An emergency management degree is one of the smartest career choices in the 21st century, for a lot of reasons: pay, job market demand, and opportunities for advancement are just a few. Modern emergency response is incredibly complex, led by a mix of local, regional, and national government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private companies, faith-based charities – the list goes on and on (just look at FEMA’s list of emergency management organizations). Administration for emergency response, whether for natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or infrastructure failures, requires specialized knowledge in addition to advanced leadership skills – which is exactly what you get from an Emergency Management PhD.
Why Get an Online Emergency Management Degree?
Most people even considering an emergency management doctorate are already busy working professionals in the field, which means they can’t easily leave their jobs to go back to school – after all, we need all the emergency response professionals we can get. That has made online emergency management degree programs more and more common, as universities have worked to meet the demand. Online emergency management doctorates are not quite as common as online master’s degrees, but as the emergency relief system has become more complex, a doctorate has become standard for the higher reaches of administration and executive positions.
Emergency management is a unique field because it encompasses so many disciplines: engineering, environmental science, political science, business, and even technology and research. Because of the nature of the job, emergency management PhD programs are usually interdisciplinary in nature, and can be offered by several different departments or schools. Emergency management also overlaps with degrees like the Doctor of Business Administration, engineering doctorate degrees, and, of course, Homeland Security.
Ranking the Best Emergency Management Doctorate Online Programs
For the benefit of emergency response professionals who are interested in earning their doctoral degrees, Online PhD has ranked the top 15 Online Emergency Management Doctorate Programs. To rank the best online PhD in emergency management, we researched all of the fully online Emergency Management PhD programs available from US colleges and universities, then ranked them according to three factors:
- Cost: Current IPEDS data
- Reputation: Current Niche grade
- Return on Investment: Current College Scorecard alumni salary data
All of the online Emergency Management PhD programs ranked by Online PhD (except for one) are regionally accredited; some have even earned NSA and Department of Homeland Security recognition.
1. George Mason University – Fairfax, VA
George Mason University began in 1949 as an extension campus for the University of Virginia, part of the post-WWII effort to meet the higher education demands of returning veterans. As the Washington, DC, metropolitan area spread, however, Fairfax became one of the main suburbs of the capital, and a small branch campus was not enough. Today, GMU is not only an independent, top-tier public research university – it has far outgrown the flagship in Charlottesville in student body size, and has developed a high level of political influence thanks to its relationships with alumni working in the Beltway.
GMU’s online Graduate Certificate in Emergency Management and Homeland Security provides working professionals with a way to increase their credentials and earn advancement in their career. Designed specifically for the needs of current professionals in law enforcement, fire and rescue, civil service, and private consultation, the online certificate can be applied to an MPA in Public Administration, or added on to a PhD program for a doctorate-level Emergency Management degree. Though it is not a full Emergency Management PhD, it gets students closer to their terminal degree with a low cost and extremely high reputation.
Degree: Graduate Certificate in Emergency Management and Homeland Security
2. University of Maryland, Baltimore County – Baltimore, MD
Although the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is not the flagship of the UM system (that’s UM College Park, the state’s land-grant university), UMBC is the original University of Maryland campus and one of the oldest public universities in the nation. Originally founded in 1807 as a medical school, UMBC was the first University of Maryland, and through more than two centuries has held fast to its commitment to top-tier professional education in medicine, law, and the social sciences. In that capacity, UMBC has long been central to the well-being of Maryland’s people, educating a high proportion of the state’s civic leaders, doctors, nurses, and other professionals throughout the years.
UMBC’s PhD in Public Policy degree program offers a concentration in Emergency Services that can provide working professionals with the tools they need to advance in the field. Designed for both part-time and full-time students, the Public Policy PhD also provides a path for students who do not already have a master’s degree. The UMBC emergency management PhD is not a fully online program; rather, this low-residency plan requires weekly classes scheduled in the evening, supplemented with online coursework, for the convenience of working professionals. UMBC is Maryland’s top location for an emergency management degree, with a long-standing influence in the state’s public sector.
Degree: PhD in Public Policy-Emergency Services
3. Oklahoma State University – Stillwater, OK
Founded in 1890 (when Oklahoma was still two frontier territories), Oklahoma State University is the Sooner State’s land-grant public research university, long ranked a best regional university and best value for the Midwest. For the entirety of Oklahoma’s existence, OSU has played a central role in STEM research and education, as well as professional studies in fields ranging from agriculture and engineering to business and human sciences. That foundation makes OSU one of the best places in the Midwest to study fields related to public policy and public administration, while the School of Global Studies and Partnerships makes OSU the state’s hub for international careers.
