Obtaining a PhD in Education is an emerging important track for those wishing to pursue or excel as a professional and leader in the field of higher education. The range and scope of higher education changes drastically year to year with more access to online accredited programs and a global approach to education. Because of these rapid annual changes, the need for leadership when shaping the future of higher education in the United States is ever-increasing. Scholarship, interest in exploring groundbreaking research, creative minds geared towards innovation, and a passion for learning are all elements that make up the ideal candidate for obtaining an online doctorate degree in Education.
Though there are other tracks to follow when exploring career opportunities in higher education leadership, this particular ranking focuses solely on PhD programs. If you are interested in licensure or taking the EdD route check out our Top 40 Most Affordable EdD ranking. The PhD programs are not licensure programs by default, though some programs may comply with state licensure requirements. Check with each schools PhD department for specific details on licensure. The PhD track is research based with a focus on understanding, anticipating, and shaping the future of higher education in America.
The Online PhD Rankings are determined by evaluating through three core measurements: institution reputation through Niche Scores, student outcomes measured with IPED alumni salary data, and Affordability according to in-state annual tuition rates. All three of these angles used to determine the Online PhD Rankings are weighted evenly.
Most programs explored in this article can be completed fully online though some hybrid or low residency programs require time on a traditional campus. All programs are accredited in some capacity, but check the individual school websites for specifics in accreditation.
1. University of Colorado – Denver
The University of Colorado at Denver is located in the urban heart of Colorado’s capital city offering interdisciplinary, top-tier academics and research opportunities to students from the undergraduate to doctorate levels. All fifty states are represented via the diverse student population and the faculty, both on campus and online, are made of up experts and top professionals in their fields. The institution offers one of the highest ranked doctoral programs in higher education in the nation. The hybrid online Doctor of Philosophy in Education and Human Development program is a one of a kind, research-based degree program for individuals interested in taking leadership and executive positions in the realm of education. Core course work is combined with scholarly academics. Classes are offered at a variety of times and on campus class requirements take place during the day, evenings, and weekends. Student can choose the format in which they complete the program: fully online, hybrid, or on the traditional campus. There are a minimum of fifteen hours per week of out-of-class time work required as well as twenty hours per week of research time. The program takes three to six years to complete and students can maintain their current jobs while earning a degree to advance their careers.
Degree: PhD in Education and Human Development
2. University of Nebraska – Lincoln
The University of Nebraska at Lincoln was charted in 1869 and today is a member of the Big Ten Academic Alliance and the Big Ten Conference. It is also a Carnegie R1 Doctoral University commended for having the Highest Research Activity in its category. Earning a doctoral degree at Lincoln is an assured way to get the best of the best when it comes to research-based, doctoral education. The graduate school offers two concentrations in their PhD Education online program: Educational Studies or Educational Leadership. Students may also choose these concentrations in the EdD format. The PhD in Education is set up to prepare graduates to serve in leadership positions in educational organizations from higher education to research based institutions. Although the degree is meant to be earned fully online, students are encouraged––and sometimes required––to travel and spend time on campus for intensives, residencies, or to attend seminars. Most on campus opportunities are offered during the summer months. Most students go on campus to propose and then present their dissertations. Since not all advisors can take new students each year, depending on their annual advising capacity, new students are encouraged to contact faculty who hold their same scholarly interests while applying to the program. The application deadline is mid-January, annually.
Degree: PhD in Educational Leadership or Educational Studies
3. University at Buffalo
The University of Buffalo is New York State’s flagship institution and the largest and most comprehensive campus in the SUNY system. It was founded in 1846 and today is a research-intensive public university. The institution prides itself in being “distinguished by a culture of resilient optimism, resourceful thinking and pragmatic dreaming.” This approach to learning is found in every aspect of the university, both on campus and online. Students attending the doctoral program at the University of Buffalo will participate in a multidisciplinary experience that combines academic learning and practical problem solving to tackle real-world educational problems through research. The research-based degree program in Curriculum, Instruction, and the Science of Learning allows students to customize their time enrolled to meet their own research goals or career minded needs. There are five concentrations to choose from: elementary education, English education, mathematics education, reading education and science education. The program also offers a general track for students interested in participating in an interdisciplinary focus. Students can complete their coursework fully online, or by combining online work with on campus classroom participation. Sixty-two doctoral credits plus ten additional master’s credits are required to complete the program in four to five years, more if students attend part time.
