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Students enrolled in a master’s degree in higher education engage in relevant theoretical and practical coursework that prepares them for a professional role in the university system. These programs are not designed for aspiring faculty members but for individuals interested in campus administrative and student support functions. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects postsecondary administrator roles to grow 7% over the next decade.Studies cover various focus areas, including college athletics, financial aid, veteran student affairs, and housing. Upon graduating, attendees will have a comprehensive understanding of the higher education field and can pursue leadership positions within a college setting. These positions typically require that applicants possess a master’s degree in the field, but individuals will earn a median salary just shy of $100,000.

Online graduate programs in higher education require 27 to 36 credit hours; if attending as a full-time student (three courses per semester), you can expect to graduate within 18 months to two years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition for these programs is $22,000, which is on par with most graduate degrees.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Higher Education Program

Choose your area of study

These degrees fall under a few different names. You might find a master’s program in higher education administration, student affairs, personnel, education leadership, or college student development. No matter its title, the awarded degree is essentially the same.

Moreover, there are three types of higher education master’s degrees: a Master of Arts, a Master of Science, and a Master of Education. Master of Arts programs focus on the social sciences; Master of Science programs prioritize research; Master of Education programs often facilitate more practical experience. However, the components are broadly similar, and any of the three styles of higher education degrees will prepare you for an advanced position within the field.

Your primary consideration is your concentration. Institutions provide different specialty courses; not all programs facilitate the same ones. Individuals with a specific professional interest should seek schools with shared priorities. Standard concentrations for an online master’s in higher education include student affairs or executive leadership.

Research schools and programs

Only choose institutions that meet accreditation standards. Accredited schools have proven to a third party that they meet high-quality academic and professional standards. Attending an unaccredited school might affect your opportunities to receive transfer credit or financial aid.

From there, research each program’s course requirements and program websites. Consider the following factors:

  • What is the online experience like? Certain universities facilitate a cohort-based program. You will participate in scheduled, virtual coursework and develop a network of peers and faculty members. Some programs are hands-off, employing recorded lectures, thus allowing you to complete coursework more independently around a schedule that works for you.
  • What additional resources will I have access to? Online students may have access to student support services such as those for mental health, tutoring, tech support, or financial aid advising. Research what benefits you can take advantage of once enrolled.
  • How is practical experience integrated into the program? Higher education programs feature a hands-on internship. If you currently work in higher education, you can leverage your professional responsibilities to fulfill these academic requirements.

There is a lot of variability between online higher education master’s programs. You can access specific course listings, online FAQs, and other valuable information through the degree website. Contact current faculty or attend a virtual open house to better understand an institution’s online community.

Prepare for tests and applications

Higher education master’s programs have slightly different admissions standards and application requirements. Determine whether you meet the eligibility threshold; most programs expect applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree with at least a 2.75 GPA (many institutions set a higher GPA minimum). You should also demonstrate some professional experience within higher education.

Cohort-based programs will have a firm date to submit your materials and a precise start date. As such, prepare well ahead of application dates, especially if your selected schools request GRE scores and letters of recommendation. Finally, international students will have additional testing and visa requirements.

Select your program

If you apply to and earn a spot in multiple graduate programs, you’ll have to make a selection. Is there one that best matches your professional goals? Is one program more affordable than another? Will one offer you more flexibility? Determine your priorities and select a program that best fits your needs. Attend accepted student orientations or open houses to understand each program better.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Few online higher education master’s programs have full scholarships or assistantship opportunities. It can be costly to obtain your graduate degree, so speak with your admissions or financial aid counselor early to ascertain a payment plan and funding opportunities. Some universities offer scholarships or fellowships, but these are very competitive at the graduate level.

Be sure to submit your FAFSA to determine if you qualify for federal aid or affordable loans. Military students should speak with a veteran’s affairs professional to take advantage of veteran benefits. Finally, if you work full-time for a college or university, talk with your employer about employee tuition benefits. Often, campus staff members can enroll in coursework for free or at a reduced price.