The OSU online International Disaster and Emergency Management (IDEM) Graduate Certificate makes a convenient way for working professionals in the field to earn higher credentials, or make the first steps toward an emergency management PhD. Students take 6 credits in International Studies, 6 credits in Fire and Emergency Management, and 6 elective courses, creating a strong understanding of how disasters can be handles on a global level. Oklahoma State has earned a strong reputation throughout the US as an online educator, and its expertise in disaster and emergency management show in the IDEM certificate.
Degree: International Disaster and Emergency Management (IDEM) Graduate Certificate
4. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis – Indianapolis, IN
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is one of the most unusual public research universities in the nation, born out of necessity and an exceptional sense of cooperation from Indiana’s two top institutions. In 1969, when Indiana University and Purdue University made the decision to combine their urban outreach campuses in the state capital, they did more than pool their resources: they made a unique university that was more than the sum of its parts, and that quickly became central to research and education in the Midwest. Following the mission of its original parts, IUPUI continues to specialize in adult education, and remains dedicated to accessibility and quality, including its nationally-ranked online degree programs.
The IUPUI online PhD Minor in Homeland Security and Emergency Management gives students working on a PhD in another field to add a fully online doctoral minor. The Emergency Management minor adds four courses in emergency management, risk analysis, security, and related concepts. Students must already be enrolled in a doctoral program at IUPUI to add on the online Emergency Management degree. With the key courses in the emergency management minor, graduate students can make their related PhD into an Emergency Management PhD, and be prepared for a new career, or for advancement in their current career.
Degree: PhD Minor in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
5. George Washington University – Washington, DC
Named for the first president – who envisioned a national university in the nation’s capital as the ultimate symbol of the United States’ coming of age – George Washington University has been at the center of higher education in the District of Columbia since 1821, when it was chartered by an act of Congress. Today, GWU is one of the most politically connected and politically influential universities in the nation, thanks to a long line of public officials GWU counts among its alumni, and because of the many partnerships the university has established with government agencies, private industry, and NGO nonprofits. A working professional who wants to have a high-powered career in any field related to the government can expect results from George Washington University.
Among its many strengths, GWU is particularly known for its School of Engineering & Applied Science, and the GWU online PhD in Engineering Management is one of the top programs of its kind in the world. Students can choose to focus their research and practice in Crisis, Emergency, and Risk Managements, one of the predominant research areas for the program. For future leaders in the field, the PhD program focuses on areas like logistics, financial engineering, and decision-making. While the program is not fully online, students can apply to enroll online or at one of GWU’s satellite locations throughout Virginia. With GWU’s connections throughout the Beltway, graduates come out of the program with incredible career potential.
Degree: PhD in Engineering Management – Crisis, Emergency, and Risk Management focus
6. University of Illinois at Chicago – Chicago, IL
The University of Illinois at Chicago began in 1946, intended only to give returning WWII veterans a local campus where they could take the first two years of general education courses; then, presumably, they would transfer to the UI main campus. What Illinois officials didn’t expect was how in-demand higher education would become, not only making the temporary two-year campus permanent, but giving the state reason to open a comprehensive, independent university within just 20 years. Today, UI Chicago is not just a center of professional studies and research for Illinois and the Midwest; it is regularly ranked as one of the top public research universities in the US. UIC’s many exceptional online programs have only added to its reputation.
UIC’s Emergency Management and Continuity Planning Graduate Certificate gives professionals in a variety of disciplines the knowledge of emergency planning and leadership they need to advance or change careers. Five online, graduate-level courses give students give students a strong grounding in communication, information systems, risk management, vulnerability analysis, and other crucial aspects of emergency management. This collaborative program between the School of Public Health and the College of Business is fully online and taught by experienced practitioners, upholding UIC’s nationally-respected reputation.
