The one thing everyone understands about educational leadership positions today is that they are tough jobs to fill.
If the pandemic was a low point for many school systems, it also wasn’t the end of the story. Coming out of that stressful period, schools have found themselves in the crosshairs of various culture war complaints, a tidal wave of staff shortages, and cascading school closures.
A 2022 survey by the National Superintendents Roundtable found that 63 percent of administrators were considering retirement or leaving for another career.
But the same stress that is driving that frustration demands resolution. At the dawn of a century that will see a declining birth rate, fascinating new technological developments, and ominous new threats from climate and geopolitical instability, America needs a generation of smart, motivated, educated graduates to take the helm.
The committed leadership of today’s school administrators is what it will take to shape that generation.
So stepping into an educational leadership role will bring you great opportunities as well as tough challenges. But it’s never been more necessary, and never been more important. And it’s never been more critical to get advanced, up-to-date, in-depth training in how to meet those challenges.
If supervisory roles in public school administration are in your future, so is a degree in educational leadership.
How an Educational Leadership Degree Prepares You for Administrative Roles in School Systems
Educational leadership degrees are advanced programs that deliver the kind of specialized training you need to move up the ranks into school system administration. A degree in education administration will cover subjects such as:
…as well as a spectrum of different courses designed to help get you up to speed in the most challenging topics facing education leaders today, from diversity in the classroom to dealing with fluctuating enrollment numbers.
In most cases, these programs also include required coursework to receive your endorsement for licensing or certification as an educational administrator in your state. While every state has their own specific standards for those credentials, almost all include an advanced degree consisting of some specified coursework. Education leadership degrees check those boxes.
Exploring the Coursework That an Education Leadership Degree Can Offer
Advanced programs in educational administration have a lot of ground to cover in everything from the hard realities of economics, to the soft social sciences of diversity and equity. With only a couple years to pack it all in, you’ll find the curriculum in an education administration degree program is fast-paced and intensive.
Some of these courses may be required by your state to qualify for principal or superintendent positions. Others are simply part of the general knowledge that every educational administrator is expected to have.
Instructional Leadership Foundations
School administrators are also leaders, responsible for developing a vision of the future, and inspiring and motivating their team to make it happen. That takes a skillset that can be taught, and these classes will draw on lessons from the world of organizational leadership and behavioral psychology to set the foundations for building your own leadership skills.
Finance and Educational Economics
Public schools may not be a profitable enterprise, but that doesn’t mean that dollars and cents don’t matter. With budgets crumbling and funding resources shifting, every school administrator has to have a strong command of financial and accounting considerations. These classes will give you the basics as well as diving into detail about the unique realities of educational economics, from neighborhood elementary schools all the way up to state colleges.
Ethics and Education Law
There’s no higher level of trust offered by American communities than delivering their children to school each morning with the assurance they will be safe and cared for until the final bell rings. School principals and superintendents are the final arbiters of the strong ethical demands required in American schools, and are responsible for following both state and federal laws. These classes cover both the philosophical roots of ethics and the brass tacks of education law.
Community and Diversity
Administrators who don’t learn early on how to listen to, appreciate, and collaborate with their communities are in for a rough ride. Diversity in the United States is increasing around the country, and it brings in differences of opinion and expectations that every principal and superintendent has to be able to cope with. These classes will help you assess and appreciate diversity in all its forms, and offer techniques for working with your community in any corner of the country to make education a cooperative effort.
Although education administrators aren’t usually responsible for teaching, they do have a lot to say about what is taught in their schools and how it is offered. Courses in curriculum development help you out with the latest pedagogical principles and methods of instruction.
Data Analysis and Assessment
Education professionals today live in the era of the standardized test. Collecting and assessing data is a major part of the job, both on students and on your school system as a whole. This coursework helps teach the principles of qualitative and quantitative analysis, and offers paradigms in assessment techniques for educational progression. You’ll learn about statistical methods and the technological advances that are offering clearer and more complete pictures of how your school is performing than ever before.
