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PhD Higher Education

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that careers in postsecondary education administration are projected to grow faster than average, at a rate of 10% through 2026. Having skilled educational administrators and researchers is incredibly important to the continuing success of students in college. You can rise to fill those crucial roles if you have a PhD in Higher Education. It is the highest degree you can get in the field of higher education, along with the highest academic honor awarded in the United States.

A PhD in Higher Education could lead to a variety of different careers in schools, including academic support, education administration, enrollment services, student services, and more. These types of jobs would put you working directly with students on a daily basis. However, there are also opportunities in government agencies and advanced academic research. One of those types of careers would allow you to be part of the innovation that is constantly needed in education. You would be working every day to create and implement new strategies so the diverse educational needs of students in higher education could be met.

Doctorate in Higher Education Programs

Every school is going to have a unique curriculum, of course. However, doctorate programs in higher education will cover a lot of important topics no matter where you choose to study. You will gain a deeper understanding of the foundations of education research. These principles are important because they help you to understand the ethical, philosophical, practical, and theoretical aspects of conducting research. Research is a massive part of earning your PhD, and it is likely to play a key role in your career for the rest of your life because, especially as an educator, you never stop learning.

You’ll also learn about the ins and outs of higher education that you’ll need to excel in your professional life. Higher education law is a mandatory part of your education if you want to work in an administrative position. It will cover non-discrimination, privacy, transparency, contractual obligations, tenure, academic freedom, and program implementation and discontinuance. Another very important thing you’ll learn about is enrollment management and marketing. Alumni relations, branding, forecasting, and several other topics are all part of strategic enrollment, which is something higher education administrators will need to navigate at least once a year when they work at an institution.

Adults have a different learning process. Teaching adults and serving them as students is a very different experience than students at any other stage of life. On top of the fact that a lot of jobs require continuing education, the age demographics in higher education populations are shifting as well. Many college students today are older than the average student was several years ago. Students today are more likely to have full-time jobs and even families. Classes that cover adult learners will explore their needs as a student demographic and how you can facilitate their success while making appropriate accommodations for their lifestyles. A lot of these programs also include some kind of professional practicum, which can typically be completed at your current place of employment.

A PhD in Higher Education Online

It is possible to earn a PhD in Higher Education online. In fact, it may be the more preferable option for many students because you won’t have to relocate, and you can typically maintain your full-time work schedule at the same time. This is possible because online programs are designed to be very flexible. At such a high level of education, online programs are sure to cater to the working professional as much as possible.

Most of the programs available in higher education online will feature asynchronous courses so you can access your classes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is true that many of them do require at least some time spent on campus; however, the majority of the on-campus meetings are held over summer, when you’re likely to be off work anyway. Even when they’re not ideally-scheduled for you, you have the dates well in advance, and they last for just a few days each time.

Studying online is also going to give you more access to the things you look for in a PhD program. You’re not limited to what the schools near you have to offer. You can take the time to find a university with great student services, or with career placement, or with a specific specialization or set of electives that suit your professional goals. Of course, the best part of all of that is you don’t have to interrupt to get where you want to go.

Online programs are also typically associated with lower costs. This is because they require no relocation, no commute, often fewer materials, and can have fewer fees you’re responsible for since you’re not using any campus facilities. Many people are unaware of the fact that online students are also eligible for the same financial aid, grants, and scholarships that traditional students are too!

Choosing the best program includes a lot of research and determining the specifics of each school and what the program structure is like. We know that selecting a school is a big task, so we’ve gone ahead and done some of the research for you to present you with the top 15 online PhDs in Higher Education. Due to the overlap between doctorates in higher education, we’ve chosen to feature Doctor of Education degrees as well. All of the schools were ranked according to the following.


In order to create this ranking of the best online PhDs in Higher Education, we began by curating a list of schools that offered online doctorates in higher education. In order to be considered for our ranking, each school must meet the following criteria: it is based in the United States; it holds current, proper accreditation; it offers at least one doctorate program in higher education for distance students, whether that is fully- or partially-online; and, it does not operate as a for-profit institution. Once we had established a list of eligible schools, we gave them a score based on three factors.

