What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Higher Education Program?

Online programs for obtaining a master’s degree in higher education prepare students for leadership roles at colleges, universities and other postsecondary learning institutions as professors, adjunct faculty members, deans, student administrators and other personnel. Jobs in higher education have grown in recent years to match the number of U.S. college students.

Online programs for a master’s in higher education offer the same quality instruction as on-campus programs. Obtaining an online degree is often more convenient for many people, especially if you have work-related or family-related commitments. Many online programs allow you to complete coursework at your own pace while still meeting deadlines along the way. When browsing through the programs at different colleges, it’s important to consider which ones align with your future career goals so you can find the program that works best for you.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Higher Education

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION POSSIBLE CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
Educational Leadership Students learn skills that prepare them to take on leadership positions in higher education. Principal, vice principal at public or private K-12 school
Educational Technology Prepares students to take on roles related to distance learning or curriculum and technology. In this concentration, you’ll likely learn ways to integrate technology into the college classroom and why it’s important for student success. Technology specialist at a college or university, distance learning coordinator

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Higher Education

Curriculum and coursework for an online master’s in higher education likely cover a wide range of topics, and the specific classes you enroll in will depend on your chosen area of concentration. Topics chosen within those classes largely depend on the decisions of faculty members.

However, there are some commonalities between programs, and many students should expect coursework that covers these subjects:

  • Educational Law and Ethics

  • Finance in Higher Education

  • Educational Technology

  • Research in Education

  • Student Affairs

  • Classroom Management

Practicum experiences are also common when earning a master’s in higher education degree online. These on-site internships provide students with an opportunity to experience the realities of working at colleges and universities and receive hands-on training from professors, faculty members and other administrators. You may also have to complete a capstone project as part of your coursework, which allows you to apply the knowledge and skills you’ve gained in the program to contemporary trends and issues in higher education.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education?

The timeline for completing an online master’s in higher education depends on your chosen pace and individual circumstances, but in general, you can expect to complete your degree in 18 months to two years, depending on whether you’re taking classes full-time or part-time. Most programs require between 36-45 credits for completion; the amount of credits will vary by school and program type.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Higher Education Prepares For

Whether you obtain a certification or license in your degree program depends on the program’s requirements and your planned career. Some programs do not lead to licensure, while other concentrations that are teaching-based may lead to a state certification or license. Either way, requirements vary widely by state, so be sure to check with your home state or the state you plan to work in for additional license requirements.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Higher Education

Accreditation for a master’s in higher education program is important mainly for job prospects. Many employers, including colleges and universities, require job applicants to have completed accredited programs (whether online or on-campus) for their education.

Accreditation essentially means that the program or school has met minimum requirements for educational quality. National organizations such as the Department of Education oversee the accreditation process and make sure the organizations awarding accreditation to individual programs are doing so properly.

It’s important for you to research the accreditation status of a master’s program in higher education that you may be considering before you fully commit to it, since it can affect your future and career goals.

In the United States, online programs for a master’s in higher education receive accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Higher Education Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

The current job outlook is quite favorable for both postsecondary educators and administrators. Meanwhile, jobs for professors and other faculty are expected to rise by 15 percent, considered to be much faster than average by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The majority of professors, administrators and other personnel in postsecondary education begin their career at the college level. Oftentimes, a master’s degree is considered the educational minimum for careers in postsecondary education. In addition, some positions, including some professors, may require a doctoral degree, which also brings with it a higher salary.

Expected Salary

In addition to favorable job prospects, students who earn a master’s degree in higher education generally enjoy a higher-paying salary compared to K-12 teachers with a master’s or bachelor’s. The table below examines some median annual salaries for popular jobs associated with a master’s in higher education degree.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

It should also be noted that salaries for postsecondary teachers vary widely depending on the subject area in which they teach. For example, the mean annual wage for history postsecondary teachers is $82,900, while the mean annual wage for chemistry postsecondary teachers is $90,610.

Median Annual Wage of Postsecondary Teachers by Subject

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Geographical location also plays a role in salary. How much a postsecondary educational administrator earns each year may depend on where the school is located. The map below shows the Annual Mean Wages nationwide. Blank states indicate data was not available.

Postsecondary Educational Administrator's Annual Mean Wages by State
Figures in US Dollars per year

Source: Bureua of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

Earning a master’s degree in higher education qualifies you for jobs at community colleges, universities and other postsecondary institutions.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Postsecondary Teachers Postsecondary teachers provide instruction for students in a wide variety of academic and technical subject areas beyond the high school level. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books. Most postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities, both public and private, at professional schools or at junior or community colleges. $76,000 per year 15%
Postsecondary Education Administrators Administrators at postsecondary institutions, including colleges and universities, oversee areas such as student services, academics and faculty research. Job duties vary widely depending on the department they work in, such as student life, admissions or the registrar’s office. $92,360 per year 10%

Professional Organizations

Making professional-level connections and learning about different approaches to higher education are important for your career growth and critical to your success in the field. Professional organizations provide a great entry point for master’s students to learn more about what their chosen career path entails. Professional organizations for higher education teachers and administrators host networking events, provide online training, have active job boards and provide valuable career services for aspiring master’s degree graduates. Listed below are three of the United States’ most prominent organizations for those in higher education.

American Association of University Professors: The AAUP is based in Washington, D.C., and is a nonprofit organization. It has several branches that serve different purposes, including the AAUP-CBC, a labor union that works to advocate for job benefits for postsecondary personnel, and the AAUP Foundation, which provides grant-funded support to colleges and universities across the country.

Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education: NAPSA currently represents more than 15,000 members at 2,100 postsecondary institutions across the world. NAPSA has attempted to target important issues in higher education, including diversity, violence prevention, technology and mental health.

National Educational Association: The NEA offers resources, strategies on securing financial support and tools for creating high-quality lesson plans for teachers and administrators in public education from preschool to graduate levels.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Higher Education

Online degrees have many benefits, including being more convenient for those with busy schedules and offering programs with self-pacing options. Online degrees are also typically less expensive than master’s degrees earned in a classroom, but some students still need financial aid to help them defray the cost of their education. Luckily, many financial assistance options are available in the United States, including loans, grants and scholarships.

A good first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps you find out more information about grants, scholarships and other financial aid options available through the federal government. Private grants and scholarships are also offered, typically from nonprofit organizations or companies. In addition, schools you apply to may also have their own scholarships available for students, so be sure to research your own options in addition to consulting the resources listed below.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

Harry S. Truman Scholarship

Award: Varies

Deadline: February

Eligibility: The Truman Scholarship Foundation awards graduate students with up to $30,000, depending on the award and program, to pursue careers in education, advocacy, nonprofit leadership or public service. Students must be nominated by their institution.

Donald H. and Verna S. Duncan Scholarship

Award: Varies

Deadline: June

Eligibility: Must be a member in good standing of Phi Delta Kappa International and pursuing a graduate program in educational leadership.

New England McCullough Memorial Scholarship Fund

Award: Varies

Deadline: December

Eligibility: A U.S. citizen and enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program in educational administration or related area.