Doctorate in Educational Leadership (PhD) Online Degree Programs

What is an Online Doctorate in Education Leadership?

Online Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership are designed to meet the needs of busy professionals who seek a terminal degree. A multi-faceted field of study, educational leadership includes areas such as educational research, qualities of successful leaders, and administration.

Students in some programs may therefore study methods to manage enrollment, plan school activities, supervise staff and balance finances. They might also look at ways to create and enact policy to improve educational systems. Or, they could study how to evaluate teachers’ performance and better student outcomes.

Moreover, students might get the chance to reflect on and cultivate, their own leadership style, vision and mission. All while taking advantage of the flexibility and convenience of the online format.

Education Leadership Doctoral Degrees Onlinewritten by Rana Waxman

Online Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership: Basics

Online Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership are designed for practitioners, educators, and administrators who want to begin or advance their careers in education, administration, or leadership. Many online doctorate in education leadership programs thus cover theory, practical methods and research techniques. Courses could also discuss cognition, pedagogy, school law and the use of technology in classrooms.

Research an Area of Interest

Online doctorate in education leadership students are usually expected to conduct and analyze research. This often means they will choose a focus area such as K-12 Leadership, Management or Higher Education Leadership. The range of options, combined with the accessibility of the online format, may allow distance learners to choose a program that lines up with career goals and interests.

Build on a Masters Degree

Applicants to most online doctoral programs in educational leadership usually need to have completed their masters degree. They may also need to show teacher licensure, or administrative work experience. You should always refer to individual schools to review their application process.

Earning Your Doctorate in Educational Leadership Online

Formats for online doctoral programs in educational leadership range. Some programs are 100% online and courses are delivered entirely in a virtual classroom. Fully online programs are often flexible and self-paced so that your studies fit into your life, not the other way around. Class sessions could also be held in a seminar format on a live video platform which provides a face-to-face dimension to otherwise independent study. These sessions are usually taped afterwards and uploaded to the course management system. This means that students have access 24/7 and can hit play, pause, or rewind as needed. Students might then enhance their studies through the use of other digital tools, like discussion forums, chat rooms and online libraries and databases.

What are Residencies?

Some programs come with brief on-campus residencies. The residencies can serve different purposes. They could expose students to guest speakers, discussions, presentations and Q&A sessions with faculty and classmates. Or, they could be used for dissertation-based, critical skills seminars. When a school has this requirement, students know ahead of time and could plan them into their schedule.


Education Administrators develop educational goals, standards, policies, or procedures.i

Popular Schools with Online Education Leadership & Administration Doctorate Degrees 

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
EdD. in Higher Education Leadership - Organizational LeadershipNova Southeastern UniversityN/A
External Doctor of Education in Educational LeadershipUniversity of MontanaPhD
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)University of Michigan - FlintEdD
Educational Policy StudiesGeorgia State UniversityPhD
Doctorate in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)Millersville UniversityEdD
Doctor of Education in Leadership Creighton UniversityN/A
Enrollment ManagementThe University of FloridaPhD
Educational Adminstration-Specialization in Higher Education Leadership, Ph.DIndiana State UniversityPhD
Sustainability StudiesAkamai UniversityPhD
Education Specialist - Organizational LeadershipNational UniversityPhD
Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership: Organizational Development (Quantitative Research)Grand Canyon UniversityN/A
Doctor of Education in Leadership and InnovationPurdue GlobalN/A
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Types of Online Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership

There are three forms of degrees that may be offered by schools with online doctoral programs in educational leadership: Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Education Specialist (EdS).

  • Online EdD programs in Educational Leadership tend to be oriented towards the practical application of research. Doctor of Education students usually focus their research on ways to apply current data to drive decisions or solve problems that already exist in their technical field.
  • Online EdS in Educational Leadership degree programs tend to include elements of theory and instruction for current teachers who hope to move into administration. Education Specialist students often study evaluation methods to assess students, teachers and curriculum.
  • Online PhD in Educational Leadership programs often highlight theory and research methods. Doctor of Philosophy students generally approach topics in a scholarly manner. The goal of their research is to contribute new insight and theory to their field.

Online Doctor of Education - Educational Administration

The online Doctor of Education (EdD) Educational Administration and Leadership focus may be aimed at K–12 administrators who want to expand their ability to impact and transform their educational organization. Students could learn some of the ways to sustain and nurture their school so that it thrives or is enhanced as a safe, effective, and positive learning environment. Coursework for an online Ed D educational leadership program could blend several elements.

  • Communication and Collaboration
  • School Policy and Law
  • Budget
  • Leadership for Change in Education
  • Research Theory
  • Human Resources

Aside from their courses, online EdD students typically develop and explore a doctoral level research problem and review related literature to come up with an outline for the study. The dissertation is usually finalized with an oral defense. This type of program may consist of about 60 credits. For those who study on a full-time basis, all the coursework, dissertation and oral defense could take about three years to complete. Courses, requirements and timelines are, however, variable.

Online Doctor of Education – Leadership and Management

The online Doctor of Education in Leadership and Management program may help professionals deepen their grasp of strategic leadership, global change, and public policy. Students are likely to take some courses that provide insight into ethics, governance and accountability. Other courses could prepare students for different aspects of management – specifically for a learning organization. Topics might include human resources, performance, social media and cross-cultural relations.

