How Much Does a Master’s in Educational Leadership Cost?

Written by Scott Wilson

How much does a master’s in educational leadership cost? According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the total tuition cost for a master’s in educational leadership will come to just under $40,000. Both university location, reputation, and whether it is public or private will affect your costs, however.

college cost

The cost of a college education is something that educators know all about. You can’t get a teaching license in any state without holding at least a bachelor’s degree. And you had to pay a pretty penny to get it. NCES (the National Center for Education Statistics) showed a median annual tuition rate of more than $7,400 per year for 2021.

Not only is that figure as high as it has ever been, but it’s more than double what the cost would have been in 2001.

And, naturally, earning a graduate degree, like a master’s degree in educational leadership (MEDL), is going to cost even more.

But a master’s degree is the price you pay to qualify for jobs in educational administration—whether as a principal, superintendent, or even in faculty leadership positions. To plan your career, you’ll need to first understand the costs and benefits.

Breaking Down the Various Costs the Come with Earning a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership

using calculatorThe National Center for Education Statistics offers the gold standard for current costs of college attendance and tuition. For graduate studies, including the master’s in educational leadership, the overall average cost in tuition and fees for the 2020-21 school year came to $19,749.

Since the typical MEd degree takes two years to earn, the math is simple: the total tuition costs are around $39,498 on average.

A master’s degree in educational leadership is the same as any other kind of college degree, however: the cost will vary depending on the university. Each school is influenced by factors such as:


Schools in dense urban areas, or toward the coasts, will tend to have higher costs because their expenses are higher. The cost of living in cities is higher, so salaries are higher for faculty members and other staff. Higher expenses often mean higher tuition rates.


In other cases, the differences come down to prestige. There’s strong demand for master’s degrees in education with the name of an Ivy League university on them. Any school with a strong reputation and more applicants than slots may charge more.

Control of Institution

Prestige is a factor with private universities. But public schools have a very different approach to pricing. This is a variable that NCES likes to call control of institution—the fact that public universities and private schools set pricing in very different ways.

Exploring the Divide Between Public and Private University’s When Calculating the Cost of a Master’s in Educational Leadership

As you will quickly notice if you dive into the NCES data on college costs, the most substantial statistical difference comes in public versus privately controlled schools.

Looking at the 2021 tuition costs at graduate institutions tells the story:

But averages are not the entire story. In fact, the different kinds of schools are responding to different demands and influences.

A private school, even a nonprofit, is free to adapt to the market. In-demand programs have pricing that reflects the popularity. And without state subsidies, private schools must cover their costs through revenue rooted in tuition. That typically means higher rates.

On a school-by-school basis, you can find exceptions to any rule about the cost of a master’s in educational leadership.

On the other hand, public universities typically have different rates for residents versus non-residents. If you are from outside the state, you will find that a public university will charge you more than a private school in the same area. The private university isn’t concerned about which state you call home; public schools first and foremost serve their own taxpayers.

Thinking About Degree Costs Beyond Tuition and Fees in Educational Leadership Programs

worried about billsOf course, there are a lot of other costs beyond tuition and fees that come with college. These are harder to quantify since different students will experience them in different ways. The cost of room and board, for example, will hit someone from out-of-town much harder than a local student.

And the cost of relocation itself can be significant. It’s not just the costs of a new apartment and moving van, either. Leaving behind family, an established job, and social networks are just a few costs typically uncounted in these decisions. But they are very real—and in the case of a current career, opportunity costs must be calculated. What promotions or raises are you giving up on top of your tuition payments?

The high cost of on-site attendance for master’s degree programs is why many educational leadership degrees today are offered online.

Finally, all those costs will multiply in relation to how long the program is. While most master’s degrees in education take about two years to complete, you can find options that you can finish in one, or those that take as long as three years. The months add up. Overall, the faster you can complete your studies, the less you will have to pay.

Is a Master’s in Educational Leadership Worth It?

Now that you know how much it costs to earn a master’s in educational leadership, there’s a second question: is that worth it to you?

According to NCES, 62 percent of graduates with a master’s in education have outstanding student loans with an average cumulative balance of more than $55,000 when you count debt incurred from undergraduate degrees.

That’s a more specific and more difficult question to answer. It rests on many factors, including:

For example, in some states, it’s possible to qualify for a principal license with only a bachelor’s degree and a small subset of graduate-level coursework. You may be able to take a short, less expensive certificate program to cover the required Educator Preparation Program (EPP) coursework for the job.

If you’re a teacher close to retirement in a small rural district, stepping up to fill the outgoing principal’s shoes for a few years with no plans to continue, then skipping the cost of a MEDL might be the most sensible course.

But if you have several years left in your career and grand plans to become a principal or district superintendent, a MEDL is a great investment. It is just one step on a path that could eventually lead you to a doctorate. And it builds up your resume, your skills, and your credentials in ways that will pay big dividends over the long run.

On the other hand, there are also many educators who love learning for the sake of learning. A master’s is simply another step on a long path they’ve been on since elementary school, seeking out and absorbing new knowledge. If it’s as much about personal development and understanding as it is about career options, then a master’s in educational leadership can be worth it at almost any price.

Comparing the Costs of a Master’s in Educational Leadership Against Other Options

group of multi ethic school aged kids with principalThere’s another factor in play for many educators considering a master’s in educational leadership. That is the requirement, or strong incentives, in many states for teachers to continue their education at the master’s level.

In every state, educator licensing requires ongoing continuing education. In some of them, that’s tied to mandatory license level bumps. In other words, a provisional license can be earned with a bachelor’s degree, but within a few years, a permanent professional license may require earning a master’s degree.

In many districts, earning a master’s degree comes with negotiated salary bumps.

Since the additional coursework is a requirement of keeping the job, it just makes sense to apply it toward a graduate degree. So, the choice of earning an MEDL isn’t necessarily between paying that cost or keeping the money. Instead, it may well be between an MEDL and some other master’s degree.

With the emphasis on leadership skills, the MEDL offers a clear path to advancement for many educators. That doesn’t have to mean the front office—gifted and talented program administrators, instructional coordinators, and even coaches can benefit.

If this all seems complicated, just wait until you have to work on an actual school budget. When you sit down with those spreadsheets, all your concerns over the cost of a Master of Education in Educational Leadership or similar degree will evaporate. And you’ll be very glad you paid for that training!

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