Degree: Emergency Management and Continuity Planning Graduate Certificate
7. University of Delaware – Newark, DE
Founded in 1743, the University of Delaware is one of the oldest schools in the US, though it did not become a college until 1833. Delaware’s largest university, UD is a public research institution with land, sea, space, and urban grants, playing a critical role in higher education for the second-smallest state in the union. Because it is the only university of its stature in the state, UD is central to STEM research and education, as well as preparing Delaware’s professionals in areas ranging from education and business to public service. The comprehensive School of Public Policy and Administration is responsible for educating leaders in Delaware’s government, ranked one of the top public policy schools in the nation.
The University of Delaware online PhD in Disaster Science & Management degree program provides an interdisciplinary approach to the complex work of responding to natural disasters. The PhD builds on knowledge from environmental science, management skills, policy, technology, and even health systems to help students get the full picture of a disaster management career. The 42-credit online emergency management degree also requires a dissertation, and students must spend one out of the full three years in residency, which may be done through a combination of fall and spring semesters.
Degree: PhD in Disaster Science and Management
8. New Jersey City University – Jersey City, NJ
New Jersey City University began, like many regional public universities, as the state’s normal school, training teachers for the public school system in a hands-on, 2-year program. However, as Jersey City grew into one of the largest industrial and metropolitan areas of New Jersey, the little teacher-training school grew into a full, comprehensive public university, giving New Jersey’s students and working adults an affordable, convenient location to earn higher degrees in all kinds of fields. Today, NJCU is crucial the the state’s professional leadership, with graduates entering all levels of law enforcement, government service, industry, and other sectors.
The NJCU online Doctor of Science in Civil Security Leadership, Management, and Policy provides working professionals, and future security experts, a generalist program that can be applied to numerous career paths. There are three main areas of focus: National Security, Corporate Security, and Cybersecurity. As a practitioner’s doctorate degree, the DSci program is designed not for academic research, but for practical application, giving working professionals expertise and skills they can use immediately in their current careers. Students will attend a two week summer residency, as well as four shorter weekend visits; all other coursework is available in a fully online format.
Degree: DSc in Civil Security
9. Jacksonville State University – Jacksonville, AL
Proudly called “The Friendliest Campus in the South,” Jacksonville State University began in 1883 as a state normal school, using hands-on education in real laboratory classes to prepare teachers for the public school system. By the 1960s, the school had grown into a comprehensive public university, taking on an important mission to provide educational opportunity to a changing region. Today, JSU is ranked as one of the top regional public universities in the South, and is especially noted for the its outreach to the community, including a large number of fully online degree programs at every level.
Jacksonville State’s online DSc in Emergency Management degree program was actually the university’s first doctoral degree, offered beginning in 2011, and today it has grown into a model for the field. Students work through a highly-developed curriculum that covers all areas of disaster management, from research and analysis, to administration and policy, to actual practice. All coursework is available fully online (in fact, only online – there is no on-campus program), though students must attend a 1-week intensive session each year. Exams can be completed on-site or off-site, and a dissertation is required to complete the program.
Degree: DSc in Emergency Management
10. Colorado Technical University – Colorado Springs, CO
Founded in 1965, Colorado Technical University began as a small vocational school focused on training former military personnel for civilian careers, but it didn’t take long for the school to far outgrow that original mission. By 1995, CTU had reached university status, and had earned regional accreditation, a rare feat for a for-profit tech school. It was also around that time that CTU leapt into online education, becoming one of the first and foremost names in online higher education. Besides accreditation, CTU is recognized as a National Center of Educational Excellence by the NSA and Department of Homeland Security.
CTU’s Doctor of Management-Global Leadership degree program builds on the university’s excellence in global security, international affairs, and diplomacy. Designed for working professionals in international fields, the Global Leadership program focuses on the complex work of collaboration between international organizations, including governments, NGOs, and private industry. While it’s not precisely an online Emergency Management degree, partnered with a certificate or degree in emergency management, the Doctor of Management can provide the credentials for advancement in all sorts of international relief organizations.
Degree: Doctor of Management-Global Leadership
11. Capella University – Minneapolis, MN
A Minneapolis, Minnesota-based for-profit university, Capella University has been providing convenient, distance-format graduate education geared toward the needs of working professionals since 1993. While Capella began just before online education became a viable concept, Capella was one of the first universities to take up online education, and today almost all of the university’s students (around 90%) are fully online. Capella’s much-imitated competency-based learning program has been a model for new style online education, focusing on applicable, practical knowledge for working adults. As a regionally-accredited institution, Capella is one of the best-known names in online education.
