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2023 Online Educational Leadership Doctoral Programs

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 5/8/2023
2023 Best Online Doctoral Degrees in Educational Leadership Badge

An online doctoral in education leadership helps working professionals pursue leadership careers in education. This online doctoral program requires prospective students to have previous work experience and a master’s degree to be considered for admission. The curriculum of an online doctorate in education leadership typically includes topics like leadership practices, research methods, equity, and policy analysis. Example courses include Critical Policy Analysis, Leading a Learning Organization, and Equity & Inclusion in Higher Education. Online doctoral degrees in educational leadership require students to complete and defend a dissertation towards the end of their program. In addition, some programs also require students to complete an individual project, a comprehensive exam, or a portfolio. Graduates may go on to careers like superintendents, college provosts, and academic directors.

View our methodology for more details about our list or learn more about OnlineU. If you remain undecided, check out our more general page featuring the most affordable doctoral degree programs overall.

2023 Best Online Doctoral Degrees in Educational Leadership Badge
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#1 St. John's University

  • Salary Score: 100
  • Median Starting Salary: $142,766
  • Locations: Queens (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

St. John’s University (St. John’s) is a private, nonprofit, Roman Catholic university, and it offers an online PhD in Literacy totaling 42 credit hours. It can take full-time students 2.5 years to complete this program. St. John’s accepts 89% of applicants, with 76% graduating.

At St. John’s, online students complete coursework asynchronously on Canvas. This means that students can study at their own pace. This online program offers two concentrations: (1) Literacy and (2) Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Sample courses include Literacy Leadership, Educational Research and Data Analysis, and Research Perspective in Literacy. Students are required to complete a dissertation seminar and project. Prospective careers are resource room teachers, literacy coaches, and curriculum developers.

#2 UMass Global

  • Salary Score: 98
  • Median Starting Salary: $122,129
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The University of Massachusetts Global (UMass Global) is a private, nonprofit institution that has an online Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership - Clear Administrative Services Credential Option equaling 57 credit hours. Full-time students can complete this program within three years. UMass Global’s acceptance rate is 93%, and it has a graduation rate of 59%.

UMass Global facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning on the learning management system Moodle. This program is designed for working adults with leadership experience. Program courses include Strategic Thinking, Innovation in Resource Management, and Team and Group Dynamics. A Transformational Change Project and a dissertation are also required for graduation. Potential career options for graduates include chief learning officers, education administrators, and school principals.

#3 National Louis University

  • Salary Score: 96
  • Median Starting Salary: $116,556
  • Locations: Chicago (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

At National Louis University (NLU) — a private, nonprofit institution — prospective students can pursue an online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership, which requires 60 credit hours. This program can take three years or more for full-time students to complete. NLU accepts 97% of students, with 50% graduating.

NLU’s online students complete courses asynchronously and synchronously on D2L Brightspace. This program helps students strengthen their skills in leadership, curriculum development, data analysis, and more. Some of the program’s courses are Critical Policy Analysis, Leading Change, and Education in a Global World. In addition to coursework, students must complete a portfolio and dissertation. Potential career options include superintendents, college provosts, and instructional coordinators.

#4 Fordham University

  • Salary Score: 95
  • Median Starting Salary: $115,607
  • Locations: Bronx (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Fordham University (Fordham) is a private, nonprofit, and Jesuit institution offering an online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy, which totals 50 credit hours. With a part-time class schedule, it may take between 4-8 years to finish this program. Fordham’s acceptance rate is 58%, and it has an 80% graduation rate.

At Fordham, online students complete coursework available on Blackboard in asynchronous and synchronous formats. A doctorate in educational leadership prepares students to assume educational leadership roles. Example courses are Leading a Learning Organization, Data Inquiry and Analysis, and Economics and Finance of Education. Students are required to complete a dissertation, seminar, and comprehensive assessment. Prospective careers for graduates are training and development managers, college provosts, and education administrators.

#5 Concordia University - Chicago

  • Salary Score: 93
  • Median Starting Salary: $111,823
  • Locations: River Forest (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Concordia University - Chicago (CUC) is a private, nonprofit, Lutheran institution that offers an online Doctor of Education in Leadership. This online graduate degree equals 61 credit hours and can take about three years to complete this program with a full class schedule. CUC accepts 88% of applicants, with 55% graduating.

CUC’s online students complete courses asynchronously on Blackboard. This program offers 12 specializations, like Gerontology, Higher Education, and Sports Leadership. Sample courses are Policy Analysis, Ethics for Educational Leaders, and Organizational Change. A comprehensive exam and dissertation is required for graduation. Potential career options are superintendents, education administrators, and college provosts.

