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Discover Top PhD in Educational Leadership Programs Online

You’re ready to take on additional responsibility in the field you love, and a PhD in educational leadership can help you do so. Discover top programs and more below.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Ivy Locke

Last updated

Feb 14, 2024

Earning a PhD in educational leadership is a savvy career move that can be both personally fulfilling and lucrative. Not only does a terminal degree open a wide array of professional opportunities and guarantee a measure of job security, but it also leads to higher salaries. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, postsecondary educators and administrators earn an average of nearly $100,000 annually.

Additionally, enrolling in an online PhD program in educational leadership can help you expand your professional network, develop the practical skills required to become a more effective leader, share your research, and advance through educational organizations and other education-focused industries.

If you are interested in earning a PhD in educational leadership online, you have lots of options. There are high-quality programs across the country, and by choosing to earn your degree online, you can pick and choose from the best institutions based on your unique education and career goals. With that in mind, take a closer look at the top schools we’ve featured below, the different degrees they offer, and the courses you’re likely to encounter as part of your online degree program.

School Spotlights: Top Educational Leadership PhDs Online

You’ll notice as you begin, or continue, to do your research into available programs, that many universities offer PhD in educational leadership degrees online. The fact that you can attend a program across the country without ever leaving the comfort of your home means you can base your decision on cost, curriculum, specialties, and more, rather than proximity. With that in mind, here are some of the top online PhD in higher education programs available online today.

Liberty University

Liberty University has been a pioneer in distance learning since 1985 and offers a top-tier online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership program. This 54-credit program takes full-time students an average of 2.5 years to complete and costs roughly $595 per credit hour. Many students choose Liberty University because of its cutting-edge technology, premium academic quality, unmatched accessibility, and affordability.

The goal of the program is to empower online doctoral students in educational leadership to lead other education professionals and foster more functional and cohesive educational environments. This online program provides students with the leadership and research skills required to identify, assess, and overcome challenges facing the educational sector. 

Notable courses include Advanced Learning Theory and Research; Theories of Educational Leadership; Educational Leadership and Public Relations; and Conflict Resolution.

For more information on online PhD programs in the field of educational, check out our dedicated guide

Stephen F. Austin State University

Stephen F. Austin University offers a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program that is 100% online. This 60-credit hour program allows students to choose a concentration in either K-12 or higher education. The purpose of this program is to provide students with advanced preparation in educational leadership, enabling them to succeed in scholar-practitioner roles. Notable topics covered in this program’s coursework include educational research, ethics and philosophy, leadership theory and practice, and leading change in education.

Additional features of this program include an innovative, challenging curriculum; technology-based learning modules; and a cohort design that enables students to complete the program with peers with whom they become acquainted over time. Additionally, the total cost of the program is typically between $30,194 and $54,674.

Graduates of this degree program have gone on to positions such as educational leadership faculty member, K-12 school leader, state and federal educational policy analyst, college/university administrator (non-academic), institutional and agency researcher, and curriculum specialist. 

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University offers a 63-credit Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership Policy program designed especially for policy specialists, research interventionists, and education professionals. The knowledge and skills students gain further prepares them to employ expert analysis as a means of understanding and evaluating educational policies and making more informed decisions in the educational realm.

The overall goal of the program is to prepare graduates to become executive leaders in education capable of identifying issues and implementing sound solutions based on research and real-world experience. The program accomplishes this by offering coursework designed to boost their abilities to implement instructional change. 

To apply, students must pay a $60 application fee, submit transcripts, and pass the GRE exam. They must also submit a resume, personal statement, three letters of recommendation, and an application essay.

Ed.D. vs. PhD: Which Degree Is Right for You?

Although a PhD in educational leadership offers a wide array of benefits, it isn’t the only path to a successful career in the field. In fact, many education professionals are actually better served by pursuing an Ed.D. instead. While the two terminal education degrees are very similar, they have a few key differences worth exploring.

According to the Drexel University School of Education, an Ed.D. is best suited for students who wish to apply research and leadership skills to make informed decisions and create necessary changes both within and outside of the educational realm.

A PhD, on the other hand, is a practitioner-researcher degree designed to prepare future educational leaders to improve educational sectors across public and private institutions, according to National University.

If you are trying to decide whether to pursue an EdD or a PhD in educational leadership online, here are some additional comparisons that may help you decide:

  • Time to Complete: 3-4 years (Ed.D.); 5-7 years (PhD).
  • Concentrations: Ed.D. programs focus on practical applications of research; PhD programs focus on original research and academic scholarship.
  • Potential Careers: Ed.D. graduates go on to hold academic leadership, administration, higher education, or policymaking positions. Potential careers for PhD holders include educational researchers, college professors, and consultants for governmental agencies.

Common Courses of Educational Leadership PhD Programs

Every university that offers a PhD in educational leadership online program does so in its own unique way. Nevertheless, certain courses are almost universally required to prepare you to enter and succeed in the field. This means that while you may have some wiggle room in terms of electives, most of these core subjects are non-negotiable. With that in mind, here are some of the most common courses for online PhDs in educational leadership programs. 

