Best Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

Oct 19, 2021

What is an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program?

Doctoral programs in educational leadership are designed for professionals who have already earned several years of experience working in their field. The program coursework is structured to help the student learn skills and knowledge necessary to become a leader in the following educational settings; namely public or private schools and districts, government or nonprofit entities, educational companies, or institutions of higher education. Some universities offer concentrations within the program that allow students to specialize in higher education or K-12 education.

Leadership skills such as managing organizational change, critical thinking, and innovation are common components of the curriculum for this degree. The learning objectives also include technical skills such as data analytics. This kind of training assists future educational leaders in mastering the skills and knowledge necessary to utilize data to inform their decisions.

What is the difference between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership?

Two types of degrees are available to doctorate students in the field of education. The Ed.D., Doctor of Education degree, or the Ph.D., which is a Doctor of Philosophy degree in education. Both degrees are recognized in the industry and are considered acceptable qualifications when applying for senior administrative positions. The difference between the Ed.D. and the Ph.D. primarily involves the preferred work environment. An Ed.D. is typically designed for individuals interested in an administrative career in the public-school setting, while a Ph.D. is usually considered a research degree for those seeking a position in a post-secondary institution or a career involving educational research. A Ph.D. program will include additional training in research methodology and statistical analysis. A comprehensive dissertation is a required component of the program. While most Ed.D. programs also require a dissertation, there are a few that substitute a capstone project or a "dissertation in practice".

Why Should I Get an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership?

Individuals interested in pursuing an administrative career as a senior executive within an organization, including school principal, university dean, technology director, facilities manager, or other educational leadership roles find this degree to be beneficial. Strong skills in problem-solving, interpersonal relationships, and technology are essential in these positions. Interested individuals should possess experience within their desired academic setting prior to applying. Although a doctorate is not always required for these positions, it can make a candidate more marketable.

Since doctoral-level students typically maintain a full-time job while attending, an online program can provide much needed flexibility by eliminating travel time and providing recorded lectures and assignments.

An online certificate program in Leadership Development may be an option for those initially uncertain about enrolling in a doctorate program, as it can be completed in less than a year. This certificate program will provide an introduction to the material that will be contained in a doctorate program.

Admissions Requirements for Online Educational Leadership Doctorate Programs

A resume listing years of employment experience within the academic setting, official transcripts showing the high school diploma or GED, bachelor's degree, and typically a master's degree are usually submitted along with an application. A GPA of 3.0 or higher is desired. Some programs also require a GRE exam score, a personal essay explaining why the applicant is interested in enrolling in the program, two or more recommendation letters, and an interview.

Students must meet all the admission deadlines in order to be able to start with their desired cohort. Programs use the term 'network of peers' to describe the group of students who enter the program at the same time.

What Should I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership?

This doctorate typically includes 15 to 20 classes along with two or three immersion experiences. Immersion experiences require students to spend a brief period in residency, often over a weekend, on campus. Networking is generally encouraged through partner projects, discussion boards, and immersion experiences. Coursework can include topics such as; Fostering Innovation, Organizational Systems, Learning Theory, Data Analysis, Facilitating Change, Statistics, and other topical seminars.

How Long is an Online Doctoral Educational Leadership Program?

Most programs are designed to be completed in three years and require between 45 and 60 credits. Foundations classes in Leadership Theory, Educational Policy, and Organizational Management are generally taken during the first year. Year two delves deeper into legal guidelines and regulations, supervision of staff, and program analysis topics. During the third and final year, students are engaged in seminars, research methods coursework, and a capstone project or dissertation development. Immersion experiences generally occur once each year and are often scheduled during the summer months.

Common Courses for Online Educational Leadership Doctoral Programs

The curriculum for this program centers around the topics of leadership and organizational theory. Topics that cover policy, law, management, and innovation are presented through these two themes of leadership and organization. Change management courses prepare the student to lead their organization through systemic change processes. While courses on Data Analysis teach students how to monitor progress. Instructional components designed to assist students entering their capstone experiences, whether a dissertation or an application-based project, are generally threaded throughout the course curriculum.

Foundations in Educational Leadership

Also called Leadership Theory, or Leadership in Education, this course proves an introduction to entry-level educational administration. Fundamental theories in the areas of administration, management and leadership are presented. National, state, and local policy for the field of education is discussed, along with ethics and equity topics. Students are also presented with methodologies for creating a shared vision and mission within an organization.