Degree: PhD in Curriculum, Instruction and the Science of Learning
4. New Mexico State University
New Mexico State University is a Hispanic-serving institution. The multicultural population is made up of students from 49 states and 89 foreign countries and the institutions cooperative extension reaches all of New Mexico’s thirty-three counties. The premier research institution is also a NASA Space Grant College, plus has twelve agriculture research and science centers across the state. New Mexico State University has designed its distance education programs to serve students who otherwise would not be able to earn an advanced degree through traditional means. In this way, hard-working, industry professionals from across the nation apply to participate in the hybrid online PhD in Education Administration program in order to maintain their day-jobs while pursuing their career goals in an efficient, timely, affordable and practical manner. Coursework focuses on social justice and border issues, and uses research and theory to support its curriculum. The seventy-eight-credit hour, hybrid program requires approximately 80% face-to-face attendance with the remaining 20% completed online. All applicants must hold either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in any discipline, but from an accredited university.
Degree: PhD in Educational Administration
5. Colorado State University – Fort Collins
Located along the western edge of the Great Plains at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado State University at Fort Collins was founded in 1870 originally as the Colorado Agricultural College. Today it is the state’s, and among the nation’s, leading research institution. The $300 million in research funding goes to world-class research in areas such as infectious disease, clean energy technologies, ad biomedical technology annually. Colorado State University Online has been offering quality and rigorous online and distance programs for over fifty years. The online PhD in higher education from Colorado State University aims to prepare graduates for careers as administrative leaders in their fields and has a 95% retention rate, one of the best in the nation. The program takes a specific focus on universities and colleges and alumni fill positions in areas such as Student Services, Administration, Enrollment Management, Housing Services, or Academic Support Leadership. The program is fully online, uses a cohort structure, and offers flexible scheduling, most graduates maintain their current jobs while obtaining their doctoral degree. The faculty is made up of scholar-practitioners, experts in their fields with industry expertise and extensive careers to back up their credentials.
Degree: PhD in Higher Education
6. Union Institute & University
Distinguished as a pioneer in Adult Education, Union Institute and University was founded in 1964 and has, since its founding, offered quality degrees in higher education to students and adults across the nation. The non-profit institution is accredited regionally to award degrees to the doctoral level. The online, research-based PhD program in Educational Studies aims to explore issues in education at the graduate and professional levels. Students can expect to focus on often under-explored issues such as social justice in pre-k-12 and higher education, multiculturalism, and educational law and policy. The interdisciplinary approach allows enrollees to combine classroom or online academics with real-world applicable experience across the educational spectrum. Union additionally aims to train students in the PhD Educational Studies program to be equipped to address complex social chasms such as social justice and ethics for marginalized people and populations within the educational sphere.
Degree: PhD in Educational Studies
7. Oregon State University
Oregon State has been an exemplary institution in serving diverse populations through a diverse, expert faculty since it’s founding over 150 years ago. Today is a public research university with students from all fifty states plus over a hundred countries from around the world. The institution aims to build a “smarter, healthier, more prosperous and more just” world through inclusive academics and groundbreaking research opportunities. In addition to its offerings on the traditional campus, the regionally accredited university offers over fifty degree and certificate programs online through their Ecampus. The regionally accredited university off has been ranked among the nation’s top online schools for education for the past eight years. The Doctorate in Education is a research-oriented degree program that combines classroom academics with assistantships to a specific faculty member’s research. The cohort, hybrid model requires face-to-face study both online and on campus during the first two years of study. On-campus classes are held two weekends per term in Portland, Oregon. Students can expect to complete the program in four to six years.
Degree: PhD in Adult and Higher Education
8. University of Kentucky
The University of Kentucky is one of only eight universities in the county offering all schools of learning on one campus: liberal arts, engineering, professional, agricultural and medical colleges. The wide array of programs all in one place means students benefit across the board from multidisciplinary academic and research experiences. The school was founded in 1865 and today serves students from across the nation both on campus, and online. The University of Kentucky offers an online PhD program in education through the institutions College of Education, which serves approximately 3,000 students annually. The College boasts employed alumni in all fifty states, plus the District of Columbia and forty additional countries around the world. The faculty and students are also involved in over $20 million in active, worldwide research in 2018. The University of Kentucky is part of a land grant institution and offers their PhD program fully online. All students must complete a five-chapter research dissertation in addition to forty-two credit hours of coursework. There is also a four credit hour residency requirement and most students earn their degree between four and six years.
