The public health field is in a state of massive growth, prompted by rising concerns over public health threats ranging from conditions like cancer and obesity, environmental concerns like water and air safety, and health disruptions from natural disasters and terrorism. Strong, well-organized and well-educated leadership in public health is crucial to making sure that populations are as safe and healthy as possible. To make sure there are people at the highest levels of public health who know the field, many university public health schools have developed online doctor of public health programs.
Choosing a DrPH or PhD in Public Health
For working professionals in the public health field, or who are considering a career shift into public health from some related field (like healthcare administration or nursing) an online public health doctorate is an obvious choice, but there may be come confusion about what kind of public health doctorate to choose. Online programs provide flexible scheduling and convenience, and many public health programs do not even require on-campus residencies at all, except for some brief orientation or intensive courses.
Most public health professionals are likely to choose a Doctor of Public Health program, an advanced professional degree more focused on the practice of public health – management, leadership, planning, and so on. Some public health schools offers a PhD in Public Health, which will tend to skew more toward research, theory, and analysis, though professionals with a Public Health PhD will still be more than qualified for administrative positions in research, higher education, government agencies, and other public health centers.
Ranking the Best Online Doctor of Public Health Programs
To rank the Top 10 Online Doctor of Public Health Programs, Online PhD Programs searched for the most reputable, respected, and highly-ranked DrPH and Public Health PhD programs offered in online, hybrid, or low-residency modes. Programs are then ranked according to three criteria:
- Tuition Price (IPEDS data)
- Reputation (Niche score)
- Return on Investment (College Scorecard data)
1. University of North Carolina
The University of North Carolina is one of the most highly respected colleges in the nation. The university has the distinction of being the first public college in the country, earning its charter in 1789 and opening to students in 1795. The university offers courses taught by the finest minds in the field with staff members being Pulitzer Prize winners, Rhodes Scholars and Nobel Prize laureates. The University of North Carolina’s distance learning programs for healthcare professionals have been ranked within the top 100 from well-known publications including U.S. News & World Report and Forbes Magazine.
The UNC Executive Doctoral Program in Health Leadership (DrPH) prepares healthcare professionals for top leadership roles. Offered by the Gilling School of Global Public Health – the nation’s highest-ranked public school of public health – UNC’s distance learning degree requires three years of study for conferment. The university includes campus visits three times a year for the first two years of study as part of the curriculum. The campus visits can be done in North Carolina or at sister sites around the globe. The DrPH degree at the University of North Carolina has been responsible for training many of the nation’s top administrators from public health agencies, making it one of the best online doctor of public health programs anywhere.
2. Northeastern University
Northeastern University is a highly competitive school with a large student body of more than 25,000 in Boston, MA, the nation’s most crowded and accomplished higher education hub. The private university offers specialized training to students in person or through a blend of distance learning programs. Health degrees earned at Northeastern University carry a lot of weight in the medical field due to the college’s distinction of being one of the top research facilities in the world.
The PhD Program in Population Health at Northeastern University is focused around teaching students strategies to find the causes of public health issues. To earn a degree, students must take 33 credits of core courses along with selecting a concentration. Concentration choices include Health Services/Policy and Social/Environmental. A dissertation is also a requirement for graduation from the doctorate program. A key benefit of the PhD program at Northeastern University is assistantships are available to graduate students with tuition costs covered and an annual stipend given.
3. Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University was named for its distinguished founder, who started the college in the year 1876. The university is very selective with a mere 14 percent acceptance rate. The college has an established rate of success with students—93 percent of the student body graduate from the university. The Bloomberg School of Public Health has the distinction of being the first public health school in the nation, and is home to the university’s graduate public health programs, including the Doctor of Public Health degree that ranks among the best online doctor of public health programs in the world.
The Johns Hopkins University Doctor of Public Health program is set up to advance the careers of students who already have a Master of Public Health degree or an equivalent. Healthcare policies, medical ethics, health leadership, communication methods and public health analyses are part of the curriculum of the Doctor of Public Health degree at Johns Hopkins University. Besides the core courses, doctorate students will need to choose a concentration from the college’s four choices: Environmental Health, Implementation Science, Health Policy or Health Equity. A major draw for students pursuing a DrPH degree from Johns Hopkins University is the ability to create a customized track for the distance learning program.
4. University of South Florida
The University of South Florida is a public research college located in the heart of Tampa. The college is part of the State University System of Florida and has an enrollment of almost 49,000 students. There are 14 colleges offered through the university including the distinguished College of Public Health. The College of Public Health has a number of graduate degree programs including Master of Public Health, Master of Science in Health, Master of Administration and Doctor of Public Health.
The University of South Florida Doctor of Public Health program prepares students for leadership roles in public health agencies around the globe. More emphasis is put on the development and implementation of policies versus research techniques typically taught in the Master of Public Health program. The courses for Doctor of Public Health can be taken completely online with an on-campus option available to those who may live in the Tampa area. The Doctor of Public Health degree at the University of South Florida has a proven track record of offering a high return on investment to all graduates of the program.
