Educational Leadership & Policy

What Is an Online Ed.D. in Education Policy?

What Is an Online Ed.D. in Education Policy?
While careers in education policy cover a wide range of academic concentrations, all paths in this field significantly impact the futures of our students, our country, and the world at large. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly May 8, 2020

An online Ed.D. in education policy offers greater flexibility than its traditional on-campus counterpart—and is ideal for experienced educators, policy experts, and administrators who want to build on their skills and knowledge without taking time away from their careers.

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As the country’s student population rapidly diversifies, the need for education policy experts with in-depth knowledge of how local, regional, and national legislation impacts the educational experience is more critical than ever.

At a national level, these professionals are vital to creating education systems, procedures, and processes that serve all students effectively. At a local level, they help schools and districts grow into positive and self-sustaining environments that put student outcomes first. When they succeed, more kids get a chance to fulfill their potentials—and the future gets a little bit brighter for everyone.

While careers in education policy cover a wide range of academic concentrations, all paths in this field significantly impact the futures of our students, our country, and the world at large. That’s why many schools offer a variety of graduate programs that prepare candidates to lead in the education policy field.

A growing number of these schools now provide students the chance to pursue their Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degrees in education policy online. This alternative path offers greater flexibility than its on-campus counterpart. It’s ideal for students looking to meet their learning objectives without taking time away from their careers.

So, what is an online Ed.D. in education policy? We’ll answer that question and others in this article, including:

  • What is an online Ed.D. in education policy, and who earns this degree?
  • What do students in online Ed.D. in education policy programs study?
  • Why get an Ed.D. in education policy online?
  • Factors to consider when enrolling in an online Ed.D. program in education policy
  • How long does it take to earn an Ed.D. in education policy online?
  • Are online Ed.D. in education policy programs respected?

What is an online Ed.D. in education policy, and who earns this degree?

Doctor of Education programs in education policy focus on the advanced study of education systems and the political, legal, economic, and social factors that affect both schools and the broader educational landscape.

While Ph.D. programs in education policy are designed to prepare graduates for research and teaching roles in their field, the Ed.D. provides a practice-based approach. It is suited for those who want to transform policy directly at the local, regional, and national levels. Ed.D. in education policy graduates are employed across a broad scope of settings, ranging from K-12 and higher education to nonprofits, think tanks, and government agencies.

Online Ed.D. in education policy programs allow students to complete coursework on their own time. This is especially beneficial to professionals who cannot or choose not to take time off from their busy careers as educators, policy experts, and administrators.


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What do students in online Ed.D. in education policy programs study?

Online Ed.D. programs in education policy cover foundational courses in the history and structure of American education, theories of learning, curriculum development, and organizational leadership. Examples of these courses that may include:

  • History of U.S. Education Policy and Practice
  • Foundations of Teaching and Learning
  • Principles of Education Research
  • Educational Leadership and Change
  • Diversity and Equity in Education

In addition to core foundational courses, online Ed.D. programs in education policy typically include courses that examine areas specific to a student’s chosen concentrations, which generally focus on subjects like:

  • Education policy and program evaluation
  • School reform and public policy
  • Education economics
  • Teaching policies in American education
  • Technology integration in education
  • K-12 education policy
  • Policy in higher education
  • Ethics in educational leadership

Why get an Ed.D. in education policy online?

Convenience is a primary advantage of online degree programs—and an online Ed.D. in education policy is no different. Candidates can typically fulfill all (or almost all) of their requirements online, which is beneficial if they are working full-time or their school is not located within an accessible distance.

In place of a traditional classroom environment, these programs provide a learning management system (LMS)—such as Blackboard or Schoology—that students can use to manage course syllabi, organize tasks and materials, access schedules, and engage with instructors and peers.

Online programs also allow schools to attract students from a much broader geographic base, which typically results in a greater variety of cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives in comparison to the student populations of traditional programs.

Factors to consider when enrolling in an online Ed.D. program in education policy

As the popularity of online degrees continues to rise, it can be overwhelming to sift through programs that offer a distance learning format. In this case, it helps to know that not all online programs are created equal—and that structuring your search around critical factors can make all the difference when finding a program that best fits your needs and goals.

Level of student support

Since online programs typically lack the immediate school community that traditional programs provide, they must offer the same quality of support to students as they would receive on a physical campus. Resources such as 24/7 tech support, mentor programs, tutoring, and advisory support are all signs of a quality educational experience.