#6 Aurora University

  • Salary Score: 93
  • Median Starting Salary: $111,772
  • Locations: Aurora (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

At Aurora University (AU) — a private, nonprofit university — future students can pursue an online Doctor of Education - Leadership in Educational Administration: Superintendent Endorsement totaling 60 credit hours. This program can last 3-6 years, depending on a student's courseload. AU’s acceptance rate is 86% and a 64% graduation rate.

AU facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning on Moodle. This program is for students wanting to assume superintendent or other high-level careers in school districts. Some of the program’s courses include Instructional Coaching and Adult Learning in the Profession, Advanced School Law and Human Resources, and Supertindent and Policy. Students are required to complete a self-assessment, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation. Graduates may go on to enter careers like superintendents, college professors, and academic deans.

#7 University of St. Francis

  • Salary Score: 90
  • Median Starting Salary: $107,873
  • Locations: Joliet (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of St. Francis (USF) is a private, nonprofit, Catholic university with an online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership totaling 60 credit hours. Prospective students can expect to spend three or more years completing this program online. The acceptance rate at USF is 99%, and it has a 56% graduation rate.

At USF, online students complete coursework available on Canvas. The program offers two concentrations: (1) Leadership, Learning, and Stewardship and (2) Superintendent Endorsement. The program’s courses include Servant Leadership, Stewardship for Resources, and School District Finance and Business Management. Potential career options for alumni include instructional coordinators, college presidents, and chief learning officers.

#8 National American University Online

  • Salary Score: 86
  • Median Starting Salary: $104,299
  • Locations: Ellsworth AFB (SD)
  • Accreditation: HLC

National American University Online (NAU) is a private, for-profit institution that offers an online Doctor of Education - Educational Leadership requiring 60 credit hours. Full-time students can spend three years or more finishing this program. NAU accepts all applicants, with 10% of students graduating.

NAU’s online students complete coursework in asynchronous and synchronous formats on D2L Brightspace. This program prepares students to lead educational and training operations across various industries. Sample courses include Education Partnerships, Innovation and Sustainability in Education, and Education Analytics. An individual project and dissertation are also required for graduation. Potential career options include school principals, college professors, and postsecondary administrators.

#9 University of Southern California

  • Salary Score: 81
  • Median Starting Salary: $99,851
  • Locations: Los Angeles (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The University of Southern California (USC) is a private, nonprofit university that offers an online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership totaling 43 credit hours. Prospective can complete this program within three years with a full-time schedule. USC’s acceptance rate is 13%, with a 93% graduation rate.

USC’s online students complete coursework delivered on Blackboard in asynchronous and synchronous formats. This program is designed for working professionals who want to lead K-12 schools. Example courses are Leadership Enactment, Education Policy and Politics, and Designing Organizations for Equity. Students must complete a dissertation to graduate. Graduates may pursue careers like curriculum specialists, deans of students, and academic consultants.

#10 Wilmington University

  • Salary Score: 63
  • Median Starting Salary: $89,157
  • Locations: New Castle (DE)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

At Wilmington University (WilmU) — a private, nonprofit institution — prospective students can pursue an online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership, equaling 51 credit hours. Students can complete this doctoral degree within three years. WilmU’s acceptance rate is 100%, and the school has a graduation rate of 44%.

WilmU facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning on Canvas. This degree helps students develop skills to advance their careers in education. Some of the program’s courses include Ethical Decision Making in Higher Education, History of American Higher Education, and Equity & Inclusion in Higher Education. To graduate, students must take seminars, a guided study, a portfolio, and a capstone project. Prospective careers are education policy analysts, superintendents, and college provosts.

2023 Online Educational Leadership Doctoral Programs

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 St. John's University 100 100 $142,766
# 2 #2 UMass Global 98 $122,129
# 3 #3 National Louis University 96 $116,556
# 4 #4 Fordham University 95 $115,607
# 5 #5 Concordia University - Chicago 93 $111,823
# 6 #6 Aurora University 93 $111,772
# 7 #7 University of St. Francis 90 $107,873
# 8 #8 National American University Online 86 $104,299
# 9 #9 University of Southern California 81 $99,851
# 10 #10 Wilmington University 63 $89,157
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Overview of Online Educational Leadership Degrees

Educational leadership is a vital component of today's education system, which is in the midst of being reorganized and revamped to better suit the needs of today's students and economy. Most educational leadership degree holders already have experience as teachers or school counselors of some kind and are interested in advancing to positions that are higher up within the school or school district. In some cases, especially in terms of educational leaders at community colleges and universities, talented students can train to go directly into educational leadership positions.

Educational leadership degree programs exist solely at the graduate level. A master's or doctoral degree in educational leadership can lead to a career as a school principal, superintendent, policymaker, or college education professor. Most programs require that applicants have a valid teaching license and several years of experience as a teacher. These degrees cover topics like school improvement, instructional supervision, administration, curriculum development, and human resources. Some programs can lead to licensure as a school administrator. Students may be required to take part in a leadership internship in a school or on an education board.