5. University of Illinois at Chicago
Located on the West Side of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s campus is found within one of the world’s most thriving cities. The public research university has appeared year after year in the top 100 public universities ranking given by U.S. News & World Report. The University of Illinois at Chicago is well known for offering generous scholarship and grant opportunities based on merit. The School of Public Health at UIC was established as a way to fill more leadership roles at the doctoral level within the healthcare field. That includes one of the top online doctor of public health programs in the nation.
The UIC online Doctor of Public Health degree program is laser-focused on leadership training in the field of public health. Research, practice and theory are all studied in depth as part of the degree program. Most graduates with the degree will pursue jobs in public health agencies. To be considered for admission, applicants will need a Master’s degree and a minimum of three years of experience in a public health leadership role. Courses can be taken on a part-time basis with an average completion time of six years. The Doctor of Public Health program at the University of Illinois offers high value at a low tuition rate.
6. East Carolina University
First founded in 1907, East Carolina University is a public doctoral institution located across a sprawling 1,600-acre campus in Greenville. The university is the third largest in the state and is classified as a NCAA Division I school. The school has continuously expanded their graduate degree programs to include a number of online options. Online graduate degree programs are available in English, Education, Software Engineering, Nursing, Public Health and more.
For the ECU online Doctor of Public Health degree program, graduate students will need to choose a concentration of either Environmental and Occupational Health or Health Policy Administration. Applicants for the program should have a Master of Public Health Degree and job experience in public health practice. The degree program is done completely online with the curriculum obtaining approval from the University of North Carolina System. With the low tuition cost and high rate of post-grad job placement, the Doctor of Public Health degree at East Carolina University is a solid choice for grad students.
7. The University of Southern Mississippi
Formally called Southern Miss, the University of Southern Mississippi has been consistently ranked by the U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s best public universities. With a rolling application deadline and low in-state tuition costs, it has continued to expand its student body year after year. Southern Miss has recently focused on reaching even more students around the world by offering degrees that can be earned mostly online. The doctoral online programs from the University of Southern Mississippi typically only require no more than seven on-campus meetings with students annually.
The University of Southern Mississippi’s International Development PhD program follows a hybrid program which includes online classes and seven calendar year seminars at the Mississippi campus. For full-time students, the doctoral program can be completed with three years while part-time students may take up to four to five years. The program also offers a limited number of assistantships to graduate students as a way to waive tuition costs and receive an annual stipend. The University of Southern Mississippi’s International Development PhD degree offers the chance to expand career options with graduates landing consulting jobs, university professor positions or promotions within a public health sector job.
8. Loma Linda University
Loma Linda University has a central campus located in California along with a large catalog of online classes. The university is made up of a total of eight schools and includes more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The university is considered a health sciences university and is part of the Seventh Day Adventist education program. Distance learning programs are offered through the School of Nursing, School of Religion, School of Public Health and School of Allied Health Professions. The online doctor of public health programs from the School of Public Health are all 100 percent done virtually with no face-to-face meetings required.
Loma Linda University’s online Doctor of Public Health program focuses on tackling public healthcare issues by using advanced evaluations and techniques. The education is faith-based with many the disciplines taught being approved by the church. The courses found at Loma Linda University will prepare students for leadership roles within public health agencies on both a national and international level. The accredited Doctor of Public Health degree from Loma Linda University has a high graduation rate and superior post-grad job placement rate.
9. Old Dominion University
With close to 25,000 students, Old Dominion University has one of the largest student bodies in the entire state of Virginia. Old Dominion University was founded in 1930 as part of the College of William & Mary. Today, the public university has one of the highest levels of research activity in the nation. The school has close to 100 graduate degrees available, including 35 doctoral programs. The college’s distance learning program, titled the Online Experience at ODU, features live classroom sessions that can be viewed virtually.
Old Dominion University’s online PhD in Public Administration and Policy is available online with class times following a regular schedule, but viewable through the school’s virtual portal. To receive the doctoral degree, a total of 49 credits are required with 37 credits from coursework and 12 credits from a dissertation. The PhD in Public Administration and Policy from Old Dominion University offers career advancement opportunities at a low tuition rate for both in-state and out-of-state students.
10. Penn State World Campus
Penn State World Campus is the virtual campus for the Pennsylvania State University. Penn State was founded in the mid-19th century as an agricultural school. Today, the university has a total of 24 campus locations and more than 160 degree programs. Between campus enrollment and virtual enrollment, there are close to 100,000 Penn State students. Penn State World Campus was initially launched in 1998 and uses a blend of technologies for course completion. Students may be required to view live seminars, upload video essays, participate in chat room discussions and more.
The Penn State online Doctor of Public Health Program has the mission of providing advanced educational opportunities to public health officials. The Doctor of Public Health degree is intended to prepare graduates for careers in private and public health sectors, the field of academia or non-profit organizations. The degree requires 45 credits for coursework and 15 credits for a student’s dissertation. Virtual class times are frequently scheduled during evenings and weekends to accommodate work schedules. With funding available through scholarships and apprenticeships, the Doctor of Public Health degree from Penn State is a solid investment.