Educators make a difference in students’ lives, and educational leadership expands that impact beyond the classroom.
A doctoral degree in educational leadership allows professionals to
- Implement policy
- Improve educational effectiveness
- Drive organizational growth
Fortunately, educational leadership doctoral programs can now be completed online.
Gone are the days of traveling to a campus on nights and weekends while working full time. The online doctorate allows working professionals (and even full-time students) the flexibility to accomplish their goals while meeting family and personal responsibilities.
Graduates will be prepared for a range of roles, from Chief Academic Officer to a K-12 principal or administrator, a development manager or Director of Special Education.
Positions available to educational leadership doctoral graduates not only come with higher levels of compensation but the ability to make an invaluable contribution to the education system and future generations.
What Is A Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership?
A doctorate is the highest degree available in any field. In the realm of education, it represents a blend of academic theory and best practices for educational professionals in teaching and policy.
A doctoral degree in educational leadership is a three-year program that generally requires 84 credits. Credits can often be transferred in from a previous master’s degree, reducing the time it takes to complete the doctoral program.
Graduates leave the program with the skills and information needed to make improvements in learning outcomes. Common concentration areas include:
- Higher education administration
- Independent school leadership
- International education policy and management
- Education policy
- Leadership and organizational performance
Best Schools That Offer Online Educational Leadership Doctoral Degrees
A school’s attributes must be weighed against each student’s needs and preferences. With that in mind, consider the list below a framework to compare various school’s offerings.
Lamar University – Beaumont, TX, Ed.D in Educational Leadership
This online program consists of 60 semester hours and focuses on preparing educators for advanced responsibility, leadership and accountability in a range of school settings and learning environments. The program emphasizes the diversity of communities to be served.
The doctoral degree requires 33 hours of core courses, 15 hours of research, and 12 hours in dissertation, which must all be completed within 10 years. Lamar University works to keep its tuition low and estimates the cost of a graduate education at approximately $5,441 for 12 credit hours.
Liberty University – Lynchburg VA, Ed.D in Educational Leadership
This online program is focused on giving graduates the training to become advanced educators, administrators, or researchers. Students develop skills in leadership, management, educational trends, and curriculum development.
The school requires no standardized testing for admission and allows the transfer of up to 50% of previous course credits from a master’s degree. Students must complete 54 credit hours, and they usually take three years to graduate. Liberty University is a nonprofit university that strives to provide students with an affordable education. Of all Liberty’s online students, 87% are awarded some kind of financial aid.
University of Southern California Rossier School of Education – Los Angeles, CA, Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership
This online program prepares graduates to apply research and theory as a leader of K-12 classrooms, schools, and districts with a focus on addressing inequities in urban education. The program allows students to earn their degree in three years, concentrating on these six core competencies:
- Critical reflection
- Diversity and equity
- Learning organization
- Research and data
Students also learn to foster organizational improvement and ensure compliance. The program requires a dissertation focused on practice rather than research. Classes are conducted live in a real-time virtual classroom environment. Total costs are estimated to be $1,005 per unit or a total of $85,785 in tuition and fees.
William Woods University – Fulton, MO, Doctorate in Educational Leadership
William Woods University’s educational leadership program is designed to equip educators with robust professional training in curriculum and instructional as well as leadership, organizational, and research.
The program can be completed with as few as 25 credit hours within two years or less. William Woods offers affordable tuition and guarantees their tuition will not increase as long as they remain enrolled. The current cost for the doctoral program is $675 per credit hour plus the costs of books and other expenses.
American College of Education – Indianapolis, IN, Doctor of Education in Leadership
This program is designed to help educators advance their leadership and research skills within their particular discipline.
There is a minimum requirement of 18 credit hours, and the program culminates with a faculty-supported dissertation. Students can customize their education with 10 different focus of study options in addition to a general track with just 37 credits of an entirely flexible schedule.
Study focus areas include:
- Curriculum and instruction
- Early childhood education
- Educational and community organizations
- Higher education
- Special education
- Second language instruction
Total cost of tuition is $23,914, and the program takes roughly 3.5 years to complete.
Concordia University Irvine – Irvine, CA, Doctor of Education in Leadership
This program offers three different areas of specialization:
- Educational Administration
- Organizational Change
- Special Education
Students can complete the program through a fully online instructional approach or through a blended approach. The online program requires real-time conference calls and 24/7 learning modules.
The blended program combines face-to-face, on-campus classroom sessions with real-time online learning sessions and self-paced learning modules. Both programs provide a module with fieldwork for observation and research.
Students move through the programs as a cohort, starting and completing the program together, supporting one another and forming a professional network. The program ends with a dissertation supported by a dedicated advisor and dissertation committee.
Tuition is $995 per credit plus expenses and additional fees. However, tuition is locked in for the first three years, and costs are waived for the last two terms of the third year and first two terms of the fourth, as needed.
What Can I Do with A Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership?
Graduates often find roles in curriculum management or leadership within a school district or school as one of the following:
With a doctorate in educational leadership, career opportunities are nearly endless.