The online Ed.D. in education policy and leadership at American University, for example, provides students with personalized attention throughout the learning experience. The school offers around-the-clock tech support and virtual open-office hours so that students can get the support they need from faculty.

Online programs operating within American University’s graduate school of education also emphasize a low student-to-instructor ratio, allowing the school to foster an online learning environment that encourages students to connect and collaborate with their instructors and peers. Look for programs that offer a similar level of support.


Students have, in the past, shied away from online degree programs in fear that their degree would not receive the same respect as one earned on-campus. This was partly the result of negative publicity surrounding some bad operators in online education.

But as an increasing number of respected accredited colleges and universities recognize the benefits of distance learning, quality online education is more accessible than ever. Accreditation is one yardstick by which to measure a program’s value.

An accredited school is one that has been approved by an independent system of accountability and quality control. To earn accreditation, a school must undergo a stringent application and review process to ensure its programs and instructors meet national standards, which are set by a group of governing institutions known as accrediting agencies.

Legitimate online degree programs are accredited by agencies recognized by either the Department of Education or the nonprofit Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Respected regional accrediting agencies include:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

Online schools may also earn additional specialty accreditation for:

  • Career schools and colleges
  • Distance education
  • Christian colleges and schools
  • Continuing education
  • Occupational education
  • Their specific academic field

Class schedule and availability

Some Ed.D. programs include synchronous classes, which require students to log in to “live courses” at specific times and participate via chat or video technology. Others consist largely or entirely of asynchronous classes, in which pre-recorded content can be accessed 24/7. Students sign in to a learning management system to view course readings or videos, submit assignments, and study at their own pace.

Students should also find out whether specific courses—either mandatory core classes or electives they hope to take—are available several times a year or must be taken sequentially. If they’re unable to fill gaps in their program’s scheduled courses without waiting a year for their offering, then completing their degree will take much longer than planned.

Cost and financial aid

In general, online programs tend to span an extensive and eclectic range of costs. Some schools may charge higher tuition rates to distance learners, while others will require a technology or online access fee on a per-credit basis.

For the most part, online learners generally pay tuition on a per-credit basis. For example, a graduate school may charge doctorate students $300 per credit hour. As most online Ed.D. in education policy programs tend to average around 60 credits, students at this school will pay $18,000 in total tuition for their degree. Other schools might charge a higher cost per credit, making tuition more expensive.

Financial aid for online students is generally the same as it is for those learning on-campus, particularly in terms of enrollment status. Deciding to enroll in a program on a part-time or full-time basis can affect the amount of financial aid an online student receives, just as it would for traditional students. Like on-campus students, online students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which many schools use to determine the aid they offer.

Possibility of required travel

Although students pursuing an Ed.D. in education policy complete all or almost all of their degree requirements online, their programs may require them to travel to their school’s campus for what’s often referred to as an “immersion weekend” or a residency. As part of their visit, students participate in individual and group exercises, as well as activities that allow them to network in-person with their peers and faculty.

Additionally, some online Ed.D. in education policy programs may require students to present their doctoral dissertation or capstone project in-person before a department committee and faculty chair. Others may allow students to defend their work virtually through video conferencing software.

How long does it take to earn an Ed.D. in education policy online?

The length of time it takes to complete an Ed.D. in education policy varies from school to school. For example, the online Ed.D. in educational leadership and policy at Florida State University is designed to be completed in three years for full-time students with a total of 69 credit hours.

Drexel University, on the other hand, offers a slightly different window for students completing an online Ed.D. in educational leadership​ ​and​ ​management​ with a concentration in educational policy. As noted on the school’s site, this program can be completed in three or five years on a part-time basis.

Are online Ed.D. in education policy programs respected?

As mentioned, respect for online degrees continues to grow, and more and more schools are offering online degree programs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 930,000 students enrolled exclusively in graduate-level distance education courses in fall 2018. Another 162,084 enrolled in graduate-level programs at exclusively distance education institutions during the same timeframe.

For the most part, students who earned their Ed.D. in education policy online can expect that most employers will scrutinize their degree for accreditation. Those who’ve completed programs recognized by the accrediting agencies we mentioned above can rest easy as most employers acknowledge the value that an accredited online degree can hold.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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