  • Freshman Retention Rate (⅓ of final score)
  • Graduation Rate (⅓ of final score)
  • Affordability (⅓ of final score)

The maximum possible score a school could receive is 300 points. To collect the information we needed to give each school their score, we used their own websites whenever possible. Additional information was collected from the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. News & World Report, and Once each school was scored, we put them in order so we could present you with the best degree programs for a PhD in Higher Education.

We would like to note that some schools may not be featured here due to incomplete information available online or per their own request. Online College Plan refuses to give any institution preferential treatment for any reason, at any time.

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  1. MERIT: 269
    View Profile Average Cost: $21,131

    Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration

    University of Florida

    The University of Florida is home to a hybrid Doctor of Education in Higher Education program. Classes are held primarily online with students visiting the campus for two or three weekends per semester. Some of these meetings will take place at the University of Florida and others will be held at other colleges throughout the state. This program is presented in a cohort model and can be pursued either full-time or part-time based on the demands of your current schedule.

    The program starts in the Spring semester every even-numbered year and typically takes about five years to complete. In order to be eligible to enroll, you must hold at least a bachelor’s degree along with meeting other requirements. The program consists of a total of 75 credits and will culminate in a dissertation. Classes are held in the spring, summer, and fall semesters.

    The curriculum is designed to prepare you to step into a professional role in higher education administration. Courses you will encounter throughout the program include Higher Education Administration, Financing Higher Education, Educational Research Methods, Leading Change in Educational Organizations, Educational Statistics, and more.

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  2. MERIT: 231
    View Profile Average Cost: $26,462

    PhD in Education and Human Resource Studies with a Specialization in Higher Education Leadership

    Colorado State University offers an online PhD in Education and Human Resource Studies with a Higher Education Leadership Specialization. The program consists of 60 credits and can be completed in five years. The program is presented in a cohort model and prepares graduates for careers in enrollment, student services, higher education administration, academic support, housing, and auxiliary services, and more.

    There are three visits to campus required; they occur once per year in the first three years of study. The remainder of the program can be completed online. Classes cover a range of topics like higher education administration, leadership development, higher education finance, higher education law, professionalism, and more. There are also a lot of research-focused courses so you will graduate with experience and expertise in conducting appropriate research for the field.

    The structure of the program allows you to maintain a full-time job as you study. The classes are asynchronous. It will also give you a lot of networking opportunity because you will progress through the program with the same group of students in all of your classes. You also won’t miss out on relationships with faculty either, as there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to ask questions, receive guidance, and so on.

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  3. MERIT: 231
    View Profile Average Cost: $13,377

    Doctor of Education in Higher Education

    6 StPeter-logo

    Saint Peter’s University offers an online Doctor of Education in Higher Education. This program is shorter than many of the other we’ve featured as it consists of a total of 48 credits. It can be completed in as little as two and a half years, but some students may require more time to complete their dissertation. Students progress through the program in a cohort model, and there are no required visits to campus detailed on the program website.

    You will be able to transfer in up to nine credits from prior study. In order to be eligible to enroll in the program, you must have a master’s degree or better in a related field. There are only 16 courses in this program of study. You will take a number of classes in research and statistics along with covering other important topics in higher education administration. This program does require a dissertation and successful defense.

    Some of the classes you’ll take as you study include Curriculum Development and Instruction, Historical Trends in Higher Education, Enrollment Management and Marketing, and more. The curriculum is designed to be diverse and to provide you with a broad background of knowledge to draw on and apply in your professional life according to your goals.

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  4. MERIT: 225
    View Profile Average Cost: $24,280

    Doctor of Education in Adult, Community, and Higher Education

    Ball State University offers a Doctor of Education or EdD in Adult, Community, and Higher Education. You can choose a major in higher education or in community college leadership. Regardless of the major you select, this program requires a minimum of 91 credits in order to graduate. It is presented in a blended format where some of the classes must be taken on the Muncie, Indiana campus.