Degree: PhD in Education
9. Ball State University
Ball State University, founded in 1918, offers an immersive approach to education that combines innovative research, rigorous academics, and exceptional service, volunteer, and internship opportunities for all students enrolled both on campus and online. With 93% employment rate after graduation, it’s easy to see why Ball State University is a natural fit for adults wishing to further their professional careers. The Doctor of Philosophy degree in Educational Studies is one of the best in the nation, and focuses on staying up to date with ever-evolving innovations in higher education and educational research. There are three specializations students can choose from: Curriculum, Educational Technology, or Cultural and Educational Policy Studies. The delivery is both online and on a traditional campus, and the main campus is located in Muncie, Indiana. There are other campuses where students may complete their on-campus coursework throughout the greater Indianapolis area. The ninety-one credit hour program takes between four and seven years to complete, including time for research and dissertation development.
Degree: PhD in Educational Studies
10. Northwest Nazarene University
Founded in 1913 and located in Nampa, Idaho, Northwest Nazarene University is a comprehensive Christian institution offering undergraduate and graduate degrees, plus two doctoral options. In addition to the traditional campus, and in conjunction with programs in thirty-five countries from around the world, Northwest Nazarene is able to offer online and distance programs as well. Northwest Nazarene offers a PhD and EdD in Education fully online. The programs are both research-based but the online PhD focuses on large-scale field practices that can be applied at the national or international levels. It also requires five additional credit hours in research when compared to the online EdD. Students wishing to apply must hold a Specialist Education degree to be considered for admission. The online program is a cohort model, which starts in the spring of each year, with a two-week summer session that takes place on campus and is required for all attendees. The application deadline is October 15th annually.
Degree: PhD in Education
11. Liberty University
Liberty University, located in the beautiful valleys of Southwest Virginia, is a private, Christian university offering accredited degrees from the Baccalaureate to Doctoral levels. The school was founded in 1971 and follows the fundamental Christian mission of training “Champions for Christ with the values, knowledge, and skills essential for impacting tomorrow’s world.” The mission of the online PhD degree programs in Education degree program aims to teach students how to become experts in their fields in order to “Shape Policy and Lead with Authority in Education” from influential, leadership positions. Students will complete the program 100% online and the flexible course options allow students to focus their studies on subjects that reflect their own personal career aspirations. Students go on to find careers in educational administration or in research, and there are two concentrations to choose from: Organizational Leadership or Curriculum and Instruction. All coursework can be completed online and each course runs for an eight-week block.
Degree: PhD in Education
12. William Carey University
Originally located in Poplarville, Mississippi, and founded in 1892 at the Pearl River Boarding School, today William Carey University has two campuses: the main campus located in Hattiesburg, and the traditional campus in Biloxi, Mississippi. The Christian university takes a Christ-centered approach to learning in all aspects from academics to research. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award degrees to the doctoral level. The Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration program began in 2010 and can be completed online in a hybrid fashion. Students have up to six years to complete the Doctorate in Higher Education Administration program and must maintain an average GPA of 3.0 or higher, though students who make more than two Cs while enrolled are on grounds for dismissal from the program. A twelve-hour dissertation project is also required and it is recommended that students take three hours of the twelve required over a period of four years. Courses that coincide with the fully online EdD program may be completed online while the remainder of the student’s coursework must take place on campus.
Degree: PhD in Higher Education Administration
13. St. John’s University
Founded in 1870, St. John’s is a Catholic and Vincentian institution, following in the global-centered traditions of St. Vincent de Paul. St. John’s has seven traditional campuses in various locations around the world, including Rome and Paris, plus the online distance learning campus. The online PhD in Literacy and Education is one of the most sought-after programs in the nation, and it is one of the nation’s only online doctorate in Literacy programs. In fact, the program is so popular, it fills up early, and it is full for the coming semester, Spring 2019. St. John’s University aims to advance the practice of Literacy Education through research-based study and takes a holistic focused approach to understanding at-risk learners. Students choose from one of three concentrations: ESL Teaching, Educational Leadership, or Special Education. Every student is granted a dedicate advisor upon entry to the program. In addition to coursework and research students must complete a dissertation project and the degree program takes approximately two and a half years to complete.
Degree: PhD in Literacy and Education
14. Indiana State University
Indiana State University is truly an institution and advocate for the American people. With grounded beliefs in and values placed on public schools, public health, and the general public good, students expecting to serve their communities near and far to build a better universal us need look no further than Indiana State. Founded in 1865 the university today offers over one hundred majors and over sixty different degree programs from the undergraduate to doctoral levels online. The Educational Administration PhD program at Indiana State University offers two specializations: School Administration or Leadership in Higher Education. The program may be completed on campus, online, or in a hybrid fashion. The institution offers a couple of options for financial aid and scholarships, including specialized opportunities for veterans. There are also special scholarships available for residents of Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and the Midwest Consortium.
