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Online Doctorate Degrees in Education

A doctorate in education (EdD, Phd, or EdS) equips a graduate with skills and scholarly knowledge relating to the practice of education. There are several different types of doctoral programs in education, and at various schools, the lines between these programs may be blurred. EdD programs are typically project- and practice-based, while PhD programs are typically more research-based. A doctorate in education can also focus on a specific area of education such as a special education doctorate degree or an educational leadership doctorate degree. Education Specialist programs (EdS) are terminal, post-master’s professional degree programs that are related to the EdD and PhD, but these programs do not usually result in a doctoral degree.

Benefits of a Doctorate in Education

A doctoral degree program can help an individual to develop their research, critical thinking, and leadership skills while also gaining advanced knowledge in the education field. Doctoral programs prepare individuals to solve challenging problems in today’s education system. A doctorate can increase opportunities for positions in school leadership and open the door for a career in academia, either in research or in teaching at the college or university level.

Many schools offer online doctoral programs in education. Since most candidates seeking a doctoral degree are already certified as teachers or administrators, such programs offer a high degree of flexibility for working professionals. Those who already hold a master’s degree in a related area may also be able to complete a doctorate in education in less time than those who hold a bachelor’s degree.

Ideal Qualities of a PhD in Education Candidate

doctorate in educationThe ideal candidates for a PhD in education have a love of both learning and teaching. They understand the ongoing learning experience and have a clear desire to share their knowledge with younger minds. An organized, self-disciplined mindset, as well as a strong aptitude for converting theory into practical applications, is invaluable to an individual aiming towards a doctoral degree in education. Since admission to doctoral degree programs can be highly competitive, those considering this track should have superior academic and professional records, preferably with some experience in advanced research beyond the bachelor’s degree level.

Online Doctorate in Education Program Formats

Since the majority of those seeking admission to a doctoral program in education are already certified as teachers or administrators, an online doctorate may only require limited in-person attendance. Many programs allow students to complete the majority of coursework online and may only require students to come to campus for summer seminars. Other programs may take more of a hybrid or blended format and require attendance for select weekend or evening meetings to encourage peer engagement and student-faculty partnerships. However, since most doctoral programs require a research-based thesis, students may find it helpful to have access and time to visit campus in order to use the school’s library and other research tools, such as education labs. As in-person and research requirements vary by institution and program, be sure to understand each program’s expectations and consider your availability and commitment to doctoral study before seeking admission.

Admission Requirements for a Doctorate of Education Program

Specific requirements for admission may vary and can include a master’s degree, letters of recommendation, an entrance essay, qualifying scores on the GRE or GMAT exams, qualifying college GPA, and an in-person interview. Candidates must demonstrate a high level of academic and professional performance as EdD and PhD programs tend to be highly selective. Online programs typically follow a competitive admissions process that is similar to their on-campus counterparts.

Coursework for a Doctorate of Education Degree Program

Typical courses for a doctoral degree in education focus on advanced courses in education. Doctorate programs culminate with the candidate selecting a final thesis project that typically includes conducting a research study.

Examples of courses in a doctor of education degree program include:

  • Learning Theory and the Educational Process
  • Educational Philosophy
  • Curriculum Theory
  • Principles of Educational Administration
  • Organizational Theory & Higher Education
  • Comparative Higher Education
  • Education Policy and Politics
  • Advanced Qualitative Research Methods
  • Statistics for Educational Research
  • Internship in Higher Education
  • Dissertation Research

Employment Opportunities For a Doctor of Education

Upon completion of EdD and PhD programs, graduates can find employment at higher education institutions and are more seriously considered for tenure than instructors without a doctorate. Many individuals who have earned a doctorate in education work in a leadership role in school administration in positions like school superintendent, principal, or curriculum coordinator. Graduates can also find positions in the corporate and non-profit sides of the education sector.

Top-Ranked Doctorate in Education Programs

The following schools were ranked by US News as having the top graduate programs in elementary education.

1. Michigan State University
2. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
3. Teachers College, Columbia University
4. University of Wisconsin-Madison
5. Vanderbilt University (Peabody)
6. University of Virginia (Curry)
7. University of Georgia (tie)
7. University of Washington (tie)
9. Ohio State University
10. Indiana University-Bloomington

The following schools were ranked by US News as having the top graduate programs in secondary education.

1. Michigan State University
2. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
3. University of Wisconsin-Madison
4. Stanford University (tie)
4. Teachers College, Columbia University (tie)
6. University of Georgia
7. University of Washington
8. Vanderbilt University (Peabody)
9. University of Virginia (Curry)
10. Indiana University-Bloomington

Profiles of Traditional Doctor of Education Degree Programs

University of Virginia

The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia features a Doctor of Education (EdD) with options for academic emphasis in Administration & Supervision; Curriculum & Instruction; Curriculum & Instruction – Reading Education; or Higher Education. To seek admission students must hold a master’s degree and have relevant professional experience, as well as a satisfactory educational background. Admitted students work one-on-one with a faculty advisor as they develop a personalized curriculum and work towards completing their academic capstone. A minimum of 72 credit hours are required to earn the EdD. All degree requirements must be met within seven years of admission to the program and within four years after passing the comprehensive examination. Additionally, students must remain continuously enrolled during the fall and spring semesters during all parts of the degree program.

