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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Higher Education

education degree

Editor's Picks: Online Schools for Higher Education


Oregon State University earned our award for best value of colleges that offer a master's degree in higher education online. According to, the university's annual return on investment (ROI) is 8.9%, and it's 10.2% if financial aid is factored in. The ROI is the difference between what a student pays to attend a university versus what they get back in lifetime earnings.


Kaplan University won our award for flexibility. College Prowler gave the university a grade of "A+" for academic flexibility, which indicates the degree to which a school makes reasonable accommodations to work around a student's schedule. Kaplan University's online master's degree program in higher education enables students to maximize their career choices and improve their knowledge of the functions of a higher education institution while also enjoying the convenience of online learning.

Career Support

Kaplan University also claimed our award for career support. The school provides counseling, direction, suggestions, and support for resumes and cover letters, interviewing skills, job searching skills, career choice, and networking. Students can also access virtual seminars that teach them how to write a resume, apply for a government job or work overseas, how to negotiate a salary, and more. College Prowler gave Kaplan University a grade of "A-" for its career services.

Financial Support

The University of Louisville claimed our award for financial support. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 97% of the university's undergraduate students receive some sort of financial aid. The school's website features information on the loans, grants, scholarships, state aid, and tuition waver programs that are available to students.

Technology Support

The University of Houston won our award for technology support. U.S. News & World Report placed the university third in its rankings of student services and technology of the top online graduate education programs. The university offers its online students live tutoring, a smartphone application, and course content delivered by live streaming video. The University of Houston also offers career placement assistance, according to U.S. News.

Student Engagement

Stony Brook University – State University of New York won our award for student engagement. U.S. News & World Report placed it 17th in its list of student engagement and accreditation of the top online graduate education schools. Stony Brook University professors respond to student inquiries within 24 hours and they keep 20 hours of office time per week, according to U.S. News.

Disability Support

Kaplan University claimed our award for disability support for its commitment to providing higher education opportunities, including online programs, accessible to students with disabilities. The university's website includes information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, student and university responsibility, confidentiality, eligibility, and verification of disability. Students can also find out about how to request an accommodation and how to file a discrimination grievance on the Kaplan University Center for Disability Services website.

Library and Research Support

The University of Nebraska's Online Worldwide campus earned our award for library and research support. Students have access to the school's extensive electronic databases, print resources, and delivery of materials including books, journal articles, and other works from the library's collections.

Learning Support

Sam Houston State University won our learning support award. U.S. News & World Report placed the university fourth on its list of student services and technology of the top online graduate education programs. Sam Houston State University offers career placement assistance, live tutoring, a smartphone application, and live streaming video. Online students also have access to the school's writing center, counseling center, and library.

Faculty Credentials

Drexel University won our award for faculty credentials. U.S. News & World Report placed the school 32nd in its rankings of faculty credentials and training of the top online graduate education programs. Almost 80% of Drexel University's faculty has at least two years of online teaching experience, and the university provides a mandatory online instructor training course for its professors.

Faculty Accessibility and Involvement

The University of Wisconsin claimed our award for best faculty accessibility and involvement. College Prowler gave the University of Wisconsin a grade of "A-" for its academics, which indicates that professors are highly accessible, knowledgeable, and interested in how their students are performing in the course. In determining the grade, College Prowler also factors in class size, how engaging classes are, and how well professors communicate.

Alumni Engagement

The University of Louisville won our award for alumni engagement for the extensive benefits it offers graduates. For example, alumni get free access to University of Louisville libraries, invitations to special alumni events and reunions, information and assistance with career opportunities at the career development center, and professional development and lifelong learning seminars. Graduates may also become a member of a regional alumni club and they're eligible to be members of the Class Federal Credit Union. They also qualify for special group discounts on home, auto, renter's, and health insurance.

New Student Orientation

Sam Houston State University also won our new student orientation award for its online learning tutorials. The university's tutorials cover how to properly set up the web browser, navigate your online course, take exams and participate in discussions, and the add-ons and plugins the online system uses.

Explore a Master's Degree in Higher Education

Students who want to become college or university administrators, or who are merely interested in researching best practices in higher education, may want to consider pursuing an online master's degree in higher education. This degree path is also a good fit for students who want to work for government organizations or nonprofits that focus on higher education. In this master's program, students learn the history of higher education, the public policy that has shaped it over the years, applicable laws and ethics that govern higher education, how to grow and finance higher ed programs, and common administrative duties.

Most online master's programs in higher education can be completed in approximately two years of full-time study. However, working professionals who need to balance their studies with full-time jobs may need to enroll in such programs part-time, which can lengthen the amount of time it takes to complete the program. Some students may be able to complete their degree program more quickly by transferring in applicable credits from graduate work completed at other accredited universities.

Class Curriculum

The types of classes you take in an online master's degree program will depend on the specialization you choose. Students who specialize in community college leadership will take courses that are relevant to individuals who plan to work in community college administration, while a specialization in online and distance learning will focus on developing a student's skills in developing online programs. Required course work differs greatly from program to program, but students may take courses similar to the following:

  • Politics and Public Policy in Higher Education. In this course, students learn the politics and legal authorities that govern higher education, including the roles and influences of boards of directors, state education boards, government agencies, community organizations, unions, and the students themselves. Students also explore the tension between higher education leaders and the state and federal policymakers who regulate and set mandates for colleges and universities.
  • Managing Campus Operations. This course teaches students the fundamentals of operating a college campus, including financial administration and how college administrators can wisely use the resources they have to advance an institution's mission, or the goals of their particular department. Students are also introduced to strategic planning for campus, program, and personnel development. Budgeting, asset management, and fundraising are also discussed.
  • Using Research and Data to Drive Decision-Making. In this course, students learn how to make strategic decisions that affect the future of a campus based on research and data. Students will become skilled in critically examining available research and information, utilizing data resources, and leveraging data when making the case for institutional growth and change.

Typical homework assignments in an online master's degree program in higher education might include analyzing case studies, writing research papers, or critiquing research. Many programs incorporate a master's capstone project toward the end of the program that requires them to identify a real-world problem in a higher education environment and design a program or service that addresses that problem and ideally helps mitigate it. Some programs require an internship or co-op, in which students work in actual administrative offices in higher education settings where they apply the skills and knowledge that they've learned in their course work on the job.

Building a Career

Many students who graduate from online master's degree programs in higher education go on to become college administrators at universities, regional colleges, community and technical colleges, and vocational schools. Job titles include deans, provosts, directors and assistant directors, registrars, academic advisors, and related supervisory positions. As an alternative, some graduates may seek employment at national and international organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies that are concerned with higher education.

Postsecondary education administrators have vastly different roles and responsibilities depending on their job title, but may work in student services, academics, admissions, the registrar's office, public relations/communications, or other areas. While a bachelor's degree can land someone an entry-level position at a college or university, many positions require or prefer a master's degree or higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Top-level positions, such as that of academic deans and provosts, typically require several years of experience and often a doctorate, the BLS explains.

The median yearly salary for postsecondary education administrators was $83,710. Employment growth of 19% is projected for these higher education professionals between 2010 and 2020, which is average compared with other occupations. Even so, remember that employment is not guaranteed after graduating from a master's program, and salaries can vary greatly depending on your roles and responsibilities, how much experience you have, and the area of the country you live in.