Doctorate in Educational Leadership (PhD) Degree Programs

Doctorate in Educational Leadership: Overview

Doctorate in Educational Leadership programs could tackle a variety of dynamic topics that may appeal to current higher education professionals. Some programs stress organizational leadership and administrative strategies. Others might highlight data-based education reform and innovation. You could also look for doctorate in education degrees that focus on educational policy, educational research, or student affairs and development.

Most educational leadership programs at this level include a curriculum devoted to your chosen area of study, along with leadership-focused courses and research methods. As a result, they may help students to acquire key skills and knowledge in a technical field. And, in some cases, students might gain the credentials needed to pursue licensure beyond the degree.i

Education Leadership Doctoral Degrees written by Rana Waxman

Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs: Essentials

Broadly, Doctorate in Educational Leadership programs are terminal degrees that could enhance students’ abilities to lead, teach, manage and conduct research in education. Most programs require applicants to have completed a masters degree in educational leadership or related field and have a school-specified grade point average. Other material in the form of reference letters, a written sample, GRE scores, and resume are commonly needed. A personal interview , career experience and teacher licensure may also be required by applicants to certain programs and schools.

Time to Completion

The time to completion for Doctorate in Educational Leadership programs varies. In some Doctor of Education Leadership programs, full-time students might get through their program in about three to four years. Other schools may have part-time options where students may take longer to fulfill their degree requirements.

Educational Leadership Courses

In terms of what you might study, educational leadership courses could cover some of the topics that follow. Keep in mind that every school has its own syllabus that you should carefully read.

  • Policy Analysis
  • School Reform
  • Leadership Skills
  • Statistics for Educational Research
  • Coaching
  • Ethical Leadership
  • Tests and Measures

Concentration Areas

Along with general and required courses, students often choose an area of emphasis to anchor their research, and to explore more in-depth. This could be K-12 Leadership, Special Education Leadership, Higher Education Leadership or another topic. Most programs also include a research core, designed to help students with their dissertation. Some Doctorate in Educational Leadership programs could also include an internship. Contact specific programs for details.

Popular Schools with Education Leadership & Administration Doctorate Degrees

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
Educational AdministraionNorthern Illinois UniversityEdD
Education AdministrationBob Jones UniversityPhD
Educational Leadership - DoctorateFlorida Atlantic UniversityEdD
Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)University of New EnglandEdD
Educational LeadershipMills CollegeEdD
Urban Education Leadership (Ed.D.)University of Illinois at ChicagoN/A
Educational LeadershipLewis & Clark CollegeEdD
Educational LeadershipSyracuse UniversityEdD
Doctor of Education - Organizational Leadership National UniversityN/A
Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership: Organizational Development (Qualitative Research)Grand Canyon UniversityN/A
Doctor of Education in Leadership and InnovationPurdue GlobalN/A
Ed.S. in Educational LeadershipRegent UniversityEdD
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Doctor of Education vs. PhD in Educational Leadership

Two of the primary program forms that you might come across are the Doctor of Education (EdD) and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Educational Leadership. While academically equal, the PhD and the EdD degree are usually distinct in their point of view and may therefore suit different student groups. Make sure to consider your professional goals and personal interests to help you select the best doctorate degree in educational leadership for you. Then read about programs to compare them with your own needs.

PhD in Educational Leadership

Typically, the PhD in Educational Leadership is a research-focused path of study. In fact, in some schools, the PhD could be planned-out as an interdisciplinary research program. It might be informed by the cognitive sciences, economics, medicine, the humanities, and more. Candidates could take the same advanced courses as EdD students, with the addition of statistics and research methods. Also, they might be expected to conduct research with the aim to enhance their profession and the whole education system.

Doctor of Education (EdD) in Educational Leadership

The EdD Degree is a practice-focused doctoral program. Often, the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership is designed especially for educators, administrators, and leaders who currently work in P–12, early childhood, or higher education. Students also take challenging courses, but their inquiry is directed to the application of what they know to solve educational problems. For instance, they might use research-based data to promote student learning.

Explore the Range of Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

There are also a variety of other Doctorate in Educational Leadership programs that may suit additional objectives of current school leaders, teachers or future organizational leaders.

EdD in Higher Education Leadership

The Doctor of Education program with an emphasis in Higher Education Leadership could help learners refine their expertise in college and university leadership, administration, and teaching. Through their course of study, students might study how to manage enrollment and the factors that affect college students. For instance, they might take courses about student development theory, student services, student engagement, and student affairs. Other topics are likely to delve into key financial, policy and legal issues. Through this type of curriculum, students may learn how to solve complex problems and lead organizational change. 

EdD in K-12 Leadership

A Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Higher Education Leadership is designed to enhance students’ ability to lead and make decisions that relate to teaching, administration and financial management. Coursework could explore ways to strategically plan in higher education as well as how to build a strong community of teachers, students, parents and administrators. Also, students are likely to discuss both internal and external governance and structures, along with multiple ways to lead ethically. 

EdD in International and Multicultural Education

The EdD in International and Multicultural Education (IME) could focus on formal and informal education within diverse sociocultural, linguistic, political and economic contexts. Some of the courses might address topics such as social theory, human rights and social movements. Students could also discuss how race, class, nationality, language, gender and sexuality intersect in education and cross-cultural literacy. In addition to their core courses, some students may choose a concentration. Human Rights Education and Second Language Acquisition are some possible topics.

