time study.
Degree: D.Sc. in Information Systems
14. Grand Canyon University – Phoenix, AZ
The Grand Canyon University was established in 1949 as Grand Canyon College in Prescott, Arizona. It was the Arizona Southern Baptists that were behind their founding, with the specific intention of giving locals the opportunity to earn a degree in a faith-based institution. They have held onto their Christian Southern Baptist Faith, and are in fact the largest Christian University in the world. Most of their programming is delivered online, though they serve many residential students as well. Students enrolled on campus total close to 19,500, where the number of online students is above 60,500 per year.
The College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University offers qualified applicants the opportunity to earn a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree with an Emphasis in Data Analytics. The program emphasizes leadership, innovation, and cultivating a global business perspective. Because the entire college is focused squarely on doctoral programming, students engage with faculty who are experienced at advising students at this point in their studies. One unique way that faculty support student success is by beginning the dissertation writing from the very beginning, with the very first course students take. Graduates of this program often pursue careers in academia and contribute to the ever-expanding knowledge base of contemporary business theory.
Degree: DBA with an Emphasis in Data Analytics Online
15. Nova Southeastern University – Broward County, FL
Nova Southeastern offers an online Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science for MS degree holders with considerable coursework in Computer Science already earned. The CSID Ph.D. requires eight specific courses that are each followed by research courses. All of this leads to the dissertation in an area of research of the candidate's choice. In addition, students are required to conduct two defenses: of their formal proposal outlining their proposed research (during early research), and of their final dissertation at the culmination of their studies. Nova CISD operates in a cluster format, meaning they combine traditional and online instruction to provide professionals the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science while continuing to work in their current field or position. People who work in industry, education, or government are especially well suited for this degree.
Degree: Ph.D. in Computer Science (CISD)
16. Walden University – Minneapolis, MN
Walden University was established in 1970 by a husband and wife team that was interested in providing doctoral degree opportunities to adult learners and working adults. Their early programming focused on school administrators. They are a part of a global network that includes 80 schools and 29 countries. Walden is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. They have several doctorate degree offerings, as well as bachelors and masters degree programs in a myriad of disciplines. Over 75 percent of their funding comes from the National Government.
The Doctor of Information Technology (DIT) program at Walden prioritizes the development of leadership in organizations, focusing on the structure and operational functions that have been identified to impact growth and success. Leaders in IT are often at the center of the structure of an organization. Walden has developed a unique blend of educational programs aimed to develop these skills and equip students to create a culture of competence within their professional sphere of influence. These programs include participating in and leading Seminar Courses, Residencies, IT Leadership Simulators, and Doctoral Study. Students also have the option of earning an MS in Information Technology throughout their doctoral study.
Degree: Doctor of Information Technology
17. Aspen University – Denver, Colorado
Aspen University was established in 1987 and has always been a distance learning school of higher education. They have been using the name Aspen University since 2003, and prior went by the name International School of Information Management (ISIM). Aspen's focus has always related to emerging information systems and technology, and they have made every effort to remain at the cutting edge. Their programming is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). Their degree programs include many levels and are all entirely online and focus on disciplines such as Computer Science, Information Management, Information Systems, Business Administration, Addiction Counseling, and Psychology. Their headquarters are in Denver, Colorado.
One of these programs is the Doctor of Science in Computer Science. It is designed for students with a foundational knowledge in computer science who wish to further their technical abilities and research skills in order to prepare for careers as technological innovators in the field of computer science. The program curriculum focuses on building an understanding of theoretical concepts as well as practical applications of Computer Science in the context of advanced research and analysis methods. Students in the program will also be required to take a series of courses designed to specifically to assist with skill development in the areas of researching and writing their doctoral dissertation.
Degree: D.Sc. in Computer Science
18. Northcentral University (NCU) – San Diego, CA
Northcentral University is generally referred to as NCU. They were established in 1996 as a Doctoral Research Institution. They offer doctoral degrees as well as masters and bachelors. Their headquarters are located in San Diego, California, with an additional office in Scottsdale, Arizona. All of their programmings is delivered online. In fact, they were ranked 148th among the New Best Online Programs for Bachelor's degrees by the US News and World Report in 2013. NCU is comprised of five unique schools including The School of Business, The School of Education, The School of Technology, the School of Health Sciences, and the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
For people who are considering research in the field of computer science, there are three online doctoral programs to choose from at NCU. The Ph.D. in Computer Science, the Ph.D. in Applied Computer Science, and the Ph.D. in Technology and Innovation. The ways these programs are the same are in their expert faculty who support students towards success every step of the way. The premise of online learning and the hands-on approach means that students will be proposing and creating research early on in their doctoral education. All students receive individuated interaction with faculty. The ways they differ are in the content. Computer Science from an applied approach focuses on learning to teach and research on the elements of the field that are practical, as opposed to more theoretical or improvement-focused. The Ph.D. in Technology and Innovation program has a leadership focus, with technology at the medium for innovation.
Degree: 3 options
19. Wright State University – Dayton, OH
Wright State University was established in 1967 as a branch campus for Miami University and Ohio State University. In 1961, the institution was in an early state of visioning, with a goal of bringing postsecondary education to the region. Wright State is located in Dayton, Ohio, which at the time of the institution's inception was developing with technological advancements, and therefore was requiring a more educated workforce to plug into the growing economy. The name was in honor of the Wright Brothers who were from Dayton, Ohio, and was known for inventing the world's the first airplane. At the Doctoral degree-granting level, The university is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Wright State offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science and Engineering degree that can be completed during the day, evening, or online. Coursework can be completed on a part-time or a full-time basis. Students must demonstrate scholarly excellence in study and research that also is focused on providing a significant contribution to the fields of Computer Engineering or Computer Science. Faculty in this program are experts in their field and work with Ph.D. students as colleagues and collaborators. Students who are admitted to this program demonstrate a fluency in high-level programming languages, computer organization, operating systems, real-time programming, data structures, formal languages, and computer systems design. Those who are accepted into the program show potential to contribute to the fields of Computer Science and Engineering research.
Degree: Ph.D. Computer Science