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Best Online Master’s in Higher Education

Author: Shannon Daigle

Editor: Kristin Marino

Colleges and universities are complex organizations, and online master’s programs in higher education can prepare faculty and staff to be campus leaders. Explore top programs, including courses, career paths, and the benefits of being part of campus administration.

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A smiling instructor stands at the front of a classroom holding a remote control while a student with raised hand participates. The room has a whiteboard in the background, and several students are seated, attentively looking at the teacher.

If you are passionate about helping college students succeed, an online master’s in higher education administration can prepare you for a fulfilling and financially rewarding career. From academic counseling to college teaching and leadership roles in communication, higher education administration professionals are responsible for the management, organization, and implementation of programs and policies at colleges and universities across the nation.

In addition to taking behind-the-scenes roles that make postsecondary institutions run smoothly and ensure student success, higher education administrators are in demand. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, undergraduate enrollment is expected to increase by 9% by 2031. Qualified higher education administrators will have a vital role in supporting these growing student bodies.

Read our guide to getting a master’s in higher education online to learn about the top programs, the classes you’ll take, and the jobs you can expect to take on after graduation.

An In-depth Look at Three Online Master’s in Higher Ed Programs

To help you get started as you consider getting your master’s in higher education online, we’ve highlighted three top schools offering this degree. We’ve chosen these outstanding master’s programs because they represent the affordability, flexibility, and accreditation you should expect as you compare schools. Read about our top picks for the online master’s in higher education administration programs below.

American College of Education

Logo of the American College of Education. It features a stylized flame icon to the left, with the college name written on the right in uppercase letters. The words "American College" are in bold, and "of Education" is in a lighter font.

The American College of Education’s affordable and convenient 100% online master’s degrees include a master of education in higher education. Once you’re a student in the program, you can expect to take courses in law, finance, leadership, and marketing for higher education. You can also select an area of focus from three available tracks: general, leadership, or student development and affairs.

No matter which one you choose, you can complete the 34 program credits and graduate in just 16 months. ACE also offers some of the lowest tuition rates for a master’s in higher education, with the total cost to complete the program coming in at just $9500. Students have flexible options for paying tuition, whether they choose to pay in full, by the course, or in monthly installments.

Program Highlights

  • Credits: 34
  • Length: 16 months
  • Cost: $235/credit
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Liberty University

The image shows the logo of Liberty University. It features the name "LIBERTY" in large capital letters and "UNIVERSITY" in smaller capital letters underneath it. The text is in a bold, serif font.

At Liberty University, you can graduate with a master’s in higher education in as little as one year. As a student of LU’s MEd in higher education program, you can choose from three distinct specialization concentrations, which are educational leadership, instructional design and technology, or student affairs.

No matter which track you choose, you’ll take part in a shared core curriculum that provides a solid educational foundation in the US higher educational system. You’ll spend your remaining time in the program taking specialized courses that meet your future career goals. For maximum flexibility, all program courses are available fully online and in eight-week course formats. Plus, Liberty offers eight start dates throughout the year, so you won’t have to wait long to get started on your master’s.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 30
  • Length: 12 months
  • Cost: $415/credit
  • Accreditation: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Purdue Global

A logo with the text "Purdue Global" next to a globe icon featuring intersecting lines. The globe is split into light and dark segments.

Purdue Global’s online master’s in higher education administration is an ideal choice if you’re looking for a fast, flexible, and affordable way to earn your advanced degree. Once enrolled, you can choose from three available concentrations in the program. The college administration and leadership track is best for those who want to manage academic programs and departments.

The college teaching track provides students who want to become postsecondary educators with the skills to design, implement, and evaluate curricula suitable for adult learning environments. The student affairs concentration supplies students with the skillset to provide comprehensive student services. Thanks to multiple start dates throughout the year and accelerated 10-week terms, you can start on your degree with a minimal wait and graduate in just one and a half years.

Program Highlights

  • Credits: 50
  • Length: 18 months
  • Cost: $420/credit
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Strengths of an Online Master’s in Higher Education Administration

Getting a master’s in higher education online requires rigorous study, but it comes with some unique perks. While online learning is more accessible and often more affordable than getting a master’s on campus, you’ll still reap the same career benefits. Let’s explore five upsides to getting an online master’s in higher education administration.

More Accessible

Thanks to online learning, a high-quality master’s in higher education is more accessible than ever to students from all walks of life. Until the rise of online higher education, students were often restricted to schools that were conveniently located, regardless of if those schools fit their goals, learning styles, or budget. With an online master’s, you can take advantage of an abundance of program options and seek out a program that fits your budget, preferences, and career goals.

