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Best Online EdD Programs in California

Want to step into a leadership role in education? Online EdD programs in California can pave the way. Our guide tells you everything you need to know about getting your EdD in CA.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Shannon Daigle

Last updated

Mar 04, 2024

It’s an excellent time to consider online EdD programs in California. An EdD degree opens the door to exciting leadership opportunities for educators looking for a career boost. The Golden State is seeking superintendents who can meet the challenges school districts face in the wake of COVID-19. Educational changemakers can step up to advocate for effective budgets and legislation as schools face potential cuts.

Whether you want to become the next superintendent of your school district, a curriculum specialist, or an educational policymaker, an EdD can help you get there. And with online EdD programs in California, the path to your doctorate can be more convenient and affordable than you might have imagined. These flexible programs offer working professionals the structure and support to earn a doctorate without compromising their current careers.

Our guide to online EdD programs in California offers you an inside look at these doctoral degree programs. We’ll cover some of the most popular programs in the state, provide answers to students’ most common questions, and give you an inside look into EdD classes. Read on to discover more about the best online EdD programs in California.

When searching for the best online EdD programs in California, you might be concerned about finding a high-quality program that gives you the support you need. To help you on your search, we’ve put together a short list of high-caliber programs that represent program quality, flexibility, and affordability for online EdD programs.

California Coast University

California Coast University offers a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership that is entirely online and self-paced. The program does not require group projects, set meeting times, or exam dates, so students truly have flexibility to complete coursework and assignments on their own schedules. While applicants must have a minimum of three to five years of experience in education, they can start the program any time once they’ve been accepted. The program guides students through three qualifying courses, six core courses, two research courses, a comprehensive examination, and a research and dissertation phase. Candidates with a master’s degree in education are preferred. However, those with a master’s in other fields may be considered; if accepted, they must complete four prerequisite courses. CCU also offers interest-free payment plans on tuition. Payment plans start at $150 per month, with a down payment of $500.

The California State University

At The California State University, students can choose from several EdD programs to prepare them for their roles as future leaders of California’s schools. With the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership at CSU Fresno, students can earn their EdD entirely online. The program features a cohort model, where 15-20 students proceed through coursework together. Doctoral candidates can choose between a focus on P-12 Educational Leadership or Community College/Higher Education Leadership, depending on where they plan to work. Each accelerated class lasts just eight weeks. The majority of coursework is asynchronous, allowing for maximum flexibility. However, students must attend a weeklong summer residency on the Fresno State campus during the third and sixth semesters of the program.

USC Online

The University of Southern California’s online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership prepares students to become leaders in various areas of education. This program focuses on producing conscious leaders with a passion and capability for addressing inequities in education. Courses are available entirely online in a real-time virtual classroom environment, making this program ideal for students who prefer high levels of interaction with peers and professors. Students in the program can choose from four potential concentrations: K-12 Leadership in Urban School Settings, Leading Instructional Change, Higher Education Administration, or Educational Psychology. Rather than a traditional dissertation, students complete a “dissertation in practice,” working with faculty to apply research methods to a problem of practice. Applicants must have a master’s degree and three years of relevant full-time work and leadership experience.

Common Courses in California EdD Programs

What can you expect to learn when getting your EdD? Each EdD program in CA uses a unique blend of courses and experiences to prepare students to become leaders in the field. However, there are a handful of courses that most programs have in common. We’ve outlined those courses below to give you a look at what you can expect to learn as an EdD student.

Curriculum Development and Transformation

The leaders and administrators who will shape the landscape of modern education and educational organizations need to know how to develop curricula that meet the highest quality standards. In this course, educators learn how to originate and evolve educational plans and materials. Then, they learn how to apply them to all types of students and educational settings for maximum impact. This study of traditional and modern educational frameworks instills doctoral candidates with the tools to design, implement and assess quality curricula.

Legal Aspects of Education

As graduates step into roles as educational leaders and administrators, they must be capable of standing at the helm of schools and school districts. An important part of their job will be ensuring that their organization remains legally compliant and follows best practices. In this course, students learn the foundational principles of school law, precedent-setting cases, and emergent legal issues. As a result, they’re well-prepared to implement policies in the best interest of their organization, its personnel, and its students.

