Our educational system faces an ever-changing landscape. Schools need to adapt and continue to meet these changes head-on to create meaningful learning opportunities for students and support for the staff. A Ph.D. or Ed.D. in Educational Leadership prepares educators for teaching positions and research, as well as leadership roles in schools and in some cases, businesses, non-profits, and the military. Many of these programs can lead to a superintendent certification.
What Is a PhD in Educational Leadership?
A Ph.D. in Educational Leadership is a doctoral program designed for those interested in research-focused careers. The curriculum typically starts with foundational courses in educational theories, progresses to research opportunities, and culminates in the critical analysis of advanced concepts. Despite the emphasis on “leadership” in its title, this degree isn’t strictly for those looking to take on leadership roles.
Those who earn a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership become subject matter experts, capable of offering informed recommendations on how various educational theories can be applied. Whether you’re a teacher, administrator, or researcher, this expertise enables you to advise on effective teaching methods, address educational inequalities, and explore how different learning environments affect student outcome
What Is the Difference Between a Ph.D. vs. an Ed.D.?
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) and the Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) serve different purposes and career trajectories. A Ph.D. in Education is often research-intensive and primarily aims to prepare graduates for roles in academia, scholarly research, or educational policy analysis. The focus is largely on generating new knowledge and contributing to educational theory.
An Ed.D. is more practice-oriented and designed for aspiring leaders in educational settings such as school districts, colleges, and educational nonprofits. If you’re coming from a master’s in educational leadership, an Ed.D. might be a logical next step as it builds on practical leadership skills. While Ed.D. programs still require research, the approach is generally more applied and aims to solve real-world problems in educational settings. Understanding these fundamental differences can help you decide which degree aligns more closely with your career goals.
Tips on How to Choose the Right Ph.D. in Educational Leadership Program
Determining the right Ph.D. program for you depends on several variables unique to each student. To help you find the right Educational Leadership degree program:
- Find your passion and follow it.
- Plot out your typical daily schedule and choose the program that most aligns with the time investment you can make.
- Consider your career direction and choose the program that can best prepare you for the role you want most. A Ph.D. in Educational Leadership can direct your path to careers such as a professor or an educational director, while an EdD in Educational Leadership can help you prepare to be a college dean, a school superintendent, or curriculum developer.
- Review the syllabi for both Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs to see which programs speak to your passions yet are also viable options regarding coursework and your other daily responsibilities.
- Consider programs that offer specializations to explore different concentrations, such as elementary and high school leadership or educational psychology.
- Determine if you’d rather attend school online or in person.
- Learn what the dissertation requirements are for a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership programs vs. EdD in Educational Leadership programs.
- Estimate how much time you have to commit to a rigorous study program and how soon you want to possess your Educational Leadership degree.
Top 5 Ph.D. in Educational Leadership Programs
We’ve compiled a list of schools that offer a Doctoral program in Educational Leadership. Keep in mind that since this is a program common for working professionals, there is likely a program close to you in your state. We ranked the top 16 schools. We used tuition cost (lowest is best) and enrollment (highest is best) to rank the schools. Take a look at our rankings of the best schools that offer Ph.D. in Educational Leadership programs below.
Best 16 Schools Offering a Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership
University of Pennsylvania
The Ph.D. in Educational Leadership program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education is made for working professionals. Students meet on campus one weekend a month as well as for one week during the summer. The rest of the program is online through collaborative platforms that are interactive. Participants come from private, public, rural, suburban, and urban environments, allowing everyone to learn from one another.
University of Missouri
The University of Missouri offers a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) in Educational Leadership in an innovative state-wide program. This means that the program is delivered at locations throughout the state, allowing educational leaders to keep their current positions while studying in the program. The four partner locations include Missouri State University, Northwest Missouri State University, Southeast Missouri State University, and University of Central Missouri.
Choose from two concentration areas when enrolling in the Ph.D. in Educational Leadership program offered by the Clemson University College of Education. These are P-12 and Higher Education. The P-12 area offers certification in building and district level areas. The faculty is nationally recognized and students study both practical and theoretical knowledge. Students engage in both coursework and out-of-class engagement.
Montana State University
Blended delivery methods are used in the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program at Montana State University. Distance learning and face-to-face meetings are both used. Students who complete this degree requirement will meet the necessary requirements for the Montana Class III Administrative license with a Superintendent endorsement. Courses can be chosen according to interests and the desired career path. The program trains both principals in a 30 credit degree program and Superintendents in a 15 credit certificate.
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa offers a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies with a focus in Educational Leadership. This particular program does not result in a licensure or endorsement, but does prepare students for a variety of leadership positions in both private and public schools. The program consists of 90-semester hours and focuses on leadership, research, and policy.
