Higher Education degrees


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Degrees in higher education

Students attend college to advance their education to the university level because they want to pursue a career that interests and inspires them. In the higher education system, students are offered an abundant choice of programs that can eventually lead them to different academic and professional paths. Students can pursue a degree in biology, engineering, law, artificial intelligence, art, psychology, to name just a few options in an extensive list of fields, where they will be inspired to discover, design, create, research, and excel.

To successfully guide and equip students with what they need to meet their personal and professional goals, a higher education system needs to be staffed by qualified and talented professionals. A master’s or doctorate degree can open up a variety of career opportunities in the higher education system. In these programs, you will learn the techniques, knowledge, and skills required to work at the university level. Upon completion of your coursework, you will be qualified to work in many positions including administration, student affairs, and education.

The higher education system needs competent, highly-trained individuals to create, maintain, and run successful academic programs, so the students who attend can follow their dreams. Without deans, professors, and administrators none of that would be possible.

Master’s in higher education

Before you embark on your academic journey there are a few things you’ll need. Higher education programs will require a minimum of a 3.0 GPA in your undergraduate program, which should be in a related field. This could include, but is not limited to, child development, psychology, or elementary education.

Your undergraduate program should provide you with the knowledge that is useful for a master’s in higher education. If you have a degree in an unrelated field, you may need to pass prerequisite coursework before being accepted into the master’s program to ensure you have the necessary foundational knowledge for the graduate program.

Depending on the university you may also need GRE scores, a personal statement, academic references, and a writing sample.

Doctorate in higher education

Deciding to pursue the highest level of academia is a feat in itself. You are prepared for the hard work ahead, and are motivated to succeed.

Before you can be admitted to a doctorate program, you need to be sure you have everything the admissions department of your desired university requires. You will need to show a minimum of a 3.5 to 4.0 GPA in either your bachelor’s or master’s programs.

While some programs may require a master’s in higher education, others may only require a bachelor’s in a related field. This will depend on the university.

Universities may also require a writing sample, a resume outlining professional experience in the field, academic references, and an outline of your doctoral thesis or dissertation. This will show the faculty of the program the kind of research you want to conduct, which methods you will use, and an indication of your anticipated timeline and theoretical framework. This is a vital part of your application because it shows the faculty what research interests you, and how you can bring something new to the table.

Online vs. on campus

At either level there will be opportunities for you to earn your desired degree online or on campus. The commitment for a master’s program is typically 2 years, and the commitment for a doctorate program can be 3-5 years. The time it takes to earn a graduate or doctorate degree can be a deciding factor to whether you want to pursue it online or on campus.

Much can change in someone’s life over a period of 2-5 years, so making sure the degree works with your lifestyle is crucial for success. For example, as the primary caregiver of young children, an online degree may suit you better because you can study while the children are napping or at school.

Other students may work better with face-to-face instruction because they lose focus easily when they are studying at home. Options are available either way, but make sure the university is accredited before applying.

Does my university need to be accredited?

Accreditation is a vital part of the higher education system. It separates universities from non-accredited programs based on the high standard of excellence set by an accreditation agency appointed by the U.S. Department of Education. The role of these agencies is to ensure that academic programs provide students with the knowledge needed to pursue higher education, professional careers, or licensing and certification.

If you are unsure if the university you are applying for is accredited, visit the Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to look up your desired program.

Financial Aid

A master’s or a doctorate program can rack up hefty fees. Tuition, books, fees, and parking are all costs that add up quickly, especially for a program that continues over a few years. At the master’s or doctorate level, there are financial aid opportunities available.

Federal Student Aid is a federal grant given to students who qualify for financial assistance. The amount given will depend on your financial background and the information you provide. A free application, FASFA, is completed online with the essential documentation. After submitting the form, you generally receive a response regarding whether you are eligible, and if so, the amount of aid you can receive, within a few weeks.

Master’s coursework

During the 2-year master’s program, you will examine foundational research and learn how history, sociology, psychology, and economics have affected and continue to affect higher education. You will also be held accountable for researching and writing a thesis. A thesis is a fundamental part of any master’s program and shows the faculty that you have developed a deeper understanding of a particular area in higher education. By doing this you are also demonstrating exceptional writing and research skills.

History of higher education

To better understand how and why higher education came to be, you need to study its history. This course will teach you the history of higher education in the United States by examining issues, triumphs, mistakes, and prominent historical figures.

Diversity in higher education

You will focus on the theoretical, practical, and research issues related to diversity in higher education. It will teach you how gender, culture, race, disabilities, and sexual orientation are taken into account when supporting the faculty and students of a higher education program.