Administration Policies and Procedures
School policy is something that principals and superintendents spend a lot of time developing and administering. This coursework will give you an overview of the boilerplate policy that educational systems have to implement today to be compliant with state and federal regulations. It will also go over the uses of policies and procedures to shape your education system for the unique challenges it faces.
Since all of this coursework is at the graduate level, you can expect it to require a lot of critical thinking and research skills.
In fact, at both the master’s and the doctoral level, you will face a significant hurdle before graduation in the form of a culminating or action research project.
Traditionally, that’s been a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation—both of them hundreds of pages long, backed by extensive research, and expected to express unique and thought-provoking original ideas. For PhD students, the process of developing and writing your dissertation can take as much as half of the total amount of time you spend in your program.
But it’s also becoming common today, particularly in professional degrees like educational administration, for the traditional thesis or dissertation to be replaced with a capstone project. These also include elements of research and formal writing, but focus on more practical outcomes. They often involve on-campus projects, research, and mentorship activities where you’ll put your ideas into practice.
Electives and Experiential Learning Round Off Your Education Leadership Studies
Just like other degrees in education, educational leadership degrees place a premium on practical experience in real-world administration positions. So almost all of these programs, at least at the master’s level, will come with an internship or practicum requirement that places you out in the wild to learn from experienced administrators on the job.
Doctoral programs may or may not have a practical experience component, depending in part on any state licensing requirements and whether the degree is intended to qualify you for that license.
In both cases, you’ll notice that there are plenty of areas of study that are of interest to educational leaders that don’t necessarily make it into the core curriculum. That’s why you’ll find that all of these degrees offer a wide range of elective courses. These classes let you put together your own specialized focus, covering areas you want to specialize in or where you know you need a little extra training.
Elective coursework can include classes in areas like:
Master’s & Doctorate Degrees in Educational Leadership – What Level of Education Administration Degree Should You Pursue?
It’s no secret that the world of education values higher education. So you can’t even get your foot in the door most places without a bachelor’s degree in the field.
By the time you are in a position to consider a job in administration, you’re almost certainly looking at a master’s or doctoral degree program.
In part, that’s because licensing for administrative positions requires a graduate degree. It’s also because you’re going to be expected to supervise, inspire, and guide a lot of people who already have bachelor’s degrees, and graduate studies will prepare you for that kind of mentoring and leadership.
At the master’s level, you’ll find programs like a Master of Arts in Educational Administration or Master of Education in Educational Leadership. There are also more specialized options to be found, like a Master of Arts in School Improvement or a Master of Arts in Higher Education Leadership for Changing Populations.
According to NCES, master’s degrees in education were second only to business degrees in terms of popularity among graduate degree options, with 146,975 awarded in 2020 alone.
Almost all of these programs take about two years to complete. In many cases, you’ll find online educational leadership degrees available as well as traditional programs.
They generally also include extensive internship or practicum experience, just as ITP (Initial Teacher Preparation) programs have student teaching experiences to give you on the job training. Since these are practical programs with real implications for licensure, it’s going to involve putting you out into schools where you can observe and participate in the daily tasks administrators take on.
Of course, many educators who are headed for administration jobs already have master’s degrees in education or their field of specialization.
In those cases, the next level of expertise comes from doctoral studies, like those found in a Doctor of Education (EdD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education.
The EdD is a terminal professional degree in education, so most of these programs are built around applied studies for education leaders and administrators. You may find them with titles that lay that path out more clearly, however, like the EdD in Educational Leadership, or the Doctor of Education in Superintendency.
PhD programs are often thought of as being more academic or research-oriented, but you can also find some with the appropriate professional preparation for educational leadership roles. These are more likely to say so right on the label, with titles such as PhD in Educational Leadership or PhD in Education, Leadership, and Organization. You will want to double-check that PhDs, in particular, include the right coursework to qualify for administration licensure in your state.
Doctoral studies are not to be taken lightly. They’ll typically take from three to five years to complete, with PhDs often running more toward the high end and EdD degrees the low end. They require a great deal of original thought and research.
