Best Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education: Guide to Online Programs for 2023

Best Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education: Guide to Online Programs for 2023
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Pursuing a master’s degree in higher education is an investment you can make for yourself. With more and more students enrolling in college to pursue their career goals, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for teachers and educational administrators is expected to grow significantly in the next ten years. Professionals who are looking to further their education can benefit from an online master’s degree in higher education, which is an essential credential for many administrative positions at colleges and universities.

Most programs provide students with the opportunity to specialize in one or more areas of focus, allowing them to develop expertise in a particular area of education. Additionally, these advanced degrees can also be used to supplement undergraduate education degrees, allowing educators to further their career development and increase their earning potential.

This guide provides comprehensive information on online masters in higher education degree programs, including the associated costs and requirements for admission, and the common courses that are included.

Best Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degree in Higher Education
  5. How much does an online Master’s Degree in Higher Education cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education

Can you get a degree completely online?

Yes, it is possible to earn a legitimate college degree online, including an online master’s degree in higher education. Educational technology and pedagogy have evolved enough to enable institutions to deliver instruction purely online. For many schools, pursuing a fully online degree means logging onto a platform where one can view or stream lectures, submit coursework, and interact with students and instructors (Obringer, n.d.).

The popularity of exclusively online degree programs is particularly evident in advanced education degrees. Purdue University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Houston are just some of the universities that allow students to pursue online masters in higher education degree programs or similar degrees purely through online learning.

Depending on the institution, students may be allowed to take one or two courses at a time until they complete coursework. Some programs also allow students to create their own study plans. The flexibility of online master’s programs is an advantage for busy professionals planning to juggle between work and studies.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, online degrees have been increasingly more common, especially at the postgraduate level. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 932,845 graduate students were enrolled in exclusively online education courses in fall 2018. By fall 2019 semester, the number had risen to over 1,000,566 students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021).

Source: Wiley; AMR

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

Many employers are becoming more receptive to applicants with online degrees, so it’s safe to say that your online degree will be taken seriously. According to Gallagher’s report “Online Education in 2019,” over 70% of HR managers and leaders have hired applicants with degrees or credentials completed online. In many cases, employees also take into consideration factors such as program accreditation and the reputation of the institution (Knerl, 2019).

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

Online degrees, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, are starting to gain global recognition. However, factors such as the institution’s brand and accreditation play a role in the perception of such degrees as well. As such, it’s important for students to consider these factors when choosing an institution for their online degree.

Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degree in Higher Education

Master’s degrees in higher education are advanced programs that prepare students for leadership roles in colleges and universities. During coursework, students also learn about critical issues in higher education, which should prepare them for roles in shaping educational policies. These programs may require students to complete anywhere from 20 to 50 credits, including elective courses, before achieving their degree.

Though much of the curriculum is the same, there are some significant differences between an online master’s degree in higher education and its traditional or on-campus counterpart.

Learning experience

While an on-campus degree involves going to classes and interacting with professors and other students, there is little in-person contact in pursuing an online degree. Students pursuing an online degree learn course material through media, such as recorded videos and podcasts (, n.d.).

For many colleges and universities, online students can log into an online classroom, like a virtual portal or a learning management system (LMS). Through these portals, students can view course syllabi, access course materials, and submit coursework (Friedman & Moody, 2020). In some cases, these portals can also be accessed through mobile devices.

While on-campus students can talk to professors after class, online students can get in touch with professors through email or video chat (My College Guide, 2020). The same goes for interacting with fellow students, with communication being facilitated by social media or messaging through the online classroom.

Given these differences in the learning experience for online and traditional master’s degrees, you should also consider if your learning style matches the mechanics of pursuing an online degree. This ensures that you can get the most conducive learning experience possible.

Schedule flexibility

One of the biggest differences between an online and on-campus master’s degree is that an online master’s degree allows students a more flexible schedule. While an on-campus degree tends to follow a set class schedule, many colleges and universities that offer online degrees allow students to set their own schedule or study plan (Cornerstone University, 2018). In this way, students can take courses at a schedule that’s most convenient for them.

Purdue University, for instance, allows students to pursue an online master’s degree in higher education by taking one course at a time (Purdue University, n.d.). Many universities also offer multiple start dates to make scheduling easier for professionals planning to go back to school.

Time to complete

Most traditional, on-campus master’s programs in higher education take a year or two to complete if a student pursues the degree on a full-time basis. An online degree may take longer to complete, especially if you choose to take one or two courses at a time. On a part-time-study basis, students may take up to three years to complete degree programs, such as these (U.S. News, 2020).