Doctor of Education in International Education

A Doctor of Education (EdD) in International Education might tackle issues in education from a comparative and global point of view. In their coursework, students might discuss the link between culture and education. Also, they could study how to adapt strategy and practices to suit a multi-cultural context or in a conflict situation.

EdD in Organizational Change and Leadership

The Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Change and Leadership may appeal to current and future leaders who hope to drive systemic change in their organization. Coursework could focus on best practices in motivation and supervision. Students might also study how to assess priorities and innovate through new technologies. Other classes may touch on the management of  personnel and finances, as well as how to tap into these resources to meet goals.

EdD in Leadership and Innovation

Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation programs take an in-depth look at leadership theories, management and strategies to effect change. In addition to theory, coursework could address information systems, public policy and ethics. Students might also examine the skills of the human resource manager and study how social media can be used to build brand image. 

PhD in Literacy: Educational Leadership

A PhD in Educational Leadership with a focus on literacy program could foster proactive research and strategies to help those who lack economic, social and educational resources. In their coursework, students may look at topics such as reading, writing and language acquisition. Other courses could examine some of the current educational research and methods to teach English Language Arts to K-12 learners. 

PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies

The Doctor of Educational Studies program might delve into the entire educational studies discipline. At the same time, it may strongly focus on social justice in both the Pre-K to 12 and higher education fields. Learners could explore issues across the educational spectrum—from multiculturalism to educational law and policy, plus more. 

PhD in Education / Education Policy

A PhD in Education in Educational Policy, Leadership and Management program may help students develop the knowledge to affect educational policy at local, national, and institutional levels. Individuals could learn ways to lead and manage change at all levels of the education system. For instance, some courses might explore education law, governance and politics. Others might discuss the economics of education and ways to develop and implement policy. 

Doctorate of Management / Private Sector Higher Education Leadership

The Doctor of Management (DM) is a terminal degree in management. The focus in Higher Education Leadership is designed for learners who have an interest in issues that may arise in academic, senior level positions in a private sector higher educational institution. It is likely that coursework will address ways to apply leadership theory and management principles to key elements of private sector higher education. These elements could include policy, assessments, managing resources, organizational development, and regulatory practices.

Doctor of Psychology in Educational Leadership

A Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Educational Leadership program could help students understand how human development and psychology influence education. Due to the scope of the program, some courses could address the biology of behavior, motivation and the psychology of leadership. Students might also study the diagnosis and treatment of various pathologies, systems theory and organizational culture. Other courses might explore the role of learning and learning initiatives on organizational change. Through their coursework, learners may expand their ability to design and apply instructional strategies. 

Education Specialist (EdS) in Leadership in Educational Administration 

An Education Degree Specialist (EdS) in Leadership in Educational Administration program may prepare students to pursue school or district leadership. For some, it could also be a step towards licensure as a P–12 principal or superintendent. Aside from core courses that cover educational research methods and advanced studies in education, students might choose an area of emphasis. School leadership and district leadership are two possible tracks.

School Leadership Emphasis: A focus in school leadership is designed for learners who want to expand their knowledge and skills as school principles. The coursework could focus on the principal’s role as someone who might articulate, develop and implement a school vision that supports district priorities. Some of the course topics are likely to examine issues such as how to procure and manage funds, school operations and the role of technology.

District Leadership Emphasis: A focus in district leadership is designed for learners who want to enhance their knowledge and skills as superintendents. The coursework could focus on the superintendent’s role as someone who might provide vision, guidance, and oversight across a district. Some of the course topics could focus on the politics of P-12 education and governance. Other courses might examine school business administration and best practices to communicate and collaborate with stakeholders.


College presidents and school superintendents are typically required to have a master’s degree, although a doctorate is often preferred.ii

Educational Leadership Career Outlook

A Doctorate in Educational Leadership degree could help prepare you to pursue a variety of administrative and leadership positions in the educational field. For example, Post-secondary Education Administrators plan, direct and coordinate various activities in universities, colleges, and junior and community colleges. These activities range from instruction and student services to human resources, budget and strategy. Some other associated career paths include Academic Dean, Admissions Director, Provost, and College President.iii Per the BLS, employment for this sector is expected to grow by a rate of nine percent from 2014 to 2024. The 2016 median annual wage for post-secondary education administrators was $90,760.i

Top States for Employment: Education Administrators, Postsecondary
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York10,930$101,240

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Education Administrators, Postsecondary
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Lansing-East Lansing, MI$155,870Not Reported
Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC$135,930240
Charlottesville, VA$129,390180
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO$129,030230
Salisbury, MD-DE$123,98060

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Find Accredited Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

Many regionally and nationally accredited universities offer doctorate degree in educational leadership programs. At the institutional level, this means the school has met or exceeded standards for finances, curriculum, faculty and student services. Also, some individual programs could be accredited by professional accreditors. For instance, they may be approved by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) Standards through the CAEP Accreditation System. Not all programs are accredited, so contact schools or accrediting bodies to learn more.

Campus, Hybrid or Online?

How do you want to work towards your Doctorate in Educational Leadership degree? Do you prefer to interact with others in a face-to-face environment? Are you too busy to get to a campus? You can explore graduate schools with EdD and PhD in Educational Leadership programs by location if you prefer a campus setting. Or, look for an online format where you access courses through a web-based platform when and where is most convenient for you. As an alternative to a fully online program, some schools offer hybrids which add in brief residencies. Any program format could be convenient and flexible, as long as it meets your schedule needs.

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Top 114 Graduate Schools with Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

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