Some doctorates include coursework to fulfill state licensing requirements for principals or administrators. Others, however, are aimed at current administration professionals who are putting extra polish on their leadership skills. Those may be more focused on other aspects of leadership and the special challenges that come with it.
If you’re among the many educators that already hold a master’s degree, a post-master’s certificate option can also qualify you for positions in educational leadership. They can come through options such as a Graduate Certificate in Superintendent Education or a Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership. With very few exceptions, these are always offered as post-master’s options since you’ll need that level of degree for licensing purposes. They are almost always designed to meet state certification requirements, complete with required coursework and experience, offering a faster and less expensive way to get the educational qualifications for that license.
The unique stand-out option among post-master’s non-doctoral options is the Education Specialist (Ed.S) in Educational Administration, or similar option. It’s considered a post-master’s degree rather than a certificate, but can be completed in only one to two years and won’t require a dissertation.
The difference between one of the post-master’s certificates and full degree is that you’ll typically only get the required minimums of coursework for licensure, compared to the full spectrum of advanced curriculum with electives. On the other hand, you’ll also only pay a fraction of the costs of a full degree, and end up with the same level of eligibility.
Finding Specialized Educational Leadership Degrees To Match Your Career Goals
You can also find educational administration degrees that offer various specializations or concentration options to further focus your studies. These are generally aimed at some of the biggest challenges in educational leadership today, but may also prepare you for a particular type of administrative role. You’ll find concentrations in areas such as:
Depending on the school and licensing requirements in your state, you may also find degree specializations broken down by role:
Unique Demands are Driving Enrollment in Special Education Administration Degree Programs
Special education is one area of specialization that has almost evolved into its own field of study today. You will find master’s, doctoral, and certificate programs that are all dedicated to special education leadership or administration, such as the Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Special Education Administration, or Educational Leadership and Special Education Administration Educational Specialist Certificate.
This reflects the reality that special education both requires different leadership and administrative expertise and is a fast-expanding field in American education systems. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2021 there were more than 7 million students receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). That’s roughly 15 percent of all public school students.
At the same time, the job growth rate for special education teachers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will be about 4 percent over the next decade. That will add more than 20,000 positions nationwide by 2031.
All of those new teachers will create new administrative challenges, and it’s going to be up to specially qualified special education administrators to lead them in the right directions.
And, in some cases, you’ll find both combined, such as a Master’s in Early Childhood Studies – Administration, Management, and Leadership specialization. The most important factor will be coursework that qualifies you for licensure at the level of supervision you are aiming for.
What Will It Cost To Earn an Education Administration Degree?
Advanced degrees in any field don’t come cheap. As educators, you’re already used to the high costs of higher education. Picking up a graduate degree in education administration and leadership will push your student loans to the next level, however.
According to NCES, the average annual cost in tuition and fees for a public school graduate program in 2021 came to $12,410. At private universities, the cost is nearly double: $26,597.
For a master’s program, then, you are likely to end up with a total bill somewhere between $25,000 and $53,000. At the doctoral level, it’s going to come in anywhere from around $40,000 to as much as $130,000, depending on the length of the program and the type of school.
Universities That Offer the Best Fit When Earning an Educational Leadership Degree
Cost isn’t the only factor when it comes to picking the right university for your educational leadership credentials. You already understand how valuable a strong education can be. And if you are in school leadership for the long haul, you will want to pick a program that gives you every opportunity to learn how to be successful in the field.
Fortunately, since you’re already an educator, you probably have a pretty good idea of how to pick out a school that is going to offer you a quality education. It’s going to offer:
And you are also already familiar with the easiest way to tell which schools meet those criteria by checking whether or not they hold a specialty accreditation from one of these three accreditors:
As you probably also know, NCATE and TEAC merged into CAEP back in 2014. But some universities still hold NCATE or TEAC accreditation because they have not yet hit the end of the renewal period where they would officially transition to accreditation under CAEP.