The time it takes to complete an online master’s degree in higher education may also depend on the number of credits a student was able to transfer from an institution they previously attended.

Is an online degree cheaper?

In many cases, an online degree can be more affordable than a traditional, on-campus degree. Institutions offering online degree courses often incur lower expenses, which typically means lower tuition rates for students (Best Value Schools, 2021). Besides, the digital transformation made textbooks relatively cheaper.

Also, students need not live on campus. Despite student housing statistics forecasting a rise in occupancy post-pandemic, students cannot deny the savings from learning from home. However, factors such as the student’s choice of an institution will also affect the costs of an online degree.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

An online master’s degree in higher education typically tackles the same curriculum and requires the same coursework as a traditional master’s degree in the field. Considering these factors, it can be said that an online degree is just as good as a regular degree. While online students may miss out on in-person interactions with classmates and professors, they’ll have the same credentials as students who completed their degree on-campus.

Source: Learning House

How much does an online Master’s Degree in Higher Education cost?

There are various factors that affect the costs of an online master’s program in higher education. These include the institution’s reputation and the number of credits required to complete the degree. Some universities also offer in-state tuition for online students, bringing costs further down for online degrees.

For instance, Wyoming residents can pursue a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration at the University of Wyoming for $324 per credit hour. Meanwhile, non-residents of Wyoming can expect to pay $516 per credit hour for the same degree.

Is an online higher education master’s degree worth it?

According to a 2020 Wiley Education Services survey of online college students, 79% of online college students think that their online education was worth the cost. If you want to take on more important administrative roles in the academe, you’ll find that a master’s degree in higher education is an essential credential to have.

A master’s degree in higher education prepares students with specialized knowledge of the workings of higher education and its policies. The skills and knowledge gained by graduates of this degree prepare them for positions such as registrars, admissions officers, and financial aid officers.

What are the requirements of an Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education?

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for an online master’s degree in higher education tend to vary across institutions. At the Appalachian State University, for instance, graduate school applicants with a GPA below 3.0 must take the official general GRE or MAT exam prior to admission (Appalachian State University, n.d.). However, most institutions have the following requirements for applicants to these programs:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Minimum undergraduate GPA between 2.0 and 3.0
  • Official transcripts from all previously attended institutions
  • GRE test scores, if required
  • Proof of English proficiency
  • Application fee

Many universities also require students to have bachelor’s degrees from a regionally accredited institution. Such accredited degrees also provide students with the benefit of being able to transfer their credits.

Program-Specific Requirements

In addition to the requirements above, there are also specific requirements for applicants to an online master’s degree in higher education. Students should be prepared to submit the following requirements as well:

  • References
  • Letters of recommendation – Letters of recommendation are typically from professors, employers, or colleagues the student has worked with in the past.
  • An updated resume or curriculum vitae – The document should include comprehensive information on degrees earned, employment history, and other relevant experience.
  • Personal statement – Usually required to be at least 500 words, a personal statement details the applicant’s purpose for applying to the program as well as relevant study interests, skills, and qualifications (Stony Brook University, n.d.).
  • Essay – Some universities require applicants to submit essays instead of a personal statement. Topics typically vary depending on the institution. Bay Path University, for instance, requires applicants to submit an original essay of at least 250 words on the topic “Why the MS in Higher Education Administration is important to my personal and professional goals” (Bay Path University, n.d.).

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

The delivery format of an online degree requires students to have at least some basic knowledge of how to use computers and the Internet. A stable DSL, fiber, or cable-powered internet connection should ensure that students can watch online lectures and participate in live, synchronous discussions without a hitch. Technical specifications for the best computer to use for online learning typically depend on the LMS platform to be used.

To some extent, students may also need to learn how to use social media for more effective online learning. Latif et al. explored the potential of social media as learning tools in their 2019 article “Use of Smart Phones and Social Media in Medical Education: Trends, Advantages, Challenges and Barrier,” published in Acta Informatica Medica. According to the article:

“Social media has become an important tool for collaboration, information and knowledge sharing among peers as well as among learners and facilitators. Research studies have proved better communication among teachers and students through these applications. Social networking sites are helpful to improve personal skills and professional communication by the continuous posting of pictures, videos, audios, chatting, writing blogs, creating and editing individual profiles.”

Courses to Expect in Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education

Courses offered in an online master’s degree program in higher education vary across institutions. In most cases, students will be required to take core courses and choose among elective courses for credit. Courses for these programs also tend to be similar to those listed below.