    The Higher Education major covers administration, organizational and policy development, teaching, curriculum development, and social justice advocacy as these topics related to the higher learning environment. The major will have four required courses including Administration and Finance in Higher Education and Theories of College Student Development. Then, you can select electives to greater tailor the program to the job you want.

    Elective options for this doctorate in higher education are very diverse. You could select courses in the following topics: student affairs, enrollment, teaching and curriculum, diversity in education, grant processes, and more. This is one of the more flexible program featured and is the highest ranking school that includes electives in their program.

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  5. MERIT: 220
    View Profile Average Cost: $21,073

    PhD in Higher Education

    University of North Dakota

    The University of North Dakota offers an online PhD in Higher Education that consists of 90 credit hours and can typically be completed in a minimum of four years. You can transfer in up to 30 credits from a master’s degree that you earned at a different institution. Students are admitted to the program in the spring and fall semesters. This program is described as following a scholar-practitioner model which combines research, theory, and practice.

    The higher education PhD program at the University of North Dakota is less flexible than other programs. The university does boast that you can maintain your job as you get your degree because it was designed with professionals in mind; however, classes are held in-person for several weekends each semester. In addition to that, the classes are presented synchronously so you will have set log in times and have to participate in live classes with your cohort.

    This program requires you to do 38 months of continuous coursework with your cohort so you must take the program at the prescribed pace. You can choose from an administrator emphasis or work with an advisor to create an individualized emphasis. Some of the core classes included in the curriculum are Principles and Practices in Higher Education, Leading and Learning in Higher Education, and Scholarly Writing.

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  6. MERIT: 215
    View Profile Average Cost: $48,831

    Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership

    Maryville University of Saint Louis offers a fully-online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership. This program consists of a total of 48 credits, and you may be able to graduate in as little as 32 months with transfer credits and a full-time pace of study. This degree is very flexible because it features 100% online coursework and gives you the opportunity to complete your residency online.

    You will not have to worry about the feeling that you’re on an island either; the cohort model allows you to network with like-minded students and you will also receive personal mentorship from scholar-practitioner faculty. Something else that stands out about this program that helps it propel you to faster graduation is that you will work on your dissertation at the same time as you’re working on your courses.

    The curriculum has been expertly designed to prepare you to make an impact in higher education leadership. You will take classes like Reflective Leadership Practice & Inquiry, Strategic Change & Innovation, Understanding Data & Analysis, and Performance & Accountability. As a Maryville student, you will also have access to student support tools and resources including complete access to the library and integrated writing tools.

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  7. MERIT: 214
    View Profile Average Cost: $30,028

    Doctor of Education in Higher Education

    Regent University

    Regent University offers a Doctor of Education in Higher Education. The university was ranked among the best online graduate programs in the state of Virginia by U.S. News & World Report; Regent came in fourth place. This degree requires a minimum of 66 credit hours to graduate. You will be required to attend one residency per year while you are enrolled.

    The residencies all take place in the summer, and you will have the dates well in advance. They will each last for a duration of four days and are worth two credit hours each. In order to be eligible to enroll, you must hold at least a master’s degree. There are eight start dates to choose from each year, and it is projected that you will take four years to complete the program.

    This program was designed for professionals that are looking to move into higher-level positions in the realm of post-secondary education. You will take classes that explore instructional design, adult learners, research design, data analysis, decision making, educational statistics, the history of higher education, finance, law, governance, and more. The program will culminate in a dissertation.

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  8. MERIT: 208
    View Profile Average Cost: $40,814

    PhD in Higher Education Administration

    Andrews University

    Andrews University offers an online PhD in Higher Education Administration. This is a program for scholar-practitioners that want to move into careers like senior administration or policy-making. The entire program consists of 90 credits and will take between four and five years for you to complete. Students are admitted to the program in the spring, summer, and fall semesters and applications are accepted all year.

    Students must have a master’s degree to be considered for the program. All of the courses you need to complete your degree are offered online. One thing that sets this program apart is the focus on the globalization of higher education. The curriculum even includes an international study tour of universities in different parts of the world. You’ll also be able to take part in cultural seminars in leadership and diversity to prepare you to lead the changing face of higher education.