Online Doctor of Education – K12 Leadership

Some online Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership programs offer a focus in K-12 Leadership. This type of program may prepare students to lead teachers, and manage the administration and finances in K12 settings. Coursework is likely to explore aspects of leadership, governance and ethics. Students might also examine some of the ways to build relations with teachers, learners, alumni, staff and the community. Also, they may study how to strategically plan and ethically lead in K-12 education with a mission, vision and goals.

Online Doctor of Education – Organizational Change

An online Doctor of Education in Organizational Change program may be geared to students who seek to drive change in their organization and want effective strategies to do so. A program could start out with courses on human lifespan, learning and motivation. Other courses may cover instructional design for a variety of content areas and learners, accountability and economics. Through their coursework, students could build the research skills and knowledge for their dissertation. Also, they could develop the ability to think critically and make evidence-based proposals that aim to promote positive reforms in their organization.

Online Doctor of Education - Executive Leadership

The online Doctor of Education with a focus in Executive Leadership program may focus coursework around operational leadership. Through a series of courses, students might learn how to develop and manage an effective team, plan strategically and make decisions that balance various factors. For instance, they might study how to time decisions, weigh economic and financial concerns, and create policy. Moreover, students might refine their strategic use of quality performance standards to achieve their organization’s goals.

Online PhD in Education – Organizational Leadership

An online PhD in Organizational Leadership program may look at leadership through a study of major theories and the review of literature. Coursework could explore strategies to resolve and mediate conflict, as well as other techniques used by effective leaders. Other courses could address ethics, organizational culture and how to lead through change. Some students may choose to study leadership in nonprofit organizations, where they might study the complexity of moral dilemmas.

Online PhD in Literacy

Students in an online PhD program in Literacy discuss the factors that impact, or impede academic performance. Through their research, learners may look for proactive ways to solve and address some of these issues. Coursework could start out with an analysis of theory and research into how humans acquire the ability to read and write. Other courses could help students plan their educational research and dissertation. Students in some programs might be able to take extra courses to help them prepare for their state Content Specialty Exam in Literacy. Programs vary, so contact schools directly to learn if this is an option for you.

Online PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies

Programs such as the Online PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies could examine issues in higher education through the lens of the humanities. This type of program might encourage students to explore their creativity, pursue socially relevant study and focus on multiple issues for their research. For instance, a major in Educational Studies might address multiculturalism, education law and social justice in pre-K-12 settings.

Online Doctor of Psychology – Educational Leadership

An online Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Educational Leadership program could focus on how human development and psychology impact education. As a psychology-based degree, students are likely to take several courses that cover behavior, cognition and motivation. Also, they might learn about psychopathology and treatment. Other courses could assess personality types to provide insight into how someone might be ready to lead or manage, or how they could be coached. In terms of education courses, these might discuss how to select the right mix of curriculum, instruction and technology to improve organizational performance.

Online Education Specialist – Educational Leadership

Online Education Specialist programs may aim to prepare students to lead and model high academic standards. In some schools, students who pursue an online EdS degree also choose an area of emphasis. Those who earn their degree in educational leadership could take some required theory and research courses. Other coursework could be dedicated to school law, ethics, public relations and conflict resolution. Through their course of study, students might gain the ability to problem solve in education.

Online Education Specialist – Leadership in Educational Administration

The Online EdS Leadership in Educational Administration program aims to help learners who have already earned a master’s degree develop and boost their knowledge, skills, and traits to prepare for leadership in the P – 12 field. Some curricula may start with a series of required courses, and students then choose an area of emphasis. Two possible areas are School Leadership and District Leadership.

School Leadership: A focus in School Leadership emphasis may suit learners who want to build their ability to lead as school principals. The course of study could help students assess issues that pertain to school funds, teacher evaluation and supervision. Other topics might examine how technology could support instruction and school operations. Since the principal is the face of his or her school, it is also likely students could learn best practices to collaborate and communicate with their community, faculty, students, and others.

District Leadership: A focus in District Leadership may suit learners who want to build their ability to lead as superintendents. Through their course of study, students may evaluate the various contexts of district leadership (cultural, social, economic, political, and legal). They are also likely to take courses in strategy, operations, and resource management. Since superintendents are the “CEOs” of their school district, students could learn how to use data to make district decisions, and how to communicate effectively with their staff and others.


You might look for online Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership at regionally or nationally accredited universities. Schools that are accredited have undergone a process that checks their fiscal stability, student resources, faculty and curriculum. This is a process that gets repeated every few years if the school wants to keep this status. Some individual programs may also be professionally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Not all schools or programs are accredited. Contact programs or accrediting bodies to learn more.

Educational Leadership Careers

Graduates of online Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership might pursue a variety of potential career paths since leaders can be found at all levels of education. From preschool and childcare center directors to high school principals to academic deans at universities, educational leaders take charge of many activities. At the elementary and secondary school level, leaders might be found as principals, assistant principals, athletic directors, and superintendents.Leaders at the college level may oversee financial aid, admissions, or be employed as registrars, deans and college presidents.ii Other educational leaders might supervise school standards, teachers and curriculum.iii Whatever your career goals, read through program details to make sure it has the courses you require.

Top States for Employment: Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York19,700$121,720

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$144,9901,060
Fairbanks, AK$144,66050
Danbury, CT$134,260160
Trenton, NJ$132,780500
New Haven, CT$131,410630

Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Top 94 Graduate Schools with Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership Programs

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