Potential Career Advancement

While there are some jobs in higher education administration available to those with only a bachelor’s degree, there may not be many career paths you can take or room for advancement. Many people working in postsecondary education find that their career options in the field are limited by not having a master’s degree. With an online master’s in higher education administration, you can earn the skills and credentials to advance your career and open more opportunities for employment.

Convenience and Flexibility

With an online master’s in higher education administration, you won’t have to travel to a university campus to get a degree. Instead, you can take advantage of online learning software to take part in classes whenever and wherever it’s convenient for you. Some schools offer asynchronous courses, allowing you to watch lectures any time you choose. Others host live online classes that mirror a traditional experience. Either way, you can participate from the comfort of your own home, office, or favorite coffee shop.

Affordability

Getting a master’s in higher education online may cost you considerably less than an on-campus degree. For starters, tuition may be lower than what you’d pay as a traditional student, especially if you choose an out-of-state school. You won’t have to spend time and money commuting back and forth to campus or relocating while you earn your degree. Since you’re able to choose a class schedule that works for you, it’s also possible to keep up full-time work in your current career while you’re in school.

Various Specializations

Many online master’s in higher education administration programs offer multiple specialization options to accommodate different students’ career goals in higher education administration. Online programs make it possible for you to choose the best schools offering specific learning tracks that will provide the boost you need to advance in your career. Whether you want to become an academic advisor or a director of student affairs, there’s an online program to meet your educational needs and career goals.

A Preview of Online Higher Ed Graduate Programs

The best online master’s in education programs are designed with working professionals in mind. That means they often include asynchronous classes that can be watched at a student’s convenience. For students who prefer a live class format, there are synchronous programs like the MEd in education administration from UMass Lowell. Depending on whether you can dedicate full- or part-time hours to your studies, you can expect to get your master’s in the field in about two years — though the fastest programs offer students the opportunity to graduate in as little as one year.

Popular Courses

No two master’s in higher education online programs are exactly alike, but there are some things that most programs you explore will have in common. These programs usually consist of 30-45 credit hours of courses that build expert knowledge, critical thinking skills, and practical tools for working in higher education administration. Check out five common courses found in online master’s in higher education administration programs below.

Foundations of Higher Education

Foundations of higher education classes lay the groundwork for students’ understanding of how higher education institutions in America are structured and function. You can expect to dive deep into various educational philosophies and their impact on instruction and administration policy and practice from the past to the present day. One degree that includes a Foundations of Higher Education course is the Master of Science in higher education offered by Texas A&M – Commerce.

Higher Education Laws and Regulation

Most programs have at least one course focusing on the regulations and legal issues you’ll face as a higher education administrator. You can expect to explore diverse ethical and legal issues affecting postsecondary intuitions and the common campus-based policies to address them. At UMass Lowell, online Master of Education in educational administration students explore key cases, statutes, laws, and historical case studies that illustrate their use.

Introduction to Higher Education Administration

This course serves as an introduction to the primary areas of responsibility in higher education administration. As a student, you’ll learn more about the key facets of administration, like institutional mission, organizational structure, human resources management, and more.

After you’ve completed the course, you’ll have a stronger understanding of best practices in postsecondary education and how to apply them to ensure students stay in college and succeed. American Public University’s Online Master of Education in higher education administration includes this course.

Diversity in Higher Education

Consideration and understanding of cultural and ethnic differences and diversity is critical to any higher education professional. In this course, you’ll learn more about topics like age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status and how they can impact students’ educational experience. You’ll also discuss theories and methods for effectively accommodating all student’s needs. If you’re interested in this course, consider the Master of Science in higher education administration from North Carolina Central University.

Practicum or Capstone Project

Toward the end of your master’s program, it’s likely you’ll be required to participate in a practicum or capstone project. This culminating experience is a chance to apply what you’ve learned to a real-world environment, whether that’s as a capstone project or an in-person experience.

For example, Point Loma Nazarene University’s master’s in higher education students complete a research project paper based on answering a research question. Northeastern University, on the other hand, requires students to take part in a hands-on learning experience.

Specialization Options

While a master’s in higher education is a powerful career-booster on its own, students can also choose to specialize their degree. These customizable educational tracks allow you to build distinctive skill sets and build credentials in a preferred area, streamlining your path to a career in the field.

College Administration and Leadership

This specialization is ideal for students interested in management and leadership positions in colleges and universities, educational associations, and nonprofits. If you choose this as your focus, you’ll take classes that cover organization and decision-making in higher education, student retention, and supporting diverse student bodies.