College student development

Coursework in human development will have already been taken, but this course primarily focuses on the theory and research surrounding student development at the university level.

Planning and assessment in higher education

This course will provide knowledge about effective assessment practices and planning methods that enable academic success in college students. You will also learn about accreditation procedures and public policy processes.

Leadership in higher education

To become employed in education, administration, or policy making for higher education, you need to attain leadership qualities. This course will teach you the skills and qualities needed for effective leadership.

Masters concentrations

If you want to advance your knowledge about a certain area within higher education, then choosing a program concentration could be beneficial for your professional development. This is an additional set of courses that examine an aspect of higher education that can help with your career after graduation.

Adult education

For those who want to pursue a career educating adults, this concentration might interest you. You will learn about theory, research, assessment methods, and instructional methods geared to the successful academic achievement of adults.

Administration and leadership

This concentration prepares students for a career in administration. You will focus on law, finance, theory, history and policies that shape an education program.

Student affairs

This concentration introduces students to research, theories, educational philosophy, and strategies that influence decisions in higher education.

How much will it cost?

The average cost for a master’s in higher education program can vary greatly but is generally reported as being between $3,412 and $17,128 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of an on-campus master’s program is roughly $35,720.

Career options

Being an administrator at the university level is a big job. They are responsible for curriculum review, budgets, scholarships, and student affairs. They may also be responsible for overseeing the research of the faculty. Some schools or universities may require a doctorate degree for this position.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 the average salary for a higher education administrator was $97,500.

Principals are responsible for good leadership, curricula development and maintenance, and for overseeing the day-to-day operations at the elementary, middle, or high school they are employed at.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2020 the average salary for a school principal was $98,490.

The dean of student affairs is responsible for facilitating a comfortable academic environment for the institution’s students. Sometimes call the dean of students, they help students with issues they may be facing, organize activities for students and communicate with teachers.


Payscale reported the average salary for a dean of students as $64,463.

Doctorate coursework

In addition to the necessary coursework, you will also be responsible for conducting your own scholarly research and reporting on the findings at the end of your program. This is called a dissertation and is fundamental to a doctorate program. The duration of your research will depend on your topic, and the methodology used.

Theories of higher education student development

This course examines the social theories, criticisms, and developmental theories that shape a student’s academic progress.

Diversity in education

A course in diversity will explore the research and issues related to students and faculty from different backgrounds. It focuses on how society, community, race, culture, and personal affairs influence higher education.

Higher education finance

This course provides you with the knowledge required to properly budget and manage the financial aspects of a higher education program. You will learn how state, federal, and local governments financially support higher education.

Administration and governance of higher education

You will be examining public policies that affect higher education. These can be at the state or federal level, and help you understand the relationship between policy-makers, administrators, and professionals who implement the policies.

Doctorate program concentrations

A program concentration will better prepare you for your professional endeavors by teaching you additional content in a specific area in higher education. You will choose this based on your interest and future goals.

Educational leadership

This concentration may be of interest if you are planning a career in higher education administration, education, or as a superintendent. You will explore the political involvement, sociological theories, and research that supports successful educational leadership.

Policy analysis

This concentration will advance your understanding of qualitative research methods and how they relate to educational policy. It explores the relationship between current policies and essential job positions in higher education.

Multicultural education

Through evidence-based research, sociological theories, and leadership techniques you will understand and explore the problems that students of multicultural backgrounds are faced within the higher education system, and how to implement solutions to them.

What is the cost of a doctorate program?

The average annual cost of a doctorate program costs between $11,000 and $24,000, with variations based on individual schools, programs and states.

Career options

This is an important career in higher education because the vice president of academic affairs is responsible for overseeing and ensuring the academic quality of all departments and programs within their institution.


The vice president of academic affairs makes an average salary of $135,000, according to PayScale.

A university professor is responsible for educating students at the postsecondary level in their area of expertise. Outside of lectures and developing coursework, they conduct their own research and write scholarly articles or books.


In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median salary for postsecondary teachers was $80,790.

U.S. Department of Education

This is a branch of the federal government that provides information on financial aid, resources, guidance, and research-based data to help prospective students, educators, and users navigate through the higher education system.

American Association of University Professors  

This association develops standards and procedures that ensure quality of higher education practices. They advocate for professional values, academic standards, and give information to graduate students who are interested in a career in higher education.

The American Association for Higher Education

This organization helps provide resources and information to users about higher education. They provide information on relevant policy issues, diversity awareness, educational practices, employment opportunities, and free courses to members.