Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration: Degree Program Overview

Oct 18, 2019

Many schools offer Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Higher Education degree programs. These programs prepare graduates to work as college or university administrators or to perform research in higher education policy and related fields.

Essential Information

Applicants to a Ph.D. program must hold a master's degree, and some schools require a master's degree in education. Candidates learn to work with students, faculty and administrative staff en route to advocating and practicing ethical institutional leadership. Many schools allow students to design a program of study that helps them meet their professional goals. Specific program focus areas may include student affairs, policy evaluation and analysis, organizational culture, finance, personnel development and higher education law.

To finish the program, students must compose a dissertation based on original research. The dissertation may also be preceded by a preliminary, comprehensive examination and/or a qualifying paper. Some programs also feature internships or research assistantships.

Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration

Most programs include courses that cover topics such as legal issues in higher education, philosophy of education and the history of higher education. Courses may be grouped into foundational and methodological areas of study. Core topics usually cover general research principles and methods, as well as particular topics in law or administration specific to a postsecondary school setting. Common courses include:

  • Organizations and governance in higher education
  • Higher education law
  • Postsecondary student populations
  • Economics of higher education
  • School facilities management
  • Postsecondary human resources management

Popular Career Options

Students who graduate from a doctoral degree program in higher education administration can obtain jobs in a number of areas related to postsecondary schooling. Possible career titles include:

  • Academic dean
  • Director of development
  • Dean of students
  • Director of student affairs
  • Director of admissions
  • Financial aid director

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Between 2018 and 2028, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment in this profession was predicted to grow 7 percent, which is faster than average ( Postsecondary education administrators primarily work for colleges, universities, technical schools and professional schools.

In May 2018, the BLS reported that the average annual wage for all such administrators was $94,340. Those employed by colleges, universities and professional schools earned an average wage of $114,360, and those employed by junior colleges earned an average wage of $98,020. The BLS also reported that the top five states that paid the highest annual wages to postsecondary school administrators were New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, California, and New York.

Higher education administration Ph.D. programs are designed for anyone who wishes to pursue a career as a dean or director in colleges, universities and other areas of higher education. Many programs offer different areas of specialization for different career options.

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