    Throughout your study, you will create a resume-bolstering portfolio that demonstrates the breadth of your knowledge. The university’s website for this online PhD in Higher Education Administration describes the program as having an interactive online delivery format. This means that you can sign in and work when it is convenient for you, but you will need to meet weekly deadlines and follow the class schedule. Some elements may be synchronous.

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  9. MERIT: 203
    View Profile Average Cost: $20,482

    Doctor of Education in Higher and Adult Education with a Concentration in Higher Education

    12 Memphis-logo

    The University of Memphis offers a Doctor of Education in Higher and Adult Education with a Higher Education concentration. This program is appropriate for those who are seeking careers as administration in an institution of higher learning as well as those who would like to work with an agency, board, or commission related to higher education. It can be completed online and features no on-campus requirements.

    Students are admitted twice per year in the fall and spring semesters. You will need to complete a minimum of 54 credits beyond your master’s degree in order to graduate. As many as 12 credits can be transferred in. The program features a core curriculum that covers leadership, adult learning, trends and issues in information technology, and policy-oriented research. Beyond that, you will have to take classes in your concentration.

    There are 18 hours required in your concentration area. The only classes you’re required to take are Higher Education Administration, Legal and Ethical Issues in Higher Education, Higher Education Finance, and Issues & Trends in Teaching Adults. Your remaining concentration credits will come from electives you select with an advisor that reflect your goals. This program will require a dissertation.

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  10. MERIT: 200
    View Profile Average Cost: $69,392

    Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Management with a Concentration in Higher Education

    Drexel University offers an online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Management with a concentration in Higher Education. There are a total of nine concentrations offered, though. The degree requires roughly 62 credits in order for you to graduate and has no residency requirements. You can even complete your dissertation online. There are two part-time tracks to choose from that will see you graduating in either three or five years depending on your selection.

    The program is presented in a cohort model so even though you can learn at your own pace and entirely from home, you will have the opportunity to build connections with others in your field. The three-year option for taking the program is eligible for financial aid; the five-year plan has you taking only one class at a time and is not eligible at this time. Drexel uses four ten-week quarters each year instead of operating on a semester schedule. This leads to you being able to take more courses in less time.

    Your concentration accounts for 15 of the total credits you’ll earn. The rest come from the core classes like Educational Leadership & Change and Creative Strategies for Educational Leaders; they’ll also come from your research courses that will cover research design, writing, and data analysis. The higher education doctoral courses cover law, management, diversity, and more. This is a very well-rounded online doctorate in higher education from an incredible school.

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  11. MERIT: 196
    View Profile Average Cost: $41,112

    PhD in Higher Education Administration

    Liberty University is home to an online PhD in Higher Education Administration. This program consists of 60 credit hours and can be completed in as little as three years. One thing that always sets Liberty University apart is how flexible the programs are. This one is available entirely online with six start dates every year. You will also benefit from the generous transfer policy of up to 15 credits and condensed eight-week courses.

    The curriculum is broken down into four main parts. These are the Higher Education Core; Educational Leadership Cognate; Research Courses and; Dissertation Courses. The Educational Leadership Cognate will explore issues in technology and learning, policy analysis, and an additional topic of your choice in conflict resolution, organizational analysis and problem-solving, public relations, or leadership principles and ethics.

    The Research Courses and Dissertation Courses are fairly self-explanatory components. Your Higher Education Core will include courses like Teaching the College Student, College & University Administration, Economic Impact in Higher Education, and more. This is a comprehensive program designed to prepare its graduates for the professional world with a deep understanding of higher education, strong communication skills, and innovative problem-solving abilities.

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  12. MERIT: 192
    View Profile Average Cost: $22,265

    PhD in Higher Education Leadership

    Indiana State University offers a PhD in Educational Administration with a specialization in Higher Education Leadership in a blended format. The entire program requires 90 credit hours to graduate; however, 45 credits from your master’s degree and 18 dissertation hours will contribute to you meeting that requirement. The average student can complete this program in just two years.