Philosophical Foundations of Education

This course provides an overview of the broader philosophical concepts that form education as it stands today. Students delve into the historical foundations of educational philosophy, beginning with Plato and proceeding to the current day. They examine the major conversations that have framed the development of educational systems and discuss how they impact the modern educational field. Students can expect to engage in discussion and examination of the philosophical aspects and impact of topics like school reform, multiculturalism, and feminism.

Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice

Advancing diversity and social justice initiatives is imperative in today’s social and educational environments. This course aims to equip educators and leaders to address the topics of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice and incorporate them into their educational organizations and curricula. Students who complete this course are equipped to bring change-centered knowledge and action into classrooms, school systems, and beyond – whether they become a school principal or an educational policymaker.

Inside Look at Your Career Prospects Post-Graduation

Earning a Doctor of Education qualifies you for a number of careers. Some graduates work in a leadership capacity in K-12 institutions or overseeing public school districts. Others become administrators in higher education, while others become movers and shakers in educational policy. Take a look below for in-depth profiles on three popular careers for EdD graduates.

College President

College presidents act as the chief executive officers of a college or university. In this capacity, they’re responsible for all financial, academic, and operational initiatives of a campus or institution. They are in charge of the business objectives of the school as a whole, and are the driving force behind their college’s mission, vision, strategy, and success. For example, a college president might sign off on enrollment growth initiatives, campus policies, or annual fundraising goals. As the head of the school, they are accountable to the school’s board of trustees.

Average Pay: $329,114

Education Lobbyist

Education lobbyists apply their degree to settings beyond individual schools and school districts. These positions are also a great choice for anyone who wants to combine a love of education with a passion for law and government. Lobbyists set their sights on making a tangible impact in the field of education through affecting policy and legislative change. Lobbyists work on behalf of companies and organizations (like unions) to represent their interests with elected officials. Their ultimate goal is to achieve favorable consideration and outcomes for their parent organization. Lobbyists might work at the state or national level, advocating for educational funding, policies, or regulation. 

Average Pay: $89,650

School District Superintendent

School district superintendents oversee instructional and business operations within an entire district. They’re responsible for district-wide policies, budgets, and logistics that affect all schools within a system. For example, a superintendent might formulate an implementation plan for policies set by the school board, manage the yearly district budget, or hire school principals. They’re also the public face of the school district, serving as a spokesperson and visible leader. Behind the scenes, superintendents make recommendations to the board of education, maintain legal compliance, and oversee major decisions about curriculum and services.

Average Pay: $177,380

FAQs About Online EdD Programs in California

Earning a doctoral degree is a big commitment. Before you dive into the process, it’s likely that you have questions about what it takes to get a degree, how much time you’ll spend in school, and whether you’ll see a return on your investment. Keep reading for answers to our most common questions about online EdD programs in California.

Are EdD programs worth it?

That all depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish in your career. If your goal is to become a school administrator or superintendent, then an EdD program would be a great fit. California is currently looking for qualified superintendents – and offering higher pay and better benefits than ever before.

Can I earn my EdD online without writing a dissertation?

The majority of EdD programs in California have a dissertation requirement. However, depending on the school, you might have options beyond the traditional written dissertation. For example, USC’s online EdD in Educational Leadership requires a “dissertation in practice”, where doctoral candidates work under faculty guidance to apply research to practical problems.

Can I teach at a university with an EdD?

While you technically can, it’s not common. If teaching in higher education is your goal, a PhD in education is a smarter choice. An EdD is better suited to someone who wants to apply their skills to educational institutions and policy. That said, some with an EdD become professors once they have several years of work experience under their belt.

How long does it typically take to earn an EdD?

How many years it takes depends on how much time you can dedicate to working toward your degree. In California, most EdD programs take three years of full-time study to complete. Fortunately, these programs are often organized to allow you to work and keep up with full-time coursework. However, if you can only study part-time, it will take longer to earn your doctorate.

Is it possible to earn my EdD online in two years?

In California, the majority of online EdD programs take three years. However, if you’re open to getting your degree from a school in another state, you can find accelerated programs that you can complete in as little as one year. For example, you can graduate from the online EdD in Leadership and Innovation at NYU in as little as 24 months.

Which is better, an EdD or a PhD?

It all comes down to you. These degrees serve very different student goals and desired outcomes. A PhD, which is more research-focused, is ideal for those who want to conduct original research and make new contributions to the field. An EdD is better for people who want to apply their doctorate to leadership in educational organizations.