In both cases, close ties to the education industry mean that these accreditors know what they are looking to create in future educators. They’ve taken a look at all the important aspects of accredited programs and found that they are up to standards that you can trust.
Looking for an Educational Leadership Degree Online
The COVID-19 pandemic was a crash course in adjusting to online learning for almost everyone working in education. Although earning an education administration degree online wasn’t exactly unusual before the pandemic, today it might actually be the preferred option for a generation of educators who have gotten comfortable with online learning.
There are a lot of reasons to recommend online educational administration degrees for busy teachers. For starters, most of them are offered asynchronously, which allows you to squeeze in your own studies in between teaching your own classes. Pop into a chatroom to talk with classmates during recess, or take a break from grading papers at night to stream a lecture… it’s easier to study in between your other obligations.
Next is the fact that you can pursue an online administration degree from any location—no need to settle for the closest college, or commute halfway across the state during your precious summer months to attend the program that offers the best fit. You’ll find better choices on a broader menu, including options that can offer a bigger boost to your career. Keep in mind that it’s always important to ensure the program you choose meets the requirements for certification in your state.
Online education leadership degrees are becoming more and more common all the time, and it’s definitely worth your time to give them a look while considering your options.
How Your Education Leadership Degree Impacts Your Licensure as an Educational Administrator
Though different states have different educational administration degree requirements for different positions in their leadership hierarchy, there are more similarities than differences. The typical requirements generally include:
You’ll need to check your own state requirements closely to make sure you pick the right administration degree in education needed to qualify. Different licenses may be required for:
That, in turn, may mean different kinds of educational leadership degrees for the best fit.
With an Educational Leadership Degree, You Can Compete for School and District Level Administration Jobs
There is no town, village, city, or county in the United States that doesn’t send a wave of sleepy kids off to school every single morning. That means there are education administration jobs in every corner of the country, and at every level of education.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2020 there were more than 73 million students enrolled from pre-school all the way up to university grad school. And according to NCES data, they attend some of the nearly 100,000 public or 5,000 private elementary and secondary schools across the country, or one of nearly 4,000 degree-granting universities.
Each and every university, school, and district has dedicated deans, chancellors, principals, program coordinators, vice-principals, or a whole array of other administrative leaders keeping the lights on and the students and faculty supported.
Those jobs can be in general administration, like the average high-school principal, dealing with any particular problem that walks in the door that morning, from dress code violations to maintenance decisions. They may be more specialized, like directing racial equity advancement, directing innovation, or managing international education programs.
And of course there is plenty of leadership and administrative work to be done at the district and even state level. Big school systems often have positions dedicated to roles like:
Looking at the Salary You Can Expect With an Administration Degree in Education
Each of those roles have a salary range tied to them. Those numbers vary based not only on the job title, but also on the region of the country, and often the size of the school district or institution.
For 2021, however, the median annual salary for those jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was:
Of course, you know that jobs in education often come with better benefits than many corresponding private sector positions. You’ll probably have excellent health insurance, a solid pension plan, and good vacation and medical leave options.
Unlike most teachers, however, educational administrators don’t get the prize of an extended vacation period during the summer months. Their roles demand attention year-round.
Although BLS doesn’t track educational attainment, it’s also likely that you will find higher salaries with a higher level of degree behind you. That may come in the form of a higher offer in similar positions due to your greater expertise, or it may be that having a doctoral degree qualifies you for bigger and more challenging duties in bigger systems.
In any case, BLS also provides a breakdown of salary levels over and above the median, as well. With a doctoral degree, you’re more likely to find yourself in the top ten percent of any given position, which works out to:
Of course, not many people get into education for the money. At the end of the day, it’s about the future. You want to be in a position where you will make a difference in the lives of children, and the fate of the nation. Every teacher is a slice of that reality that is yet to come.
But as a school administrator and leader of teachers, you can touch thousands more and have a bigger impact than ever. With the right educational leadership degree in your pocket, you can make the biggest difference of all.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Postsecondary Education Administrators, Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals, and Instructional Coordinators reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed March 2023.