Expanding Educational Horizons: Why Get a Doctorate in Education?

Working in a college or university is a dream job for many academics. There, they pass their knowledge along to their students, and in many instances, they can pair teaching with research. Once they’ve earned an advanced degree in a specific discipline and often several years of work experience, they may be able to gain an adjunct, full-time, or even tenure-track position. However, after several years of working as a full-time professor, they might realize they could do even more in a different position in higher education.

A college department chair meets with a student.

Department head, admissions director, college administrator, and other roles in higher education all require candidates with a deep understanding of the postsecondary education environment, from changing trends in elementary and secondary education and how they affect incoming students, to their own institutions’ structures and policies. Typically, attaining such a position requires an applicable terminal degree, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Education (EdD). However, only one of those degrees specifically equips graduates to work in higher education and become a leader in that sphere. Continue reading to learn more about the EdD, why to get a doctorate in education, and several career possibilities available after graduation.

Exploring the EdD

The Doctor of Education (EdD) is a terminal degree designed for education professionals who want to rise into administrative positions, especially at the postsecondary level. Graduates may also use the degree to enter the secondary or elementary education landscape in a position such as superintendent. They might also work in education policy for the government or in a nonprofit.

In a leadership-focused EdD program, such as Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education, students take courses on leadership in higher education and reflective leadership practice and inquiry. They also learn more about the educational landscape, such as the competitive context of higher education, strategic change and innovation, and the academic community.

Upon completion of the doctoral program, which includes a residency (performed either remotely or on campus) and a completed dissertation, graduates are ready to tackle all sorts of complex topics in higher education. They often take jobs where they assist professors and students alike, helping set the course for the future, whether in a small liberal arts college or in a major public research university.

Potential Careers with an EdD

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were more than 192,600 people working as postsecondary education administrators in the country as of May 2018. Working in postsecondary education requires at least a master’s degree, but most professionals in these positions also hold terminal degrees, such as an EdD. The BLS projects the market for postsecondary education administrators to grow 7% between 2018 and 2018, which means 13,500 new positions.

Below are some paths for EdD graduates and the skills required to succeed in such positions.

College Administrator

Why pursue a doctorate in education? If you aspire to work as a college administrator, it’s essential. Provosts and deans serve as the top organizational members of individual schools. Academic deans work with department chairs and professors, as well as students, to determine the general academic direction of their departments, including budgetary oversight, hiring practices, and scheduling. In these activities, they flex organizational, negotiation, management, and communication skills. Provosts work with college presidents and CEOs to allocate resources in a university or college, making sure they’re getting the most out of their financial endowment. They also help to set the institution’s long-term goals.

Admissions Director

Admissions directors play a key role in colleges and universities. They often run an office with several admissions counselors who review every student application, reference, and transcript, getting a holistic view of each applicant to decide whether he or she is a good fit. Admissions directors set the standards for admissions, including academic and social criteria, while also keeping in mind the target number of acceptances and admissions their schools need to stay financially viable. Therefore, interpersonal skills, networking abilities, and computer savvy are key in such a position. Admissions directors also visit high schools throughout the year to attract new students and promote their institutions.

Chief Academic Officer

Chief academic officers set high academic standards at their institutions and ensure they’re upheld. They use strategic planning and analysis skills to develop academic policies that affect every department, working with college deans and department chairs to ensure standards are applied fairly. They also oversee aspects of curricula and academic programs, hiring tenure-track professors, as well as participating in planning and budgeting. During construction or expansion projects, they may also advise on how changes affect the academic side of the college or university.

Department Chair

Department chairs are professors who have risen to take charge of an entire department. They budget time effectively and are comfortable taking on leadership responsibilities while they maintain teaching duties —  usually teaching one or two courses each semester — as well as administrative responsibilities. They develop courses, set schedules, assign professors to specific teaching duties, manage interdepartmental issues, and report back to deans and other administrators in the college or university. Department chairs serve as a key link between professors and the dean’s office, communicating the needs and desires of each.

Pursue a Career in Higher Ed with an EdD

Earning an EdD can open new doors into higher education administration and governance for professors and others who work in academia. One reason to earn a doctorate in education is the impact this kind of degree can allow professionals in the field to make as they access new leadership positions. Explore how Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership can help you make a difference in academic institutions of all kinds.

Recommended Readings

A Day in the Life of a College Administrator

Tips on Landing the Job in Higher Education Administration

Trends in Higher Education


Association of American Colleges and Universities, “Doctoral Education and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning”

Higher Education Today, “Developing Deans and Chairs as Leaders”

Houston Chronicle, “What Careers Are Possible with a PhD in Education?”

Maryville University, Careers in Higher Education

Maryville University, Online Doctor of Education – Higher Education Leadership

PayScale, Doctor of Education (EdD) Degree

PayScale, Master of Education (MEd) Degree

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Education Administrators

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