Leading Organizations

Profiles of famous leaders provide an interesting context for this study of leadership characteristics and styles. A practical application component is typically included, with students conducting analyses of situations and scenarios as well as developing case studies that reflect their personal leadership style in-context. Critical thinking skills are emphasized in this curriculum.

Research Methods

Students gain expertise in developing their research questions, designing research studies, and understanding the concept of validity. Methods for conducting research and writing a literature review are presented, in addition to lessons on how to apply research findings. Topics in this course include Meta-analysis, Data screening, Power analysis, and Statistical tests. This course is designed to assist the student to learn how to design, develop, and write a dissertation.

Dissertation Seminar

During the course, students are guided through the process of beginning their dissertation. Requirements for the dissertation are presented, along with the college's dissertation handbook. Guidelines are given for conducting ethical research, developing a research topic relevant to the subject of educational leadership, designing appropriate methodology, and how to complete and submit a dissertation proposal. Students also learn how to select their dissertation committee.

Online Educational Leadership Doctorate Degree Specializations

Higher education and K-12 education comprise the two primary degree specializations, as these are the predominant work environments for students interested in this type of program. In order to prepare students to succeed in their preferred environment, students often have the opportunity to select elective courses relevant to one of these two specialities. A higher education strand will include a focus on topics unique to this setting. Policies surrounding student admissions, for example, are substantially different than in K-12 districts. Similarly, the K-12 strand examines the unique roles of principal or superintendent that are not found within the university setting.

Some examples of courses in a Higher Education strand might include:

  • Higher Education Policy
  • Enrollment and Retention
  • Strategic Partnerships

Courses in a K-12 strand could include:

  • Principalship
  • Superintendency
  • K-12 Policy
  • K-12 Instructional Leadership

Other specializations which may be available include; Change/Innovation in Education, Educational Psychology, and Education in the Healthcare Setting.

Doctoral Dissertation for Educational Leadership

The dissertation process begins with the selection of a topic. Once a student has selected their topic, it will allow them to choose elective courses that will deepen their knowledge in the chosen subject. Research coursework and literature reviews are the next steps. While rules regarding when actual dissertation research may begin their dissertation work may vary by institution, at a minimum a student can utilize coursework and writing assignments to further develop their own understanding of issues surrounding their potential topic. Next, a supervising professor, called the committee chair, is chosen or assigned. Additional members of the dissertation committee are selected with the chair.

Students then draft the first three chapters, namely Introduction, Literature Review, and Methodology, while the committee chair provides ongoing feedback. Once approved, a committee meeting will be set so that the student may "defend" their dissertation proposal. As part of this defense, students are generally required to prepare and formally present an outline of the dissertation content. Following the presentation, the committee conducts a vote to accept or reject. If the proposal is rejected, the student is provided with feedback on necessary changes and must repeat the proposal process. Once accepted, the student is free to conduct the research, gather findings, and complete the dissertation. Upon completion of the final two chapters, the Findings and Conclusion, the committee reconvenes for the student's dissertation defense. A successful dissertation defense closes the process and the dissertation is published.

How to Choose the Right Online Educational Leadership Doctorate Program

Identifying professional career goals and comparing these to the learning objectives of the doctorate programs under consideration can help ensure the program selected is the best fit. Those who prefer to work in higher education may wish to examine programs that offer specializations in Higher Ed versus K-12. Since administrators carry significant responsibilities and make important decisions that can affect the entire organization, programs that promote critical thinking and real-world application may be beneficial. Especially to those who wish to practice these needed skills through scenario-based assignments and activities.

The official title of the degree is also an important factor to note when comparing programs. There are online doctorate programs in Educational Leadership and online doctorate programs in Educational Administration. A close look at the course listing will help the applicant determine the subtle differences between the two programs.

Entry requirements may also serve as a distinguishing element. Although they are somewhat limited, there are online doctorate programs that do not require a prior master's degree, such as the Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership offered by the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education. Program cost is always a consideration. Tuition costs can vary greatly, from $600 to over $1,500 per credit hour. Some campuses, such as Central Michigan University's Global Campus, post the cost of the online educational leadership program clearly on the program website, while others instruct interested applicants to call or email for the information.