  • Foundations of Higher Education – The course provides students with the necessary historical context for higher education policies. Future and current trends and characteristics of postsecondary students are also discussed.
  • Issues and Policies in Higher Education – The course studies existing policies in the higher education system at the community and national levels while exploring potential improvements to these policies. The course also explores current issues in higher education, such as student diversity and social inequality.
  • Leadership in Higher Education – This is an essential course for the Master’s in Higher Education degree, especially since the program trains students for leadership roles in school administration. Topics discussed include organizational structures, school governance, as well as decision-making skills development.
  • Higher Education Finance – This course teaches students the necessary knowledge and skills for handling a school’s finances to meet educational goals. In this course, students learn how to evaluate a program’s needs and budget, properly allocate funding, and secure funding.
  • Program Design and Evaluation – Taking this course, students learn how to create high-quality graduate and undergraduate programs. The course also tackles how academic programs should be properly evaluated and how to create programs that have higher rates of student success.
  • College Learning and Development – Through this course, students learn how to assess the quality of student learning and optimize learning methods. In this way, students can determine the learning environments and techniques that result in the best outcomes.

Like with many master’s degree programs, courses also vary depending on the specific concentration or specialization a student chooses. Some universities also require students to complete a thesis, capstone project, or practicum courses prior to graduation.

Things to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education

With the growing popularity of online degrees, individuals interested in pursuing an online master’s program in higher education have plenty of colleges and universities to choose from. As such, there are various factors to consider when choosing the right institution for your master’s degree.


It’s important to choose a college or university with accreditation, which ensures that an institution and its programs meet academic standards. The best online degrees have regional or programmatic accreditation from agencies that are recognized by the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Aside from curriculum quality, there are a number of benefits to choosing an accredited program or institution. For instance, only students enrolled in programs accredited by the Department of Education are eligible for federal financial aid (Goudie, 2019).


Even with an online master’s degree in higher education, the institution’s brand and reputation matter. In many cases, you can trust the quality of an online program offered by a well-known institution. Moreover, the majority of employers believe that an institution’s brand and reputation is the biggest factor affecting the value of an applicant’s credentials (Knerl, 2019).

Concentrations or specializations

Many master’s programs in higher education offer concentrations to students seeking more specialized knowledge in areas of higher education. For instance, students pursuing a Master of Education in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University-World Campus include Administration, Student Engagement, and Institutional Research (Pennsylvania State University-World Campus, n.d.).

By studying a program’s available concentrations, you can pick the program that best fits your needs and career goals.

Hidden costs

Aside from tuition costs, it wouldn’t hurt to dig into the specific costs of these degree programs. These hidden costs may vary from one university to another, but here are some fees you may encounter:

  • Technology fees – Institutions may use these fees to offset the funds needed for additional computer hardware and software for online classes. These fees may also fund technical support for academic staff who teach online courses.
  • Assessment fees – Some universities charge an assessment fee for certain courses, particularly in math and English. These fees cover the costs of placement exams for students (Sheehy, 2014).
  • Degree conferral fee – Certain institutions also charge a degree conferral fee for graduating students. Such fees may go as high as $100 (Sheehy, 2014).

Financial aid options

Like on-campus students, students of online degrees are also eligible for financial aid. Students of online programs accredited by the Department of Education, for instance, can file for federal financial aid. Keep in mind, however, that students must meet other eligibility criteria, such as citizenship and academic requirements to qualify for these financial aid programs (Kerr, 2021).

Aside from these programs, universities may also offer scholarships, grants, and tuition assistance benefits to eligible students.

Source: Learning House

Preparing for an Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education

An online master’s degree in higher education can prove to be a worthwhile pursuit for many professionals. This degree is particularly ideal for academic professionals who want to advance into positions in school administration. Those who want to continue with an online doctorate degree in Education would benefit even more.

The good news is that a master’s degree in the field of education is becoming increasingly popular these days. With the degree’s popularity, it’s crucial for students to become even more discerning about the institution and program they choose. Accreditation, the institution’s reputation, and available specializations are some of the most important factors students should consider when making the choice.

If you’re interested in exploring degrees in other fields, you can check out our latest guide to online degrees.



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  2. Bay Path University. (n.d.). Higher education administration (MS) requirementsBay Path University
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  8. Knerl, L. (2019, April 14). What employers really think about your online degree. Northeastern University – Bachelor’s Degree Completion
  9. Latif, M. Z., Hussain, I., Saeed, R., Qureshi, M. A., & Maqsood, U. (2019). Use of smart phones and social media in medical education: trends, advantages, challenges and barriers. Acta informatica medica, 27(2), 133. NCBI
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  13. Obringer, L. (n.d.). How online degrees work. HowStuffWorks
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  16. Sheehy, K. (2014, January 8). 4 Hidden Costs of Online Degrees. U.S. News
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