University of Colorado
The PhD program in Educational Leadership, Research, and Policy at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is designed to meet the professional and personal needs of leaders in school districts, higher education institutions, the military, business, state agencies, and other non-profit organizations. This innovative cohort-based program combines challenging coursework with collaborative faculty-student research labs to prepare students for successful completion of a dissertation and professional application of leadership, research, and policy knowledge and skills.
Portland State University
The Doctoral program in Educational Leadership at Portland State University offers the chance to learn in both in-person and online course offerings. Geared toward working professionals, all students in the program will choose a specialization area that reflects their career goals. Everyone who finishes the program will be qualified to work in a variety of educational settings from pre-K to career in public or private settings.
Texas A&M University
The Ed.D. in Educational Leadership at Texas A&M University Kingsville, is a professional degree. Courses in the program emphasize leadership in education through educational theory, research, policy, innovations, and philosophy. The program consists of 60 hours, with 42 of those being required coursework and the rest can be chosen from areas that support professional goals of the student.
There are many facets to the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program offered through the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It is a practice-based program that delivers leaders in all levels of education, from pre-k through high school. The curriculum brings in resources from other departments at the school, including the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School. The third year of the program also includes a 10-month residency.
Kansas State University
The Doctor of Education (Ed.D) in Educational Leadership offered at Kansas State University can be tailored to each student’s needs. This is dictated by a student’s interests, goals, and previous expertise. For any student who does not already have a district level superintendent endorsement, that license requirement can be met with this program. This program is geared toward developing leaders who have a broad understanding of many aspects of education.
Virginia State University
Virginia State University offers an EdD program designed for those looking for a career in pre-k-12th grade public schools. Coursework is designed to meet the needs of busy professionals, and can be completed within three years, with additional time needed for dissertation preparation. They offer an online and face-to-face option.
The Educational Leadership doctoral program at DePaul University is the 4th largest in the nation. With excellent program outcomes, 99% of graduates of the program were continuing their education or employed within six months. Coursework includes six core courses, an elective, five research courses, five concentration courses, and two dissertation courses. Anyone aiming for superintendent licensure also must complete an internship.
University of Maine
The University of Maine offers an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. The program is meant for educators with experience who are ready to take their career to the next level. The faculty is nationally recognized and has expertise in many areas, including rural educational leadership. This course of study is offered through the College of Education and Human Development.
An Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy is available from Fordham University-New York. The program consists of 50 credits and is meant for those seeking careers in k-12 education. It is available at the Lincoln Center, Bronx, and Westchester campuses or online. There are four core areas explored in this program, educational leadership and organizational change, policy and advocacy, engaging and transforming schools, districts, and communities, and leading teaching and learning.
Florida Southern College
Learn through both online class and face-to-face classes when enrolled in the Ed.D. of Educational Leadership at Florida Southern College. The education program at this school has a rich history. Those who choose the Ed.D. of Educational Leadership will have a K-12 focus. The experienced staff offers an engaged learning experience and a dissertation is required.
Saint Louis University
(photo courtesy of Saint Louis University)
Students who wish to enroll in the Educational Leadership, Ph.D. program at Saint Louis University must have a master’s in education, leadership, or other related field. The course selection in the program will correspond to the student’s professional goals. Fieldwork and research opportunities are available and an internship is required for anyone who is aiming for superintendent certification.
Still unsure about which Ph.D in Educational Leadership program is right for you? Use our degree finder tool to help you decide or find a program that’s close to you.
PhD in Educational Leadership Program Ranking Methodology
We found tuition rates on each school’s website. The structure of each program is a little bit different and in some instances, classes may be spread over a longer timeframe. For the sake of keeping things uniform, we used the in-state yearly tuition cost when given. When tuition was given by semester, we multiplied by two, and when tuition was given by credit, we multiplied by 12 to get the semester cost. Enrollment numbers reflect the specific campus of the program, not the parent school.
After we sorted by tuition, we assigned points to each school and completed the same process for enrollment. After sorting by both categories, we added the numbers together to get a final score for ranking.
If you are an employee with one of the schools that we ranked and you notice a problem with the information that we used, please contact us so that we can correct the error.
Chart Your Path to Educational Leadership
As you explore your options for pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, keep in mind that the best program for you will align with both your academic interests and career aspirations. The programs featured in this article for 2023-2024 offer a range of specializations, research opportunities, and professional networks that can help you rise to the forefront of educational leadership. Whether you aim to shape educational policies, lead academic institutions, or contribute groundbreaking research to the field, your journey begins with choosing the right Ph.D. program. Take the time to thoroughly research, visit campuses if possible, and speak to current students or alumni to get a comprehensive view. Your future in educational leadership starts now, and the choices you make today will set the stage for your success.