Central Michigan University

Central Michigan University offers a unique Doctor of Educational Technology (DET) program that is based on 12 online courses and a practical dissertation. The curriculum for the DET is developed with the goal of preparing graduates for leadership in K-12 and higher education settings, as well as in corporate and private institutions. Students take two courses per semester (fall, spring, and summer) for the first two years before taking comprehensive examinations and beginning work on the dissertation. For admissions consideration, students must have a master’s degree and a GPA of at least 3.5, with at least three years of professional experience. Courses in the DET program include Educational Technology Research; Differentiated Instruction in Online Learning; and Higher Order Learning and New Literacies.

Loyola University Chicago

Loyola University Chicago offers an EdD in Administration & Supervision that is designed to prepare graduates for district-level leadership roles, as well as for research roles and faculty positions. The EdD program focuses on curriculum, program, and budget decisions with a special awareness of individual and social justice. Courses are offered during afternoon, evening, and weekend hours in order to accommodate students who are working full-time. An optional study abroad in Rome is offered as part of the curriculum, which also includes courses in school law, supervision, and educational research. Graduates will meet the academic requirements for an Illinois state superintendent endorsement, though candidates for the endorsement will also be required to meet the administrative experience requirement prior to applying for the license. Loyola University Chicago also offers an EdD in Administration & Supervision with a specialist focus on preparing those who wish to work as principals in the Chicago public school system.

Profiles of Hybrid and Online Doctor of Education Degree Programs

Arizona State University

Arizona State University is home to an online Doctor of Education in Leadership & Innovation that requires 90 credit hours to complete. The degree is designed for currently licensed and practicing teachers and administrators who are interested in fostering innovation and developing leadership skills. Courses include Collaborative Approaches to Data-Informed Decision Making; Systems Change and Leadership; and Strategies for Inquiry. Students also complete a doctoral dissertation that is action-research based. Throughout the program, students receive peer and student support through the program’s “Leader-Scholar Communities.” Admission is open to those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in any field. Students must have a 3.0 minimum GPA to be considered for the program. Arizona State University also offers several master of education degree programs in curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, and educational technology.

University of Florida

The online Doctorate of Education in Curriculum, Teaching, and Teacher Education at the University of Florida is designed for practicing educators who wish to develop their abilities to drive positive change from the classroom setting to the school environment as a whole. As a professional practice program, this doctoral degree is meant for those who wish to develop lifelong teaching practice at the K-12 level. The cohort-based curriculum links theory and research in a practice context through courses such as Foundations of Research in Curriculum and Instruction; Professional Development for Teacher Learning; and Issues in School Reform. A capstone dissertation, which is group-based, helps students apply knowledge gained through the curriculum to real-world problems of practice. At least 60 credit hours are required to earn the degree for those who already have a master’s, and 90 credit hours for those who only hold a bachelor’s degree. Though most courses are entirely online, students should anticipate completing a week-long on-campus experience once per summer during the first three summers of enrollment.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California (USC) offers a hybrid online Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership. This program focuses on driving systematic change in educational organizations and is designed for those who are in, or who are seeking to transition to, leadership positions in K-12 systems, colleges and universities, and other education-focused institutions. The program is structured to allow students to work full-time while completing degree requirements and has a strong focus on motivating and supervising others in educational settings. Students with a master’s degree may be eligible for advanced standing, which allows completion of the EdD in 43 credit hours; those who do not have a master’s degree should expect to complete at least 60 credit hours. Students must attend an annual immersion weekend on the school campus to maintain enrollment in the program. Required courses include Framing Educational Leadership in a Global Context; Education Performance Problems-The Role of Learning; and Using Communication to Facilitate Organizational Change. The USC Rossier School of Education is consistently top ranked as one of the best schools of education in the US.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Earning a Doctorate in Teaching

Question: How do teachers get tenure?

Answer: Tenure requirements vary by state and by district. Some states have laws governing tenure, while others do not. In most districts tenure is granted after a probationary period of three years. To get tenure after that period, your performance must be deemed satisfactory. Tenure is typically awarded by the district’s school board.

Question: What states need teachers?

Answer: States that are especially short of certified teachers include Texas, Utah, Florida, Arizona, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Kansas, and Georgia. Some of these have statewide shortages, while others need more teachers in specific locations.

Question: How does a doctoral degree in education benefit a teaching career?

Answer: Teachers who hold a doctorate can command higher salaries in K-12 public schools and are also better prepared to move into administrative positions. These teachers may also be better positioned to earn tenure. A doctoral degree also qualifies teachers to teach in post-secondary schools.