By graduation, you’ll have a thorough knowledge of legal issues, organizational structure, current trends, and ethical concerns in the field. Bay Path University offers this specialization as part of their higher education administration master’s degree. Students who want a similar degree for primary and secondary schools should consider a master’s in educational administration.

Student Affairs

A student affairs focus is ideal for people who aspire to become administrators or work in student affairs in college or university settings. With a student affairs-focused degree, you’ll take courses in the theory and philosophy of student affairs, ethics and law in student affairs, and counseling. After graduation, you’re well-prepared to launch a career in advising, admissions, or financial aid administration. If you’re interested in this concentration, consider the master’s in education from the University of West Alabama.

College Teaching

There’s a high demand for qualified instructors at the postsecondary level, and this specialization can enhance or launch your career as an educator. Programs like the MS in higher education in college teaching and learning from Walden University are ideal for people who are already instructors or have subject-matter credentials but need a master’s degree. In this program, you’ll learn about the stages of the teaching and learning process and how to plan, implement, and evaluate learning experiences. An online master’s in adult education is an alternative option.

The Importance of Accreditation for Your MEd Program

When pursuing a master’s degree, it’s important to ensure that any school you’re considering is accredited. Regional accrediting bodies, like HLC and SACSCOC, typically accredit higher education institutions as a whole. Some programs, like the master’s in higher education administration, may also be accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) or the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP), though these bodies more commonly recognize teacher preparation programs.

Before committing to any master’s degree program, it’s important to understand the financial impact and investment of higher education. Financial aid can be a game-changer, reducing your cost and the stress of paying for your master’s out-of-pocket.

Explore scholarship programs at your school and beyond, consider work-study programs, and apply for federal financial aid to help pay for your education. Also, consider seeking out a more affordable education program so you don’t have to break the bank to get a high-quality degree.

Examples of Online Master’s Tuition Costs

School No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Tuition

30

$1,188

$35,640

30-36

$583

$17,490 – $35,676

30

$758

$22,740

Higher Education Administration Roles with an MEd

Whether you want to manage students, oversee facilities and services, or help students navigate the educational journey, an MEd in higher education can provide you with the skills you need. Below, we’ve outlined three popular career choices for graduates of online master’s in higher education programs.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Postsecondary education administrators take charge of planning, managing, and coordinating the details of student instruction or administration. Typically, they work at postsecondary educational institutions like colleges, universities, and junior or community colleges. In their roles, they’re responsible for administrative areas that pertain to the school, like financial oversight, execution of student services, or admissions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary education administrators make $99,940 per year and are growing at a rate of 4%.

Administrative Service Manager

Administrative service managers are responsible for managing the facilities and services of an organization. They oversee resource details like supplies, technology, and staffing needs. Individuals in these roles may also be in charge of vital record-keeping tasks like maintaining bookkeeping, financial records, and student records.

According to BLS, administrative services managers make a median salary of $101,870 and are growing at a rate of 5%.

Academic Advisor

Academic advisors have a hands-on role in aiding and advising students on their educational and vocational options. It’s their job to listen to students’ career and academic goals and supply academic advice on educational paths that will help them achieve their career objectives. They also periodically review students’ records to ensure they are on track to graduate on time.

The BLS lists the median salary for academic advisors as $60,140 per year, and these positions are growing at a rate of 5%.

Top Questions Education Graduate Students Ask

What are the admission prerequisites for a master's in higher education program?

Admission requirements for any online master’s in education will vary by school and program. Generally, any school will require students to provide proof of a previously earned bachelor’s degree, academic records, and letters of recommendation. At many schools, GRE scores are optional, making the admissions process easier for prospective students. Here’s a list of what you’ll need to do to apply for your master’s in higher education:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Completed application
  • Application fee
  • Statement of purpose
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts
  • Minimum 2.7 GAP
  • GRE scores

Do you need a master's degree to work in higher education administration?

While you may be able to get started in higher education administration without a master’s, it will become increasingly important in the long run. Most jobs in the field require a master’s degree, so it can be difficult to advance your career and salary without it. Getting your MBA is another option for growing your career.

How long does it take to finish an online master's in higher education?

That all depends on your schedule and commitments. Full-time students typically complete their master’s program in 16-18 months, while part-time students take closer to two and a half years. The fastest programs, like the master’s program at Liberty University, allow students to graduate in just one year.

Can you earn a master's degree in higher education entirely through online courses?

Absolutely. Many schools offer a master’s degree in higher education entirely online. You can conveniently earn a degree on a schedule that works for you while studying in a location of your choosing. One example of an entirely online master’s program in the field is the MS in higher education administration from North Carolina Central University.