The skills emphasized by educational leadership degree programs go beyond basic leadership and management techniques. Specific courses in the program range from school law and ethics to finance and budgeting. Many courses target curriculum development and instructional training. Additionally, more and more programs are incorporating diversity studies into their curricula. Communication skills, managing community relations, and evaluation techniques are important components of any program.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Educational Leadership

Online doctoral degree programs in educational leadership prepare students to become successful leaders and scholars in the educational field. Programs equip students with theoretical knowledge and practical skills to effectively manage the challenges in today’s complex educational setting. Areas of emphasis in doctoral degree programs include diversity, ethics, leadership, policy, and research. Applicants are required to hold a master’s degree in educational leadership or a related degree. Leadership experience in a school setting is also vital. To earn a doctoral degree, you must complete 60 credits, which takes approximately three to four years.

Areas of emphasis during doctoral training include curriculum development, educational governance and policy, organizational theory, program evaluation, and research. The coursework covers areas such as assessment and evaluation strategies, classroom management, curriculum design, educational administration, ethical and legal issues in education, human resources and professional development, leadership theory and management, leading innovation technology, organizational theory and behavior, policy, politics, and community relations, reform and innovation, and training and performance solutions.

Concentration areas in doctoral degree programs include educational planning and instructional leadership. Students are required to engage in research throughout the program, which allows them to develop competencies in research design, data collection, analysis, and reporting of research studies. Upon completion of doctoral coursework, students are required to take a comprehensive exam. Doctoral degree programs also require students to complete an independent research study and write a dissertation, which must be defended publicly.

Career Specializations for Educational Leadership Graduates

A career in educational leadership generally means taking a position as a manager within an education system, either as a principal, assistant principal, academic dean, or as a department or district administrator. People who pursue this career field often have experience working directly with students as teachers, but that is not a requirement. It is necessary, however, that educational leaders have an interest in providing the highest-quality education available to the students they oversee.

Depending on which position an educational administrator takes on, he or she may be responsible for an entire school or school system, or they may handle one specific administrative area like budget, policy, or human resources. In a higher education setting at a college or university, the responsibilities of administrators are often even more far-reaching, including student housing and life services. Positions in this field can be very rewarding but require a significant amount of effort and commitment from the people who take them on. Many education leaders regularly work more than 40 hours a week, as well as on weekends and holidays.

Here are some of the educational leadership positions students may choose to pursue upon graduation:

  • Administration: Administrators at all levels are responsible for the overall management of educational systems and usually oversee multiple schools within a central district.
  • Elementary Education: Working primarily as principals and vice principals, leaders at this level ensure that elementary schools meet all state and national requirements and serve the needs of younger students.
  • Postsecondary Education: Usually educational leaders at this level are called department heads, chairs, or deans; they may manage anything from student services to specific academic departments.
  • Preschool and Child Care: Leaders in this field manage daycare centers and other pre-kindergarten facilities.
  • Secondary Education: Secondary school leaders manage junior and senior high schools, often dealing with larger systems than lower-level education administrators.

Education and Certification Requirements

Most people who currently work in educational leadership got there by first working as teachers or in other positions working directly with students. To work as a teacher, a bachelor's degree is almost always a minimum requirement. As such, people who decide to advance their career by working at an administrative level usually go on to pursue master's degrees to qualify for those positions. Administrators who manage and operate preschool and childcare facilities are the exception to this rule, as they often need only a bachelor's degree. However, for most elementary and secondary school principals and assistant principals, an accredited master's degree in educational leadership or administration is necessary. Central office administrators at this level also hold master's degrees and sometimes doctoral degrees, as well.

Most states require school principals to achieve certification, for which they usually need to pass an exam and obtain a master's degree from an accredited institution. Increasingly, schools require a period of mentoring for new leaders, as well, and many also require administrators to take continuing education courses throughout their careers. In many cases, a graduate degree can suffice, while other states require exams that are specific to educational administration. Checking a state's Department of Education website can help a candidate find the exact requirements.

For those interested in working at institutions of higher education, similar degree requirements apply. More candidates for these positions have achieved PhDs in their own academic field, educational administration, or both; almost all have achieved master's degree at least. However, state regulations do not usually apply to postsecondary education administrators, so no exams or certifications are needed.

The Importance of Accreditation

Most states require elementary and secondary education administrators to have a master's degree from an accredited institution, so it is recommended that students select an online educational leadership program that is recognized by the US Department of Education (ED) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Accreditation helps guarantee that colleges and universities meet high academic standards and offer students an education that utilizes the most current research and information. It also enables students to transfer credits among other accredited schools and apply for financial aid.

The ED recognizes accrediting agencies, such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) for the programmatic accreditation of educational leadership programs. Students can search the ED database or the CHEA database for accredited programs and schools.

This website offers school details to prospective students as an informational resource. The appearance of a school listing on this website should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the school by this site.

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