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Master of Education in Higher Education (M.Ed.) | Context - Context
Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education
Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education In Context

Master’s in education in higher education programs are designed to prepare graduates to enter positions in administrative support, student services, and academic leadership in postsecondary institutions (universities and colleges). Postsecondary education administrators can be found in most areas of college life, running admissions, the office of the registrar, and student affairs, amongst other departments.

With a 9% projected rise in the number of postsecondary education administrators from 2014 to 2024, it’s also a good time to get into the field. And then there’s the pay: They earn an average $88,580 a year — well above the $36,200 national average. An M.Ed. in Higher Education is commonly considered to be an entry-level qualification. [1]

What is higher education?

Higher education is defined by the U.S. government as any path of further education taken after completing high school. This can include education through local community colleges, state or private universities, art or culinary schools, military colleges, or technical or trade schools. [2]

Encompassing a large number of teachers and support staff, those employed in higher education might find themselves in public or private institutions, from the huge to the very small, secular or religious, urban and rural, divided into the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. [3] [4]

Institutes of higher education are supported by a large number of non-profit organizations that promote professional development and raise awareness of issues relating to the field. These include: [3]

  • American Council of Education (ACE)
  • National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)
  • American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
  • American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
  • National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA)
  • National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals (NAGAP)
  • Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC)
Why earn an M.Ed. in Higher Education?
Students pursue an M.Ed. in Higher Education for many reasons, including furthering their career, as well as for financial gain and additional practical skills:

Earning potential and career advancement

In an academic context, having a master’s degree or above is commonplace for most professionals — especially those in leadership. An M.Ed. can prepare you to advance to senior roles and pursue higher earnings in higher education. Those who hold a master’s in higher education degree are likely to be considered more favorably ahead of undergraduates in the academic labor market. [1]

Salary impact

Salaries vary widely in higher education. The median annual wage for postsecondary education administrators (a role where a master’s is seen as an entry-level requirement) was $88,580 in 2015. That’s well above the national average of $36,200 across all occupations. [5]

Career growth

The number of jobs in postsecondary education is projected to rise 9% between 2014 and 2024 – above the national average. [1]

Greater advocacy

By earning an M.Ed. in Higher Education, you can prepare to tackle some of higher ed’s biggest issues.

Who is this degree for?

A higher education master’s degree helps prepare graduates to enter positions of academic leadership within postsecondary institutions or in non-profit and government agencies that shape higher education policy.

Approximately 70% of degrees focusing on higher education are awarded to females — and of those female degree holders, 83% earned a master’s degree. In the broader higher education field, 41% of degree holders are master’s graduates. [7]

For postsecondary professionals who want to advance to a leadership role, an M.Ed. can prepare you to qualify for senior positions. Many graduates earn an M.Ed. directly after completing a bachelor’s degree program, but others see the M.Ed. in Higher Education as a way to transition or advance from the elementary or secondary level and into academic leadership in postsecondary institutions.

How do I choose an M.Ed. in Higher Education program?

Here are common considerations made by M.Ed. students when comparing programs: [3]

  • Faculty: An M.Ed. in Higher Education faculty should have extensive practical experience and the best boast respected research in the field. It’s also worth identifying the particular leaders in any specializations you have an interest in.
  • Delivery method: M.Ed. programs can be studied online, on-campus, or as a blend of both.
  • Cohort or non-cohort: Some programs form student cohorts, allowing you to network with the same group of students throughout your degree program. Others allow for more course options and provide opportunities to meet a more diverse range of students.
  • Experiential learning: Certain M.Ed. in Higher Education programs may combine instruction on the core components of postsecondary leadership with coursework in an area of interest, with the aim of creating a route into academic teaching. In these cases, you may be expected to undergo a period of practical teaching experience, but most higher education master’s don’t include this pathway
  • Cost: Cost varies by programs, so it’s best to compare tuition rates as well as grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities.
  • Curriculum and specializations: Compare the M.Ed. curriculum offered by each program to ensure the learning outcomes and courses match your career aspirations. Specializations vary by program and can help you focus your degree.
  • Graduate success: Ask the admissions office about graduate success rates for each M.Ed. program you consider, and compare student testimonials between programs to ensure you get the M.Ed. experience you seek.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education Career Advancement
Having a master’s degree in higher education can lead to many different career pathways, including roles in areas such as:
  • Student services delivery
  • College administration
  • Teaching
  • Corporate leadership
Higher education job outlook

The typical entry level of qualification for postsecondary education administrators is a master’s degree. It’s projected there will be growth in the number of education administration jobs by 9% between 2014 and 2024, which is higher than the national average of all fields. [1]

There were approximately 175,100 jobs in the field in 2014, reflecting a rise by an estimated 15,200 roles in 10 years. [1] Between 2010 and 2021, enrollment of college students is projected to increase by 15%, amounting to 24 million students in the system. [9] According to the BLS, this means there will be a greater need for admissions officers to process student applications, for more registrars to register students for classes and ensure they meet the graduation criteria, and more student affairs staff to assist with housing, events, and student well-being.