What is the Expected Salary of Someone with a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership?
According to a salary and benefits study4 conducted by AASA (School Superintendent’s Association) for the school year 2019-20, the base salary for a school superintendent with 300-999 students is $117,500. That amount increases proportionally with the number of students in attendance.
- High school principal median salary range: $87,000-$115,000
- Middle school principal median salary range: $84,150-$110,750
- Teacher without a graduate degree: $38,000-$43,823
In addition to salary, the study revealed that 92% of those in doctorate-preferred positions also received medical and hospital health insurance. Others received dental insurance, optical insurance, and disability insurance as well as post-retirement health insurance.
Educational Leadership Job Projections
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, instructional leadership positions are projected to grow at a rate of approximately 10% from 2020 to 2030. The growth of career opportunities for education administrators is projected at approximately 8%.
Though many of these positions are available to those who have attained a master’s degree, a doctoral degree and experience can lead to promotion into even higher positions.
The growth in educational opportunity is a projection and depends upon many variables. Some are tied to the specific workplace, as school hiring often depends upon budgets and student enrollment. Post-secondary opportunities could grow faster with increased college admissions.
Potential Careers with a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership
Graduates gain the skills to create change in organizations. They can become chief learning officers in corporate and nonprofit settings, chief academic officers for institutions including public and private K-12 and post-secondary colleges and universities, and educational policymakers in local, state and federal government.
Below you will find a few career paths:
|Career||Salary||Projected Job Growth (2020-2030)||About the Position|
|Postsecondary Administrator||$97,500||8%||Administrators in colleges and universities oversee academic standards, faculty, admissions, student life, and more.|
|Principal||$98,490||8%||Principals of elementary schools, middle schools and high schools are the chief operating officers of all school activities and operations. They are responsible for teacher assignments and support personnel, counseling and discipline, development of curriculum and school standards, school budgets, supplies and security, and more.|
|Postsecondary Education Teacher||$80,560||12%||Instructors at this level teach and guide their students in their area of subject expertise. They are responsible for their own instructional lesson plans and assignments, student grading, and assessments.|
Earning A Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership
A doctoral degree sets those who pursue it far above others in the field. With a doctorate in educational leadership, you have the ability to solve complex problems and inspire change.
Most programs require a minimum of three years and 50-60 credit hours plus classwork. Graduates will also conduct empirical research within educational practice while preparing their dissertation.
Types of Educational Leadership Degree Programs
Educational leadership doctoral degree programs are offered in many different pathways and concentrations. Some of the most popular include:
- Leadership in Higher Education – Focus on college and university issues including finance, policy, technology, student services, and addressing the needs of a diverse community of students
- Leadership in Special Education – Focus on professional understanding and training in coordinating special education staff, expanding services and theories of learning, policy, assessment and intervention
- Leadership in PK-12 Schools and School Districts – Focus on strategies for transformational change to curriculum, school culture, and community engagement as well as school district governance, fiscal issues, and staff relations
- Leadership in Digital Transformation – Address implementation of the biggest change agents in education: the technology that students and teachers utilize in the classroom
Graduate Educational Leadership Degree Coursework
Every program offering a doctoral degree in educational leadership sets its own curriculum, but there are some classes that are likely to be included regardless of where you choose to study:
- Leading a culture of learning and inclusion
- Educational leadership and decision making
- Change leadership in a learning organization
- Assessment and evaluation in the learning organization
- Resource Allocation for Student Achievement
- Ethical and legal issues in education leadership
- Schooling in urban environments
- School finance
- Research and independent study in educational leadership
Skills Learned in an Educational Leadership Program
After graduation, students will have gained knowledge in the practice and theory of leadership in education. Some important skills learned will include:
- Employing effective organizational leadership
- Supporting effective teaching and learning for both teachers and students
- Employing management systems within a learning environment
- Shaping and influencing policy in education
- Anticipating legal and ethical considerations in an education environment and acting on them
- Promoting equality and diversity in educational matters
- Development of thoughtful curriculum
Choosing the Best Online Doctoral Degree Program in Educational Leadership
Once you’ve made the decision to pursue a doctoral degree in educational leadership, you need to choose the one that is best for you. These factors can help you decide:
- Each school’s reputation
- Whether a program is accredited
- The quality of their faculty and curriculum
- The costs to attend
- Whether a program is offered online, in-person, or as a hybrid
- Whether financial aid is available
- The competitiveness of the admissions process
- The quality of networking
Each of these factors is important, but consideration also needs to be given to your current responsibilities, your personal needs, and your professional goals.
Online vs. On Campus Educational Leadership Degrees
Doctoral degree programs in educational leadership can be pursued with in-person instruction, online courses, or as a hybrid of the two.
Online learning can be done in real time class settings or pre-recorded modules available 24/7. Hybrid programs offer classes online, but students meet in-person with their cohort and advisors roughly 3-4 times per year. All forms offer doctoral candidates access to high quality professors and a high-level curriculum.