    This program is presented in a cohort model, and students may not deviate from the full-time schedule laid out by the university. This program has more on-campus requirements than other schools featured. Throughout the semester, there are three weekend seminars you must attend. Between the first and second year of study, you will also have to attend a three-week residency on campus. All other courses are presented online but in a synchronous format.

    The curriculum consists of a basic core, an internship, and an advanced core. You will learn about a variety of crucial topics in higher education throughout your study. Classes you’ll take include Seminar in the Foundations of Modern Education, Organization and Governance in Higher Education, and Advanced Leadership Theory, Governance, and External Relations, among many others. This program may not be as flexible, but the curriculum explores higher education in-depth and gives graduates a broad foundation upon which they can build their career.

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  13. MERIT: 187
    View Profile Average Cost: $14,955

    Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership

    Wilmington University DBA

    Wilmington University has an online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership. The university boasts about the customizability of this degree so you can study exactly what you need to in order to advance your career the way you want to. The program consists of 51 total credits and can be completed in as little as three years. You have the option to select a hybrid or fully-online format depending on what will work best for you.

    There are multiple start dates throughout the year, and you will move through the program in a cohort. The curriculum is broken into a Professional Core, Research Core, and Guided Study Core. The professional core will build your skills in writing and problem solving while you learn about issues, theories, and concepts related to higher education. The research core allows you to develop all of the skills you need to complete an Applied Inquiry Project.

    The guided study core is unique. Instead of participating in regular coursework, you will work closely with a mentor to take everything you’ve learned and put it into practice. The fully-online doctorate in higher education is asynchronous with the exception of Class Roundtables, which are once-weekly meetings where you will discuss things with your classmates and program faculty.

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  14. MERIT: 186
    View Profile Average Cost: $50,333

    Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership

    7 Nova-logo

    Nova Southeastern University offers a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership online. NSU’s program has a minimum of 54 credits to graduate, and it typically takes three years to complete. You must have a master’s degree in order to be eligible to enroll. There are one or two on-campus requirements associated with this program; students must attend the EDGE @ Fischler Institute, an intensive conference for doctoral students.

    Apart from the conference, the entirety of the degree can be completed online. This is a very customizable degree. You must take the following two research courses: The Nature of Knowing: Epistemology and Inquiry-Based Learning and Methods of Inquiry. From there, you have the option to select a qualitative or quantitative track based on your needs.

    The courses you will encounter in your concentration area of higher education include Student Affairs in Higher Education; Leading the Academic Mission of Today’s Colleges & Universities; Governance, Ethics, and the Law of Higher Education and; The Faces of 21st Century Higher Education Institutions, among several others. You will also be able to select some additional electives.

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  15. MERIT: 185
    View Profile Average Cost: $48,831

    PhD in Higher Education Leadership for Changing Populations

    Notre Dame of Maryland University Online Programs

    Notre Dame of Maryland University offers an online PhD in Higher Education Leadership for Changing Populations. A unique degree program, the primary goal is to help students grow into the most effective leader that they can be in the face of cultural and demographic changes in higher learning institutions. There is a minimum of 51 credits required to complete the program.

    NDMU’s online PhD in Higher Education boasts no residency requirements, so you will never have to travel to campus. Applications are accepted year-round, and there are multiple start dates throughout the year, so you can get started when you’re ready. Tuition is documented as being as low as $550 per credit. Whether you want to direct a nonprofit, work in university administration, or be an education researcher, this is an affordable and unique degree program to consider.

    The curriculum features a Changing Populations Core that discusses how educators lead change, the philosophy of democracy and education, intercultural communication, and historical perspectives. The Higher Education courses include Education and Policy Analysis, Organization and Governance in Higher Education, Curriculum Development for Changing Populations, and more. You will also be required to take some foundational research courses and complete a dissertation.

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What Can I Do With a Degree in Higher Education?

