California Graduate Programs in Higher Education

Higher Education Graduate Programs allow students to explore the many facets of higher education administration and leadership. Management, student affairs, curriculum development and educational policy analysis are just a few themes. 

Courses may cover a wide array of topics from finance to student admissions and recruitment. In addition to coursework, some graduate programs in higher education may provide research opportunites, so you could contribute to the field.

Graduates may leave prepared to pursue leadership roles within post-secondary institutions. Settings include colleges, universities and higher education systems. For those looking to help guide and administer post-secondary insitutions, Higher Education programs could be a perfect fit.

 Higher Education Graduate Programs

What Is Higher Education Administration?

Higher education administration includes many types of leadership roles within universities and colleges. The role of university administrator varies, but might take on several themes.

On the financial side, post-secondary administrators are responsible for finance, financial aid or scholarships. They manage student records, student affairs and athletics.

Higher education administrators may also have their finger on the pulse of instruction and curriculum. Schools need directors of admissions, recruiting, marketing, and, policy.i

If you feel you have a propensity for one type of work, look for higher education administration graduate programs that use your strengths. 

DID YOU KNOW? When surveyed about their education level, 54% of Academic Affairs Deans reported they had a Master’s degree, 22% reported having a Doctoral degree.i

Potential Courses in Higher Education Grad Programs

Higher education graduate programs differ among schools. One of the ways to choose is to read through schools' course lists. You may want a structured program or you may want one with more room for electives. Keep in mind as well, that many programs entail fieldwork so that you may learn through experience in addition to textbooks, lectures and research.

There may be some really interesting courses that surround the principles and practices of leadership for postsecondary settings. Look out for possible topics such as those listed below. iii

  • Higher education economics and finance
  • Higher education policy and planning studies
  • Curriculum and instruction
  • Applied research on higher education
  • Faculty and labor relations
  • Higher education law
  • College student services
  • Institutional research
  • Marketing and promotion
  • Student evaluation and assessment issues

Available courses vary. Contact each graduate program for higher education to see a full course list.

Tailor Your Higher Education Program with a Concentration Area

Most higher education graduate programs will have a set of core courses. However some also allow students to pursue a concentration track.

If you prefer to work with students, you might want to focus on academic advising or student affairs graduate programs. You might also see specializations in Pre K-12 Schools and districts leadership or enrollment management.

Ultimately, a concentration gives you the opportunity to develop more expertise within a broader field. Looking for a higher education administration graduate program with this option may be a great way to tailor your classes to your specific interests. 

What Types of Higher Education Degrees Are There?

Graduate higher education degrees are found at the masters and doctorate levels. The entry level education is typically a bachelors degree from an accredited university. Some higher education  programs may also require applicants to have professional or research experience under their belts. 

Masters in Higher Education Programs

Masters in Higher Education programs are designed to help individuals develop leadership skills. Some prepare current teachers to seek the 'high school principal' licensure required by most states. A masters of higher education degree might also provide a platform for further study in a PhD Higher Education or other doctorate program.

Most full-time students need approximately two years to complete a masters in higher education program. That said, program lengths and requirements vary.

Higher Education masters degrees might include either of three different options. 

  • Master of Science in Higher Education (MSEd), Master of Science in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA): The Master of Science in Higher Education program typically offers a more scientific or analytical approach to higher education administration. Students might choose a specific concentration such as student affairs or curriculum and instruction. 
  • Master of Arts in Higher Education (MA):  The Master of Arts in Higher Education is an academic masters degree. Students who choose this track might pursue continued education. Academic degrees also prepare students to pursue potential career paths such as faculty university professors, or higher education researchers.
  • Master of Education (MEd) in Higher Education: The Master of Education degree (M.Ed., MEd) is a professional graduate degree. It is usually designed for students who want to pursue mid-level administration positions or advanced professional graduate study. Some schools offer the Master of Education and the Doctor of Education. 