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in Higher Education Programs

Best Online Master's in Higher Education Degree Programs

Liberty University

Texas A&M University at Commerce

Duquesne University

Madonna University

West Virginia University

Appalachian State University

Bay Path University

Stony Brook University

University of West Alabama

University of Louisville

Louisiana State University

Sam Houston State University

Caldwell University

University of Missouri at St. Louis

University of New Orleans

Penn State World Campus

Angelo State University

University of Houston at Victoria

University of Mississippi

Florida International University

Columbus State University

Abilene Christian University

University of Nebraska at Lincoln

Mississippi College

Valdosta State University

University of North Texas

John Brown University

Michigan State University

Northeastern University

Drexel University

Missouri Baptist University

Concordia University Chicago

Colorado State University

University of South Dakota

Central Washington University

McKendree University

University of Wyoming

University of Southern Maine

Texas Tech University

University of Houston

Grand Valley State University

Georgia Southern University

Grace College & Seminary

Hofstra University

North Park University

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How We Rank Schools

Students can earn several different types of degrees in higher education, including a Master of Education (MEd), Master of Arts (MA), and Master of Science (MS). The various degree types have different pedagogical approaches, but all teach the necessary skills and concepts for advancement in higher education administration.

All of the programs on our list are offered by regionally accredited institutions, ensuring they meet high education standards. Additionally, some programs are accredited through education-specific bodies like the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

We reviewed programs offered online, on-campus, and in blended or hybrid formats, so students can select the program that best fits their availability. To rank the programs, we evaluated their reputation, course strength, cost, faculty, and flexibility. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in Higher Education Program?

Higher education programs are for individuals with prior or current professional experience within the field. Students enrolled in an online master’s in higher education will thus engage in student development and counseling theory while honing their understanding of the legal and financial foundations of the higher education system.

Practical application is critical, and participants will undertake some form of internship or practicum before graduating. Some programs may also include a thesis or comprehensive exam. In most cases, full-time students earn their degree within two years.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online Master’s in Higher Education program

  • Legal Issues in Higher Education Administration. Participants review how national and state laws impact public and private campuses. Students learn the implications of FERPA, Title IX, Title VII, and basic discrimination laws.
  • Counseling Skills for Higher Education Professionals. Students learn different counseling theories and how they might apply them in a university setting. Participants will engage in role-play scenarios to practice their personal counseling skills.
  • Finance in Higher Education. This class will focus on the financial operations of higher education institutions, including different aspects regarding public, private, and community colleges.
  • Student Development Theory. Typically taken within the first year, participants develop an understanding of college student development theories and how they apply them to their practice.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Higher Education?

Career outlook

Higher education plays a pivotal role in shaping future generations. An online master’s degree in higher education equips individuals with the expertise to navigate the complexities of educational institutions, fostering a positive learning environment and contributing to the advancement of educational practices. From administration and student affairs to curriculum development and instructional design, there are multiple paths a person can take in a higher education career trajectory. The job outlook for postsecondary education administrators is positive, with growth of approximately seven percent expected in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median salary for this field is $96,910 annually.

Career paths

As higher education institutions strive to enhance student success and engagement, the need for knowledgeable administrators, advisors, and educators remains essential. Online learning platforms, hybrid courses, and digital resources have also expanded opportunities for instructional designers, technologists, and online education specialists. These roles, crucial in the modern higher education landscape, contribute to the design and delivery of innovative and effective educational experiences.

Earning an online master’s degree in higher education opens the door to diverse career paths. Here are some potential avenues to explore:

  • Admissions counselor — recruit and evaluate prospective students, helping shape the student body and contributing to enrollment management strategies
  • Curriculum developer — design and refine academic programs, ensuring that courses align with learning outcomes
  • Registrar — manage student records, course registration, and academic transcripts
  • Career services director — help students explore career options, work with potential employers
  • Marketing and communications director — manage institutional communications, advertising initiatives, and media needs

Academic Advisor

Earning Potential: $43,380-$94,390

Education Required: Master’s in higher education or related field

An academic advisor in higher education plays a crucial role in guiding students on their academic journey. They provide personalized support, helping students select courses, plan their educational path, and navigate degree requirements. Advisors offer insights into program options, career pathways, and extracurricular opportunities, ensuring students make informed decisions aligned with their goals. They monitor academic progress and provide resources for academic success. Academic advisors empower students to achieve their full potential and navigate the complexities of higher education with confidence.

