Doctorate degree in higher education program guide

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Doctorate degree in higher education

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that there were 19.8 million students enrolled in postsecondary education programs in 2017. Across the country, more adults are deciding to advance their academic qualifications by pursuing a degree at the university level. A possible reason for this could be the increasing tendency of employers demanding graduate level degrees for entry level positions, previously available at the undergraduate level. A second more personal reason may be related to a growing desire to acquire deeper knowledge of a topic that is intriguing at either a personal or professional level.

Regardless of the reason, the rise in higher education programs correlates to an increase in the employment market for university professors, researchers, administrators, and support staff in both educational institutions and government departments. A doctorate in higher education will teach you about research, policies, and sociological concerns that lead to educational reform and successful institutions. After you complete this program, you will understand the fiscal responsibilities of higher education institutions, the importance of supporting diverse learners and faculty, and how government backing is essential for the success of higher education systems.

What do I need to apply?

The decision to undertake a doctoral program generally requires considerable research into the courses and college options that best suit your learning goals. You then submit an online application to your desired school with the requested transcripts from your accredited undergraduate and graduate programs that hopefully show a minimum 3.5 to 4.0 GPA. You will also need GRE scores, a writing sample, a resume outlining your professional experience, a personal statement, and academic references. This documentation will clearly indicate to the admissions board why you are a good candidate for the program, what you can bring to the program, and how it will advance your career and academic endeavors.

After the online application is completed and submitted with all necessary documentation, the admissions department will typically respond in 6-8 weeks.

Online vs. on campus

A doctorate program is a big commitment, and part of that commitment is deciding whether you’d like to pursue this degree online or on campus. The current pandemic has resulted in more online options for doctoral studies, and this may suit your lifestyle better than an on-campus program, especially if you have professional obligations that require your presence during traditional class times, or if you have a family to care for. Before applying to an online doctorate program, make sure the institution and program are accredited. This will help you with future employment or licensing opportunities.

Does my program need to be accredited?

In short, yes. It is vital to your academic and professional success that your doctorate program is accredited. Accreditation is granted to university programs by an accreditation agency which makes sure the program has met or exceeded minimum quality standards. If a university is accredited then it is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a valid education program. If you earn a degree from an accredited university then your credits are transferable to another accredited institution, recognized by licensing, credential, and certificate programs, and acknowledged by employers.

What will I learn?

In addition to your dissertation, which is scholarly research conducted by you throughout the course of your doctorate program, you will also be held accountable for academic coursework. These courses will give you knowledge of the financial, educational, theoretical, and practical dynamics of higher education, and how this all pertains to the success of college students and higher education programs.

Theories of higher education student development

You will focus on the social theories, fundamental criticisms, and developmental theories that affect a student’s personal and academic progress and relate it to current student affairs.

Diversity in higher education

You will learn about the ethical dilemmas, principles, and theories that apply to leadership. This course examines the ethical decision-making process and discusses how ethical behavior is important for successful leadership.

Qualitative research and data analysis

This course will examine the issues and research that aim to support students and faculty in higher education from different backgrounds. You will look into how personal influences, society, ethnicity, and governments work together to create successful employment and academic outcomes.

Higher education finance

Knowledge of the inner financial workings of a higher education program will benefit you as you seek employment after graduation. In this course you will learn about how federal, state, local governments work to support higher education.

Assessment and evaluation of higher education

This course focuses on learning about the political, theoretical, and practical issues of assessment that affect student learning outcomes in higher education.

Administration and governance of higher education

Knowledge of the inner financial workings of a higher education program will benefit you as you seek employment after graduation. In this course you will learn about how federal, state, local governments work to support higher education.

Program concentrations

A program concentration will advance your knowledge about a certain aspect of higher education. This is chosen by you, at the availability of your institution, and can provide you with additional knowledge about an area in higher education you are interested in researching and eventually working in.

Educational leadership

This concentration will focus on leadership to prepare you for a career in higher education administration, as a higher education educator, or as a superintendent. It will further your understanding of political involvement, sociological theories, and evidence-based research that pertains to successful educational leadership.

Policy analysis

During this program you will advance your knowledge about qualitative research methods in relation to educational policy. This fundamental knowledge on the relationship of research to improving or changing current policies regarding education is essential to job positions in administration, government education department, and college professors.

Multicultural education

A concentration of multicultural education can equip you with the skills and knowledge necessary to advocate for multicultural education programs. By considering the evidence-based research, sociological theories, and leadership techniques, you can expand your understanding of the problems that confront students from multicultural backgrounds, and implement solutions to the problem of unequal access to quality education in the United States.

Financial aid

The duration and intensity of the doctorate program can leave you with a hefty financial debt. Doctoral programs often have many more options for financial support than undergraduate courses. Many students are granted scholarships that come with part-time teaching or research responsibilities. Federal Student Aid also provides financial assistance at the doctoral level for eligible students. Complete the free application for student financial aid (FASFA) online, and include all requested information on your financial status, income, and household, so a determination can be made regarding your eligibility for federal aid.

Career options

An important position within the higher education field, the vice president of academic affairs is responsible for overseeing the academic quality of all departments, programs, and services


According to PayScale, a vice president of academic affairs makes an average of $135,000 annually.

A postsecondary teacher, or college professor, is responsible for preparing and teaching lessons to adult students at a college or university. They are considered experts in their field, and have attained a doctoral degree and additional years of research or practical experience. In addition to their teaching responsibilities, college professors often conduct their own research, write scholarly articles, and publish books.


In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that postsecondary teachers made an average salary of $80,790.

A campus center director works with budgets and department personnel to develop innovative programs. They also provide academic advice and personal guidance to higher education students.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an operations research analyst was $86,200 in 2020.

American Education Research Association  

Founded in 1916, the American Education Research Association has over 100 years of experience providing knowledge about education, scholarly inquiry, and accessibility to research to improve the education system. On this site, users have access to information on policy, advocacy, education research, publications, and professional advancement.

American Association of University Professors

Since their foundation in 1915, the American Association of University Professors aims to develop standards and procedures that maintain quality higher education practices. They promote professional values, academic standards, and information to graduate students and academic professionals who want to pursue a higher education career.

The School Superintendent Association

This organization is celebrating 150 years of supporting public education through the education, facilitation, and advancement of public school superintendents. They advocate for equal success for all students and develop support systems of school leaders.