Capella’s online emergency management degree programs offer two distinct degree types and paths to earn an emergency management doctorate. The traditional PhD in Emergency Management is more oriented toward academic research, while the Doctor of Emergency Management is a practice-oriented degree dedicated to the practical specifics of leadership in emergency management and disaster relief. The primary difference is in what kind of career graduates may seek; while both qualify graduates for leadership positions in disaster-relief organizations and government agencies, the PhD may be more appropriate to policy-makers and researchers, while the DEM may appeal to private industry and consultancy.
Degree: PhD in Emergency Management or Doctor of Emergency Management
12. Northern Kentucky University – Highland Heights, KY
Northern Kentucky University began in 1948 as an extension campus for the flagship University of Kentucky (in Lexington), working to meet the demand created by returning WWII veterans using their GI Bill benefits to go back to school. In just two decades, the campus had become an independent institution, and today Northern Kentucky stands as a highly respected regional university. Primarily dedicated to undergraduate education, in recent years NKU has earned a wider reputation as an online educator, and expanded its graduate options for working professionals and nontraditional students.
The NKU online Emergency Management Certificate program provides working professionals in some aspect of emergency management the chance to enhance their education and career with a convenient, 18-credit graduate certificate. Students can earn the certificate at their own pace, either in a hybrid or fully-online format, bringing together lectures, small groups, and service learning for a well-rounded educational experience. The certificate may also be transferred to MPA or doctoral programs in emergency management.
Degree: Emergency Management Certificate
13. Walden University – Minneapolis, MN
Before it was one of the premiere online higher education institutions, Walden University was a boldly successful experiment in distance education. Starting in 1970, Walden was founded by educational reformers looking for a way to help teachers earn their doctoral degree from a distance, without having to leave their careers. From that original concept, Walden has grown into a regionally-accredited, nationally-recognized online university, giving working professionals in all sorts of industries and disciplines the opportunity to earn their higher degrees from a distance. A private, public-benefit corporation, Walden focuses on the needs of students, keeping practical, market-ready skills at its core.
The Walden University online PhD in Public Policy and Administration degree program offers many specializations, including Emergency Management. Walden’s online Emergency Management PhD program prepares professionals for the complexities of modern emergency management, with the many organizations and agencies involved in responding to disasters and emergency situations. The Walden PhD focuses on leadership for contemporary disaster management, bringing together an interdisciplinary approach to the field. All coursework is online, though there are four on-campus residencies over the course of the program, no more than 16 days.
Degree: PhD in Public Policy and Administration
14. Northcentral University – San Diego, CA
Northcentral University was one of the first institutions founded from the beginning as a fully online university, starting in 1996 when online education was just beginning to look like a viable alternative to traditional college. Northcentral made its name on practical, career-oriented programs, focusing on skills that students can apply directly to their current jobs, and use to advance or change careers. Getting into online education early, Northcentral is unique among fully online universities by being not only regionally accredited, but accredited for some specific programs as well. With a long-standing reputation, Northcentral is the first choice for many working professionals.
Northcentral’s online PhD in Psychology, Trauma, and Disaster Relief degree program takes a different approach to disaster management than most universities. Rather than a management or environmental science degree, Northcentral’s PhD-PSY takes on disasters from a psychological perspective. Students learn specialized approaches to helping patients recover from trauma of all sorts, from natural disasters and terrorist attacks to bullying and abuse. Students who intend to practice must already be licensed practitioners; the online PhD in Psychology does not qualify for licensure. All coursework is fully online, and students can complete the PhD in as little as four years.
Degree: PhD in Psychology, Trauma and Disaster Relief
15. Bircham International University
Bircham International University was founded in 1992 as a nontraditional approach to adult education, creating a decentralized, international network of fully online degree programs in a variety of in-demand fields. From the beginning, BIU was intended as a totally alternative approach to education; while the university is fully online, and not accredited in the countries it serves, Bircham’s degrees have been recognized as following international standards for best practices. As a largely independent course of study, Bircham’s programs are best for self-motivated students who have a specific educational need.
BIU’s online PhD in Security & Emergency Management degree program is intended for working professionals in the security and emergency response field who need a higher degree to enhance their career. The fully-online emergency management degree uses independent research and reading, allowing students to direct their curriculum toward their own specific needs. The basic degree requires 21 credits beyond a master’s degree, though students can also supplement with business and management courses for further specialization.
Degree: PhD in Security & Emergency Management