You should delve into the statistics in your chosen state when considering your future career path — and choose the program which best supports your goals. For example, Alaska is expected to see a 1% fall in the number of postsecondary education administrators between 2014 and 2024 — whereas Colorado is projected to employ 27% more. [11] While this won’t give you the full picture, and may certainly change over the coming years, it’s a useful guide if you’re thinking about where you might have the best chances of finding employment in the field.

Postsecondary education administrator salaries

In line with the breadth of the profession, salaries vary enormously. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for postsecondary education administrators was $88,580 in May 2015 — well above the $36,200 national average across all occupations. The lowest 10% earned less than $50,240, and the highest 10% earned more than $174,280. [1] In addition, postsecondary staff are often given extra benefits that might include free or discounted classes. [5]

Potential careers paths for M.Ed. in Higher Education graduates

Most higher education master’s degrees are designed to prepare graduates to hold positions of postsecondary leadership. Some areas of higher education where master’s graduates go on to work include: [5]

  • Admissions
  • Advising
  • Alumni relations
  • Business and finance
  • Careers counseling
  • HR
  • Research and planning
  • PR and communications
  • Student affairs, housing, and services
  • Teaching centers
Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education Curriculum
M.Ed. in Higher Education programs are designed to prepare professionals to apply established student development, foundational, organizational, multicultural, and administrative principles to leadership roles in postsecondary institutions. The nationwide number of faculty roles in higher education has more than tripled since 1970. [13] With good prospects for professionals working in the field, having a master’s degree can help to differentiate you from the pack. The curriculum for most degrees is designed to give graduates a thorough grounding in postsecondary leadership.
What should I look for in an M.Ed. curriculum?

When choosing a program in which you may enroll, it’s important to be mindful of what the program has to offer. It’s a good idea to look into factors such as:

  • The availability and subject of specializations
  • Faculty experience and current research activity as it aligns to courses
  • Depth of coursework
  • Alignment of program objectives with your professional goals
What are the overall learning goals?

The curriculum will vary from school to school, but programs tend to focus on similar learning outcomes. By the end of most M.Ed. in Higher Education programs, you should be able to:

    • Integrate and apply theoretical foundations of higher education, including sociological, psychological, economic, leadership, and organizational theories
    • Demonstrate core competencies in specializations (such as student affairs or administration) in postsecondary settings
    • Articulate a professional philosophy and career plan


Standard and elective coursework

Standard coursework refers to the classes that make up the bulk of a master’s in higher education program. Elective courses enable you to hone your abilities in a subject of your choice, allowing you to supplement your knowledge or develop a specialization that you may be able to take forward post-graduation.

Although there will be some variation, a survey of several M.Ed. in Higher Education programs shows that standard courses usually include:

  • Introduction to higher education theory
  • Student affairs and the college student experience
  • Organization, leadership, and governance
  • Research in higher education
  • Professional development
  • Politics, ethics, and sociology

Electives also vary from school to school, but similar topics are often covered. An analysis of several M.Ed. in Higher Education programs shows that common topics include:

  • Counseling
  • Gender and race in education
  • Disability in education
  • Power and politics
  • Public policy
  • Intercollegiate athletics

Some schools also offer practicums or internships. Most programs encourage electives and specializations to tailor your study — usually once the core courses have been completed to give you a solid grounding in the theory on which to build.

Thesis and capstone

Traditionally, master’s programs require students to write a thesis in order to complete their degree. However, many higher education master’s programs now give students multiple options to culminate their learning:

  • Capstone: This can take the form of a literature review or positional paper, usually designed in consultation with your t program chair. Students are commonly able to center their capstone on their own interests, further helping to prepare them to enter the career specialization of their choice after graduation.
  • Research capstone: This can be a qualitative, quantitative, or evaluation project, designed closely with faculty. It should bridge the gap between the theory learned during the program and seek to further investigate an area of interest. Students may also be asked to present their findings as a formal presentation.
Experiential learning and field placement

Many M.Ed. programs in Higher Education incorporate practicum elements or internships for course credits. Usually undertaken in the same institution as your faculty, they offer a valuable chance to gain real-world experience in roles in administration or student advice. They are usually designed to broaden your experience and allow you the opportunity to apply your skills in a real-world setting ahead of graduation. [1] [22]

Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education Admissions Requirements

While each program will set its admission requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our admissions requirements page.