Advanced Learning Theory and Research

An Advanced Learning Theory and Research course is designed to examine research in learning theory. Topics covered in this course often include classroom management, motivation, learning, diversity, exceptionalities, teaching, and assessment. This class typically includes discussions, examinations of personal school experiences, case analyses, and cooperative projects. There is an emphasis on learning, child development, teaching strategies, at-risk students, and classroom management. The purpose of this class is to empower students enrolled in online PhD programs in educational leadership to become effective leaders in an increasingly diverse society.

Conflict Resolution

A Conflict Resolution course allows students to sharpen their interpersonal skills by testing assumptions about other people and the meaning of what they have said. It also prepares students to consider other perspectives by engaging in active listening and other communication methods. The reason this course is important is that conflicts are highly common within the educational realm. Therefore, leaders must learn how to best manage them in their work environments. At Liberty University, this course is approached through an understanding of the physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological bases of conflict.

Curriculum and Instruction Leadership

A Curriculum and Instruction Leadership course is designed to prepare students to become more effective leaders and scholar-practitioners in educational spheres by combining theory and practice. To receive credit for this course, students are often required to complete an internship as well as a corresponding course. The goal of this course is to provide students with the skills and experience required to integrate social justice principles into practice, conduct relevant research, and demonstrate adaptability in their work.

Educational Leadership and Public Relations

Educational Leadership and Public Relations courses focus on issues and practices related to the development of communication and relationships to increase support for educational activities inside and outside the school setting. The purpose of this course is to impart students with the insight required to become ethical leaders and communicators. Students who take this course are required to study relevant research on philosophical and public relations theories.

Finance and Resource Management

Finance and Resource Management courses are designed to teach students how to properly manage finances and resources across various educational settings. This class is essential since many school districts experience financial strain or mismanagement of resources. Taking this course is meant to empower students pursuing online PhD programs in educational leadership to take on budgets of all sizes and ensure that they are allocated both ethically and effectively. 

Theories of Educational Leadership

Theories of Educational Leadership courses are designed to teach students how to analyze education/organizational leadership theories, as well as evidence-based practices. The course focuses on applying these theories to solve the problems academic leaders face while working in complex and changing contexts. Moreover, the course emphasizes the importance of forging relationships.

Components of An Online PhD in Educational Leadership

Earning a PhD in educational leadership online is a huge undertaking. It will require you to complete a series of complex steps and requirements. This section is designed to help demystify some of these requirements, including prerequisites, coursework, hands-on experience, and more. Reviewing these can help you feel confident that you’ll be ready for everything an online PhD program in educational leadership will throw at you.

Capstone Project or Dissertation

A dissertation is an extensive piece of original research on a topic of your choosing. Dissertations are commonly required to graduate from online PhD programs in educational leadership. It is often the most extensive project you will complete throughout your academic career. In fact, according to Harvard University, most dissertations are between 100 to 300 pages long. Therefore, it is the type of project you must begin working on months, if not years, before graduation.

Similarly, a capstone project is an intricate, extensive project designed to prove that a student has extensive knowledge of a given subject. Capstones can be submitted as an essay, video, presentation, internship, field placement project, or other creative works. Unlike dissertations, capstone projects are meant not only to investigate an issue but solve it.

Comprehensive Examinations

As the name suggests, comprehensive examinations are tests that cover a wide range of material. These tests are meant to evaluate your knowledge and expertise in your area of specialization, typically before you embark on your dissertation, and determine whether you have the knowledge and skills necessary to graduate and succeed in the field. These exams come in various formats and may include multiple choice questions, short answers, essays, or combinations thereof.

Depending on your program, you may have to take more than one comprehensive examination to graduate. The best way to prepare for these exams when pursuing an online PhD program in educational leadership is by completing all required material and studying regularly. You should also consider seeking tutoring or additional mentorship if you need help grasping the material. 


Coursework will make up the bulk of your online PhD in educational leadership. From reading the latest research to writing essays that sums up your own, your coursework will provide you with the theoretical understanding and practical skills to step into the professional world prepared to meet challenges head-on. 

In order to ensure you can complete your coursework — and your degree — it’s important that you set aside time for and prioritize your assignments. This may mean scheduling multiple blocks to ensure you can complete readings and other work. You may also want to study with a group or partner who can keep you accountable. 

Internships & Fieldwork

Internships and fieldwork are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, internships are typically unpaid positions that enable students to gain hands-on experience by working in the environments they will be working in upon graduation. They often provide students with course credit.

Fieldwork involves observing and collecting data about cultures, people, or natural environments. Both internships and fieldwork must be completed in educational settings. If you need help finding somewhere to complete your internships or fieldwork, ask your peers, professors, or student services advisor.


A prerequisite course provides you with the foundational information or skills you need before you can confidently take upper-division courses. The vast majority of graduate programs require students to have taken prerequisites so that they will be capable of diving into more advanced material from day one.

Other prerequisites are exams — such as the GRE — field experience, lab hours, and even degrees. The most common prerequisites for earning a PhD in educational leadership online are a master’s degree and a certain level of experience in the higher education sector.

To ensure that you have met the necessary prerequisites, you should research the requirements of your chosen program.