Degree: PhD in Educational Administration
15. University of Northern Colorado
The University of Northern Colorado combines rigorous academics, top-field professionals, and innovative research to give students the best there is to offer when it comes to research-based higher education. Today UNC is a four-year doctoral-granting university, though it started humbly as a Normal School in the 1880s. Students in all disciplines and at all levels of education are expected to participate in research opportunities in addition to their academics. The small, nineteen to one student-teacher ratio gives attendees the feel of an intimate college with the research opportunities of a large university. The online Doctor of Philosophy program in Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado is set up to allow the student to pursue their own specific academic goals within their field of study in order to realize their personal long-term career goals. Based on the philosophy that “learning is an active, self-regulated process” students can expect to explore, along with their faculty and advisors, the pedagogy, research methodology, and public policy behind higher education and learning nation- and worldwide. The program takes three to five years to complete and requires seventy-seven to eighty-three total credit hours. Applications to attend are due April 1st annually.
Degree: PhD in Special Education
16. University of the Cumberlands
Originally founded by a small group of Baptist Ministers in 1888 as the Williamsburg Institute, the University of the Cumberlands took it contemporary form in 2005. The Kentucky school aims to provide Carnegie quality educational experiences and opportunities to an otherwise underserved area in the United States. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate to doctorate degrees, plus education specialist degrees. The University of the Cumberlands offers a fully accredited online PhD of Educational Leadership in Counselor Education and Supervision. It is aimed to educate students who wish to pursue a specialization as a Counselor in Education and Supervision. The program is perfect for those who wish to find leadership positions or administrative roles in behavioral health agencies. The university offers an EdD program in the same field, but the PhD program is research-based, not a licensure, and requires an additional six credit hours to earn the degree.
Degree: PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision
17. Regent University
Regent University is a Christian institution founded on combining relative academics with Christ-centered learning. Founded in 1978 the school has always been dedicated to providing “Christian Leadership to Change the World.” All programs, including those offered online, take a Christian worldview, this specialty degree is supported by award-winning faculty in Virginia Beach. Additionally, Regent University strives to offer top-notch, groundbreaking research opportunities for all enrollees. The Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education helps those who wish to pursue a career in academia or research at the university level find their areas of expertise, and their passion through an analytical approach to learning. The degree program offers twelve specializations, offering the most specializations of all online PhD Education programs offered in the United States. Students must complete coursework plus a strong and relevant research-based dissertation, and be prepared to apply their study and research to their careers in leadership positions after graduation.
Degree: Ph.D. in Education
18. Capella University
A fairly young university and founded in 1993, Capella University is a fully online university that offers degree programs that fulfill the goals of adult professionals wishing to advance their careers. Though young, the institution delivers quality education to students worldwide via a plethora of formats. The online accredited university has programs that allow students to enroll multiple times throughout the year, finish their degree programs in flexible manners, and still get the one-to-one personalized attention found on traditional college campuses. The online PhD in Education program requires online coursework, residencies, a comprehensive examination, and a dissertation. The equally weighted academic and research-based program let’s student enjoy the flexibility of learning online while still engaging in face-to-face residency and research opportunities. Students may specialize in a number of areas including: Curriculum and Instruction, Leadership for Higher Education, Educational Administration, Postsecondary and Adult Education, and Instructional Design for Online Learning to name a few.
Degree: PhD in Education Program
19. Walden University
Walden University was founded forty-five years ago as an institution dedicated to serving the educational needs of adult learners and working professionals. All fifty states are represented in the student body and students from over 150 countries pursue degrees annually through Walden University. All programs from the undergraduate to graduate levels are designed to reflect current market trends while still offering competitive and rigorous academics plus innovative research opportunities. The online PhD in education program offers ten specializations, the second highest offering of all online PhD Education program offered nationwide. Students are also able to choose their own research topic and apply that research to their dissertation with the ultimate goal of solving a problem or serving a need within their field. In addition to the online coursework, four residency experiences are offered annually. At least of these residencies must happen face-to-face. Graduates go on to pursue careers as sociologists, educational instructors, development specialists, or survey researchers. Students can apply for a wealth of financial aid support including low-interest loans, scholarships, or paid fellowships.