Alternative Degrees/Fields of Study

There are alternative degrees leveraged by professionals to enter leadership positions in postsecondary education. Many senior faculty, deans, and provosts become leaders having occupied teaching positions (such as professorships), and they tend to have a Ph.D. in specialized subjects. Aside from this route, there are other common degree titles that higher education professionals can hold, including:

  • Master of Education
  • Master of Education in Educational Leadership
  • Master of Education in Learning, Cognition, and Development
  • Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education
  • Master of Applied Psychology
  • Social Sciences and Comparative Education
Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education Accreditation

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our< a href=”#”> regional accreditation page.

History of Higher Education Overview

Higher education has a long history in the United States, starting with Harvard University, founded in 1636 and staking its claim as the country’s oldest higher learning institution. [8] It would take more than 200 years before the Department of Education would be conceived in 1867 to help govern the many schools and universities that sprang across the United States to follow in Harvard’s prestigious footsteps. [21] Now there are more than 7,000 institutes of higher education in the United States, requiring a more rapid influx of educators and administrators to lead students through meaningful studies. [14]

Higher education experienced a growth period beginning in the 1940s, which saw higher female enrollments as a result of World War II drawing male students abroad. Later, GI Bills would ensure that returning soldiers had the opportunity to go to school. This caused enrollment rates to spike by the end of the decade by more than half a million students, creating greater demand for leadership to steer colleges to accommodate them. By 1960, the number of college students had doubled, from 2 to 4 million. [15] Demand for degrees has only grown since then, with recent projections showing that by 2021, there will be 24 million students enrolled in the nation’s colleges.

The need for excellence in higher education administration has been met by professional organizations that ensure the nation’s colleges and universities are meeting high standards. In 1970, the American Association of University Administrators was founded to unite like-minded education leaders in furthering higher education. This includes standards for professional development of postsecondary education administrators, ethical rulers to measure what’s appropriate in postsecondary leadership, and actions to consider to support important progress in higher education. [16] Since then, the number of faculty roles in higher education has increased three-fold. [13]

Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education Tuition and Fees
There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships. For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Master of Higher Education programs prepare students for careers in higher education administration or leadership. [18]

Those who currently work in higher education or those looking to work in higher education administration will find this degree particularly useful. Higher education degrees provide a working foundation for those looking to work in student affairs, admissions, leadership positions, academia, and many other roles in higher education. [19]

There are several reasons that teachers pursue their M.Ed. Teachers with an M.Ed. can establish themselves as highly qualified experts in their field. [20] Others may pursue the degree as an opportunity to expand their knowledge of teaching and advanced coursework. [20] Many see the M.Ed. as a platform to raise their salary. According to a recent study, M.Ed. graduates can earn up to 10% more than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees. [36]

The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the Federal Student Aid office in the U.S. Department of Education. It supplies college-level or career school students with loans, grants, and work-study funds. You can apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA.

There are numerous other scholarships available, but you will need to research which opportunities you’re qualified to pursue. Many states, associations, websites, and businesses award scholarships based on specific criteria. Be sure to do your research and apply for any scholarships you’re qualified to be awarded. [10]

Start with a cost-benefit analysis based on the price of the degree and potential ROI. Weigh the full cost against the positive outcomes you expect as a graduate, which may include a boost in earning potential, upward mobility, or job satisfaction.

No. Most programs do not require an education degree, though those currently working in higher education may find the program more attractive.

Whether you will need to complete the GRE prior to applying for a program will largely depend on what school you have chosen. There are many programs that do not require a GRE. Check the admissions requirements for your school before applying.

Factors to consider include the following:

  • Accreditation: Is the program accredited?
  • Flexibility: Is the program on campus or delivered online? If online, does the institution required synchronous sessions? Are there optional synchronous sessions?
  • Student support: What support systems are in place for your success?
  • Travel requirements: Will you need to pay for additional travel arrangements to meet degree requirements?
  • Interactive learning: What type of learning management system is used?
  • Faculty expertise: Do faculty have a strong theoretical and practical knowledge base in the field?
  • Fees: Are there any additional fees besides tuition?

Typical programs will include coursework in history, law, administration, finance, leadership, and a variety of other topics as they relate to higher education. [12]

Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees.

The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and the course. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.

Many institutions offer higher education degrees online.

Most institutions do not indicate on the degree that it was earned online.

Yes, typically schools follow the same curriculum for their online programs as they do for their campus-based programs.

No — attaining management/senior positions is not guaranteed through the completion of a master’s degree. These positions often require many years of experience and a significant level of career achievement. However, an advanced degree can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for these positions and also prove your dedication to the field.

Accreditation helps determine if an institution meets or exceeds the minimum standards of quality set out by recognized regional or national accreditation agencies. A list of regional and national institutional accrediting agencies can be found at the U.S. Department of Education.

Accreditations are a strong indication of quality, but are also required for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid. Accreditation ensures that your degree is recognized by employers, professional associations, and other accredited institutions of higher education.

ARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. [17]

Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.