A degree in higher education is one that will open you up to a broad range of career options. One thing to remember when you’d like to work in higher education is that most of the entry-level jobs at a college or university, or even a peripheral agency, board, or similar organization will require you to have at least a master’s degree. Of course, you will be able to work as a professor if you have this degree; most professors with this degree will teach a class related to higher education.

You could also would in student affairs. Student affairs is the most crucial part of campus because that is the one department that an institution just could not run without. There are a ton of different offices housed under this one catch-all term, and you could see yourself employed at any one of them. Your options include enrollment, financial aid, registrar, admissions, recruitment, student recreation, academic support, diversity and inclusion, career services, and more. These are all jobs that require a deep understanding of how higher education functions, which is what this type of degree certainly provides.

You could also see yourself working in administration, which is the primary goal of most people who enroll in this type of degree program. This includes coordinator positions, program managers, and so on. If you find yourself with this degree and itching for a career change, you may also be able to secure a career in management or training and development at a different type of business.

What is Higher Education Administration?

Higher Education Administration refers to the management and coordination of colleges and universities, which covers all of the programs, activities, and other things that keep these institutions functional. There are a variety of different types of administrators needed at each school, and all of them tend to require pretty specialized education at the graduate level. When working in administration, people have the opportunity to make a greater impact at the school they serve and in the broader spectrum of higher education.

Higher education administration is a very far-reaching area that covers many different moving parts in higher education or in a particular college or university. Administrators in higher education could find themselves completing supportive, administrative, secretarial, and financial tasks. They may also be involved in human resources, research, policy-making, and more.

Someone who has a career in this area may find themselves budgeting, managing staff, managing recruitment of students, processing college applications, scheduling, conducting institutional research, or writing accreditation reports. Higher education administration covers everything that makes a college or university run; those people are the faces behind everything that goes on at the organizational level at a school.

What Can You Do With a PhD in Higher Education Administration?

A PhD is the highest academic honor that a person can hold regardless of the field that they go into. It denotes that you are an expert in your field and it ensures that you’re prepared for a variety of different careers. A PhD in Higher Education is no different. It opens a long row of professional doors that you can choose from. Here are just a few of your career options.

Provost: Provost isn’t truly a complicated position, but it is one that people outside the scope of higher education tend to not understand. The provost at a university answers to the president and serves as the chief academic officer of the institution. As a provost, you would be responsible for the creation and implementation of all academic programs as well as the allocation of resources needed to make those programs possible. The student’s academic experience would be in your hands.

Dean: There can be several different types of dean at each individual institution. The dean is someone who has authority over a specific area. You could see yourself as the dean of a college library, the dean of a particular academic constituent under a university, and so on. Every school and every division therein may have deans that function very differently. A few responsibilities it’s possible for you to have as the dean include the development of academic programs and support functions, manage faculty and staff, hiring and firing, coordinate educational policy, or create and implement strategic plans for the success of the institution.

Registrar: The registrar at a college or university is in charge of managing student records. This also includes processing registrations, scheduling classes, maintaining course lists, enforces rules surrounding picking up and dropping courses, and more.

How Long Does it Take to get a PhD in Higher Education Administration?

The amount of time it takes to get a PhD in Higher Education Administration is going to vary from school to school and even from student to student. This is going to depend on the pacing of the program you enroll in because some of them don’t allow you to deviate from a prescribed schedule; some of them may even offer accelerated options. Also, you often have the choice to study at a full- or part-time pace based on the demands of your schedule.

A PhD program usually takes about four or five years to complete; however, there are options that go beyond that. Some schools will allow students up to eight years to finish their degree if they need more time. Some schools offer transfer policies, credit for prior learning through work experience, and condensed course formats to speed things up. On average, a PhD in Higher Education Administration takes about three or four years. The fastest online PhD in Higher Education Administration takes just 32 months.

How Much Do Higher Education Administrators Make?

Higher education administrators work in several different areas within a college or university, so that means salaries will vary. Your salary also depends on other factors such as your level of education, geographic location, and more. The average salary for someone in higher education administration, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in $88,390 per year.