Degree: PhD in Education
20. Hampton University
Hampton University, located in the Virginia Peninsula, is a living historical site with deep roots in the African-American experience. Steeped in tradition, but an innovative research institution, Hampton is a self-proclaimed tightly-knit community of learners and educators who come together under an academic umbrella to reach a common goal: to learn, grow, and extend knowledge as leaders in local and global communities. Hampton University online offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Management for students interested in becoming leaders in higher education. The program is executive oriented, which sets it apart from other PhD Education Management programs. The sixty-six credit hour program is accelerated to serve the needs of working professionals who wish to finish their doctorate program in a timely manner while maintaining their current career path. The degree prepares graduates to be leaders and experts in their fields, capable of adapting and leading other in ever-changing higher education administrative environments. Students may choose to specialize in one of four areas: Higher Education, Pre-K-12 Education, STEM Leadership, or Special Education. Students must apply by January 15th annually to be considered for enrollment.
Degree: PhD in Education Management
21. Keiser University
Keiser University was founded in 1977 with a mission to serve working professionals, adults, and non-traditional, career-focused students. Today it is Florida’s third largest, non-profit university and has eighteen campuses across the state, plus the online campus. Knowing that affordability is essential when seeking a degree in higher education, Keiser awards over $44 million in scholarships and financial aid annually reaching academic qualifiers and need-based attendees. Keiser University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership degree that combines theory, method, and research to teach students how to improve schools and academics nationwide by example in leadership and executive positions. The program is designed to allow students to contribute to real-world educational needs through research and independent learning. Applicants must hold a master’s degree from an accredited university in business administration, management, public or non-profit management, or related fields to apply.
Degree: PhD in Educational Leadership
22. Concordia University – Chicago
Located in the Windy City, Concordia University Chicago was originally founded in 1864 as a college for teachers; today it is a comprehensive university compromised of five traditional colleges plus an online distance learning campus. The institution is a private, non-profit university and part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. A foundation in Christian values carries over into all academic elements at Concordia. The small university enrolls a little over four thousand students annually and is accredited to award degrees from the undergraduate to doctoral levels. The online doctoral program in Educational Leadership offers a specialization in Reading, Language and Literacy and attendees can expect to take a theoretical and practical approach to their studies, with a combined emphasis on relevant, innovative research. The hybrid program requires up to sixty-seven credit hours to complete, including research and dissertation, and takes three to six years to complete. International students are encouraged to apply, though once admitted they must complete the Seminar in Higher Education, three-credit-hour course.
Degree: PhD Leadership with a specialization reading, language and literacy
23. Trident University International
Trident University International is a fully online accredited university with no traditional campus. It is recognized as the first university of its kind and regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The online school serves people in California, and from other states across the nation. The institution is also military focused, and provides additional benefits for military personnel, veterans, and families of service people. The PhD in Educational Leadership degree at Trident University can be earned 100% online. The degree takes a total of seventy-two months to complete and enrolls fewer than ten students per year. The small enrollment at Trident University International annually allows students the opportunity to engage one on one with qualified faculty and staff. Faculty members hold doctoral degrees of their own and are specialists in their fields. Graduates go on to grow in fruitful careers in research, school administration, leadership in education, or consulting.
Degree: PhD in Educational Leadership
24. Northcentral University
Northcentral University is a regionally accredited online university that serves students across the nation, and worldwide. The virtual institution is a for-profit company located in San Diego, California and awards degrees from the undergraduate to graduate levels, including doctoral degrees. The Doctor of Philosophy in Education degree at Northcentral University can be completed in approximately forty-five months. It requires sixty credit hours and offer sixteen professionally relevant specializations. There is open enrollment year round and students may enroll on Mondays all fifty-two weeks of the year. Graduates can expect work in postsecondary and adult learning environments and conduct research in and about pre-k through high schools. Though the program serves students nationwide and internationally, it is especially relevant in serving California residents and industry professionals.
Degree: PhD Education
25. Ashford University
Ashford University offers a thorough and unique learning experience to all who attend online. The virtual school offers flexible class schedules and relevant degree programs for the working professional in an ever-evolving educational environment. This is why graduates of the fully online PhD in Education degree program are so equipped to evaluate, lead and develop higher education as we know it today. The school combines rigorous academics plus extensive online research activities to stimulate and educate attendees. The program requires fifty-nine credits, including the three-credit research course and eleven credit hour dissertation project. Though fully online, students must still research, write and defend a dissertation to graduate. In-residence workshops are required with minimal time commitments annually. Students can choose to focus on an array of specializations within the field of higher education, and may complete the program full or part-time.
PhD in Education