While the above provides a general outline of potential master in higher education programs, it's important to note that every school defines their programs differently. Therefore be sure to read details about individual programs and contact an advisor with any questions.

Higher Education Doctoral Programs

Doctorate in Higher Education programs include both academic and professional doctorate degrees. These are often designed for individuals who want to pursue potential careers in senior-level college or university administration. Typically there are in-person experiences (residency), comprehensive examinations and dissertation requirements.

  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D) in Higher Education : The EdD degree is a post-master's professional practice degree. It is typically structured to prepare students for potential careers in leadership and applied research in higher education. Doctor of Education degree programs might take approximately three years to complete, however, this may vary.
  • Higher Education PhD Programs: The PhD in Higher Education Administration is commonly a highly research-oriented academic degree. It is designed for individuals preparing for potential careers in basic research or college-level instruction. Emphasis may be placed on educational theory, research methodology, basic studies, and in-depth knowledge of education and a chosen field of study.
  • Doctor of Management (DM) in Higher Education Programs: The Doctor of Management  degree is both a research doctorate, as well as a professional doctorate. Students may therefore focus on practical applications of management theory, as well as applied research. Due to their dual nature, these programs may suit those looking to pursue both positions in teaching and research, as well as administration.

Are Online Higher Education Programs Available?

Higher Education programs may offer different learning formats including distance learning, on-campus and blended online options. Each has it's own potential benefits. Online Higher Education programs could be great for busy adult learners looking to balance work and studies. Classes are delivered in a flexible online format so you could access your coursework anywhere with an internet connection.

Higher Education schools may be a better option for those who prefer face to face interactions and time in the physical classroom. Plus many campuses have additional resources like libraries, career services and research opportunities.

Finally, hybrid Higher Education graduate programs may offer a bit of both worlds. Some programs have some classes online and others on campus. Others rely heavily on online courses but require students to spend several days on campus. Programs vary, so follow up with schools for details. 

Accreditated Graduate Programs in Higher Education

You might wish to look for higher education graduate programs at accredited institutions. Accreditation is a sign that your prospective university has undergone a process of quality control vetting by a third-party accreditation agency. To keep their status, an institution must reaffirm their qualifications, which include keeping relevant content in their programming.

The Department of Education (DOE) recognizes six regional agencies. These include the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Whether you choose a university that has an online Doctor of Education - Leadership in Higher Education program or a graduate school with a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration program, a regionally accredited school has met, per the U.S.D.E. “acceptable levels of qualityiv

Potential Higher Education Careers

Upon earning a higher education administration degree, students may go on to pursue roles as postsecondary education administrators. These positions typically require at least a master’s degree. Employers may also prefer candidates who have experience working in the field, particularly for occupations such as registrars and academic deans. ii

Common career paths in higher education administration are listed below. i

  • Academic Affairs Dean
  • Admissions Director
  • College President
  • Dean of Students
  • Provost
  • Registrar
  • Financial Aid Director
  • Faculty professor

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10 percent growth in employment for postsecondary education administrators from 2016 to 2026. The median annual wage for higher education administrators was $90,760 in May 2016.ii

Per the BLS, education administrators with graduate degrees earned 44 percent higher wages than those who held bachelors degrees. v

Find Higher Education Graduate Programs

To begin your search for graduate programs in higher education, scroll through our directory to find M.Ed., M.S.Ed., Ph.D. and Ed.D. degrees. 

Refine your search results using ‘campus’, ‘online’ or hybrid’ as your parameters. Or filter by higher education degree level. If you are specifically interested in higher education administration programs in a certain location, you can also choose a state from the navigation menu.

When you're ready, begin to read program descriptions. Then contact schools directly using the ‘request info’ form.

You could be only a few clicks away from starting to earn you Higher Education degree!


[i] onetonline.org/link/summary/11-9033.00 | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm | [iii] nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/cipdetail.aspx?y=55&cipid=88119 | {iv] ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Index.aspx | [v] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/article/should-i-get-a-masters-degree.htm#Education

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