Pursuing a degree online has several unique advantages.
- Studies show students who take courses online are more likely to participate and engage in the learning process and pay attention to the material
- Online programs can be more affordable than in-person programs
- Studying online allows students to continue to tend to other responsibilities
Accreditation is what assures both students and future employers that the academic program has met rigorous quality standards. The agencies that bestow accreditation on academic programs are overseen by the Department of Education and divided by region. Accrediting agencies include:
- Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Applying to Educational Leadership Doctoral Programs
Applying for admission to a doctoral program in educational leadership is the first step toward earning a doctorate, so it is important to follow these steps:
- Find three schools that best meet professional and personal goals
- Request application materials
- Review materials to determine what each program requires
- Take any standardized examinations required and request those scores be sent to the desired programs
- Request official transcripts from undergraduate programs and master’s programs attended
- Reach out to professors at desired programs to arrange conversations and campus visits, if appropriate
- Write a personal statement
- Solicit recommendations from professionals or other educators in the field
- Submit applications
Admissions Requirements for Graduate Educational Leadership Programs
Each doctoral-level program in educational leadership has its own unique admissions requirements, but here are some common requirements to provide with an application:
- Proof of having attained a master’s degree in an education-related field of study from a regionally accredited institution, with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or greater
- Submission of official transcripts from your master’s degree program
- Official score on your GRE (Graduate Record Examination), usually requiring a minimum score of 155 or higher
- A professional resume demonstrating a minimum of three years of relevant education experience
- Three letters of reference from people in positions of leadership in education
- A personal statement of professional goals and stated research interest
- Personal interview
How Much Does a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership Cost?
The cost of pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership varies on several factors:
- School is public or private
- Student is an in-state or out-of-state applicant
- Program is in-person or online
- Reputation of the program itself
Some schools offer locked-in pricing for students who remain continuously enrolled to ensure tuition will not be increased once candidates are in the program, and many offer financial aid or the ability to take on teaching assistant roles in order to minimize costs.
The average cost of a doctoral program is approximately $30,000 per year, which would bring the total for a degree in educational leadership to $90,000. The most affordable programs are offered for less than $30,000 in total.
How Long Will It Take to Get a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership?
The average period for completion of a doctoral program in educational leadership is three years, though candidates may take longer depending upon whether they pursue their degree on a full-time or part-time basis.
Paying for An Educational Leadership Degree
There are numerous grants, scholarships and loans to help minimize the cost of attendance, and some employers provide tuition reimbursement to those seeking advancement within the framework of the educational industry.
Additionally, doctoral candidates are often eligible for a type of funding known as a fellowship. Fellowships provide funding for research, study, and teaching and often cover full tuition as well as a yearly stipend.
Scholarships for Educational Leadership Students
There are numerous scholarships available specifically for students pursuing graduate level degrees in educational leadership. Here are a few examples:
- Scholarships from the AASA (School Superintendents Association) – These provide financial assistance to outstanding graduate students in school administration who plan to pursue a career in school superintendency.
- Applegate-Jackson-Parks Future Teacher Scholarship – A $1,000 scholarship awarded to a graduate or undergraduate student majoring in education in institutions of higher learning throughout the United States. Award is based on scholastic ability and a demonstrated interest in the Institute’s work.
- Donald H. and Verna S. Duncan Endowed Scholarship – $1,000 scholarship awarded by Phi Delta Kappa International for graduate students majoring in an educational leadership field.
- Spencer Dissertation Fellowship Program – Granted through the National Academy of Education, this program provides $25,000 to currently enrolled doctoral students undertaking research relevant to the improvement of education and attending an accredited U.S. graduate school.
Career Resources for Educational Leadership Positions
Educational professionals who are interested in advancing into leadership roles can find additional information, resources and support from the following professional organizations:
- National Education Association
- Association of American Educators
- American Federation of Teachers
- Association of Leadership Educators
Educational Leadership FAQs
With a doctoral degree in educational leadership, graduates will be qualified for a career as a director of an academic department or student services department at a learning institution, as a faculty member at a post-secondary institution, as an administrator at a college or private or public P-12 school, or as a training and education professional in government, private industry and non-profit organizations.
In addition to the personal meaning and sense of accomplishment to be gained by pursuing a doctoral degree, having a doctoral degree generally adds approximately $40,000 a year to an individual’s earnings capacity and can lead to significant advancement opportunities.
It takes approximately three years to earn a doctoral degree in educational leadership.
Once you have attained a doctoral degree in educational leadership you will be able to apply your knowledge to organizational learning, to lead change within an academic environment, to complete scientific research, and to affect management strategies to support organizational learning.
Any individual with a doctoral degree in educational leadership is well positioned and well qualified for remarkable career opportunities. To enhance marketability further, focus on strengthening communication and collaborative skills, and highlight professional accomplishments when applying
- AASA, The School Superintendent’s Association
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics
- U.S. Department of Education