Accreditation for Schools with an Educational Leadership Doctorate Program

Universities must hold national accreditation in order for the degrees they award to be recognized. Earning a degree from a non-accredited school can result in a lack of recognition for the degree by potential employers. This will mean that the individual has wasted time and money on a degree that does not count as a valid qualification. It may also exclude the student from being able to access federal financial aid.

There are six accreditation regions in the United States and seven commissions that award accreditation within those regions. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation publishes a map to help identify the university accrediting organization for each state.

In addition to institutional accreditation, which is required, universities may choose to attain an optional academic program professional accreditation as a quality assurance indicator for individual programs. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation is one of the entities that serve in this capacity for educational doctorate degrees.

Job Outlook for Educational Leadership

The job outlook for administrators in educational settings such as campus principals will grow at a slightly higher rate than management positions in other industries. Career opportunities for professionals with a doctorate in educational leadership are expected to experience a growth of 4% in the ten-year span from 2019 to 2029. This is about the same as the overall average for all occupations, but managers in other occupations will only see a 3% growth. While post-secondary administrative opportunities may fluctuate with annual budget allocations that are heavily impacted by the university enrollments, K-12 positions show a more stable average year-over-year. Nation-wide approximately 20,000 principal positions are posted each year.

High School Principal

Every aspect of campus operations is managed by the high school principal, including supervision of staff, facilities use, and oversight of the campus budget, student discipline, and academic achievement. At a small campus, the principal may be handling these details alone, or together with a campus leadership team in larger schools. A High School Principal typically earns about $92,655 annually, however, their workweek will far exceed 40 hours due to evening and weekend activities.

Academic Dean

The role of Academic Dean is similar to that of principal, but in a subject-specific college within a university, such as the College of Education. An Academic Dean manages the daily operations for all staff and students associated with their college. The average salary for an Academic Dean is $93,740. Generally, to obtain this position an individual must have a doctorate degree, such as a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, and several years of experience as a college professor.

Director of Instructional Technology

Instructional Technology Directors integrate technology with instructional design to facilitate the implementation and maintenance of all technology-related instructional initiatives. In the school district setting, this would involve meeting with teachers, principals, and administrators with the view of identifying and solving potential issues. On average, Instructional Technology Directors can expect to earn an annual salary of $80,675 per year. There are online doctorate degree programs available in Instructional Technology for those interested in specializing in this growing career field.

Preschool or Childcare Center Director

Preschool Directors supervise staff members, design student programming, oversee daily operations, and manage the budget. The average salary for a Preschool Director is $42,904. Since the minimum educational requirement is a bachelor's degree, this role can serve as an entry-level position to an administrative career in early childhood.

There are online doctorate programs available specifically in early childhood. These train students for careers in early childhood research or for early childhood administrative position in a large school district and even managing a chain of privately-owned childcare centers.

Certifications for Educational Leadership

Campus and district administrative positions in public K-12 school districts require official certification, in addition to a master's or doctorate degree. The most common administrative positions which require formal certification are Principal and Superintendent. Each State Department of Education establishes the rules for their state. The Pennsylvania Department of Education rules for obtaining a Superintendent, Supervisor, or Administrative certification, for example, include submission of official transcripts showing a bachelor's degree or above and a 3.0 GPA, a verification form that the individual has completed a graduate-level educator preparation program, a verification form showing the individual has met the years of experience required for the specific certification, and a passing score on Pennsylvania's formal assessment for that certification. Proof of valid certification is required to apply for school administrator jobs in most states. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of the contact information for each state's department of education. Post-secondary administrator positions do not typically require certification.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online Educational Leadership Doctorate Programs

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is the starting point when applying for a college grant or loan. Many colleges require completion of the FASFA prior to eligibility for other local scholarships or grants.

Associations related to the field of education often offer student scholarships. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) offers scholarships to graduate students annually. Students must currently be enrolled in a program. The nomination must be submitted by the program chair. Applications are due by September 30th. Only one student may be nominated per campus.

Universities also have a Financial Aid office that assists students with locating and applying for various types of aid including grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study programs. These resources can usually be found on the university's financial aid page of their website. Baylor University posts an online graduate student aid page on their website, for example, to assist students seeking to fund online graduate studies.

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