Online Education Specialist

Earning Potential: $47,350-$97,190

Education Required: Master’s in online education, higher education, or educational technology

An online education specialist uses digital tools to enhance virtual learning experiences. They design and develop engaging online courses, integrating multimedia, interactive elements, and assessments to facilitate effective remote education. Collaborating with faculty, they provide training and support in utilizing online platforms and instructional technology. Specialists ensure courses are user-friendly, accessible, and aligned with educational objectives. They troubleshoot technical issues and improve the online learning environment. Online education specialists contribute to the evolution of digital education and enable impactful online learning for students.

Student Affairs Dean

Earning Potential: $91,590-$131,410

Education Required: Master’s in higher education, educational administration, or related field

A student affairs dean or director works to enrich the student experience beyond academics. They oversee campus life, student services, and co-curricular activities, creating a vibrant and inclusive campus community. Deans develop policies, programs, and resources to support students’ personal growth, mental health, and well-being. They collaborate with diverse student groups, manage residence life, and ensure a safe and welcoming environment. Addressing student concerns and promoting student success, a student affairs dean fosters a holistic educational experience, nurturing students’ development and contributing to a thriving and supportive college or university atmosphere.

Online Master’s in Higher Education Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online Master's in Higher Education degree program?

Application materials for an online higher education degree program include the following:

  • An online master’s program application (plus a processing fee)
  • Official transcripts from all previously attended higher education institutions
  • GRE test scores — if required
  • A personal statement addressing your goals for attending the program
  • Recommendation letters
  • A current resume

If your application meets the basic eligibility for the program, you will likely engage in a scheduled interview component with the program director or an admissions staffer. In addition, some programs may prefer candidates who currently work within the higher education field or can demonstrate prior relevant professional experience.

Before submitting your application, connect with an admissions counselor for your chosen schools. And plan ahead, especially for programs with a set admissions deadline. GRE test scores, official transcripts, and recommendation letters can take several weeks to receive.

How much does an online Master's in Higher Education degree cost?

According to US News and World Report, the average cost of tuition for an online master’s in higher education ranges from $11,000 to $33,000. However, while a graduate degree is a financial commitment, it’s required for advanced positions within this profession. While online programs can be more affordable than in-person degrees, your residency is a driving factor for cost; if finances are a concern, look for in-state options instead of attending out-of-state.

As with a traditional degree, your online tuition incorporates several supplemental charges, such as technology, library, and student services fees. You should also factor in the costs of books and at-home technology costs. While attending remote classes saves on commuting and campus housing costs, you may need to invest in a more reliable computer and internet service.

How long does it take to earn an online Master's in Higher Education degree?

Graduate programs in higher education typically expect attendees to complete a core curriculum plus several electives; these elective courses help students hone their expertise in higher education.

Online higher education programs require between nine to twelve total classes (or 27 to 36 credit hours) to graduate. Full-time students can graduate within two years. You can find some online options, especially those with self-paced coursework without a thesis component, that demand just 18 months of study. Part-time attendees will need closer to three years.

Is an online master's in higher education worth it?

Pursuing an online master’s degree in higher education offers numerous advantages and opportunities for personal and professional growth. This advanced degree equips you with the knowledge, skills, and insights needed to excel in a variety of roles within the educational spectrum.

One of the most compelling reasons to pursue a master’s degree in higher education is the potential for career advancement and increased earning potential. Graduates with this degree often qualify for leadership positions that command higher salaries than those with only a bachelor’s degree. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for postsecondary education administrators was $96,910 in 2021, while the top ten percent earned more than $190,770.

An online master’s program in higher education provides the flexibility to balance your studies with other personal or professional commitments. Online learning platforms allow you to access course materials, engage with instructors, and collaborate with peers from anywhere, enabling you to continue working or managing personal responsibilities while furthering your education.

The networking opportunities offered by an online master’s program can also be invaluable. Connecting with fellow students, educators, and professionals in the field can lead to collaborations, mentorships, and job opportunities that enhance your career trajectory.

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