2024 Best Online PhD in Adult Education [Doctorate Program Guide]

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A PhD in Adult Education is a terminal degree, meaning it’s the highest degree adult education professionals can obtain in the field.

Best Online PhD in Adult Education

A PhD is often research oriented, and it can be a helpful qualification for various career paths in research and academia. Many postsecondary teaching and executive positions also require advanced degrees.

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Whether you want to work in a school setting, a business setting, or a nonprofit setting, an adult education PhD program could help you develop your expertise and grow your professional qualifications in this sector.

Online PhD in Adult Education Programs

Man pursuing Online PhD in Adult Education

Earning a doctoral degree in adult education requires students to first complete a rigorous curriculum. PhD programs are often research intensive.

The curriculum for a PhD in Adult Learning program can help develop your research, communication, teaching, critical thinking, and leadership skills. You can learn about the best practices for teaching adults, the issues they face in academia, and how to push the field forward through research.

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While you will study a variety of subjects, there are a few in particular that may prove pivotal to your education. These core topics generally include:

  • Adult teaching and learning
  • Distance education
  • Learning in the workplace and in the community
  • Literacy for culturally and linguistically diverse populations

One of the main selling points of a PhD in Adult Education is that having this degree can often allow for a greater degree of career and economic mobility. Potential careers for advanced professionals in this field include:

  • Postsecondary teacher
  • Instructional coordinator
  • Postsecondary education administrator
  • Education and career counselor
  • Adult education researcher
  • University executive

Holding a PhD typically certifies that you’ve gone above and beyond in your education and have developed a quality work ethic and a well of knowledge. Because of this, a PhD in Adult Education can often expand your career opportunities, especially in the sector of research and academia.

Adult Education Careers & Salaries

Adult Education Careers & Salaries

A doctoral degree in adult education develops skills that are essential for leadership, research, and academia. Some of these skills include oral and written communication as well as strategic planning.

Many PhD graduates go on to qualify for an array of careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the median wages for career paths associated with the field of adult education.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Chief Executives $179,520
Training and Development Managers $120,130
Administrative Services Managers $100,170
General and Operations Managers $97,970
Facilities Managers $97,930
Postsecondary Education Administrators $96,910
Postsecondary Teachers $79,640
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
Instructional Coordinators $63,740
Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers $59,720

The above careers only represent a portion of the careers that may be available to you following graduation. They also can’t be guaranteed, as many factors influence the hiring process. Your degree specialization, your work experience, and potential employer’s stipulations can all impact your job eligibility.

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Adult education PhD programs are designed for students looking to advance in the education field in some capacity, but many of the skills you can develop are transferable to other careers, such as workplace training.

Adult Education PhD Curriculum & Courses

students taking Adult Education PhD in group research

If you were to pursue a PhD in Adult Learning, here are some examples of the courses you may encounter:

  • Intro to Adult Learning Leadership: This is a foundational course that will give you an overview of the adult learning world.
  • Issues in Adult Learning: This course will teach you about the issues found in adult learning, including societal, cultural, and economic factors.
  • Curriculum Development for Adult Learners: In this course, you’ll study models, theories, and trends involved in teaching adults.
  • Teaching Adults: This course covers the necessary teaching skills for educating adult learners.
  • Adult Learning Program-Planning: This course will teach you how to improve adult learning programs.
  • Teaching in the Non-School Setting: In this course, you’ll learn how to provide education outside of school settings.
  • Classroom Assessment in Education: This course will teach you how to assess classroom settings so that you can teach adult learners.
  • Workforce Education: In this course, you’ll discover the differences between workforce education and academic education.
  • Faculty Leadership: This course teaches the necessary skills for guiding staff and faculty.
  • Diversity and Equity Issues in Education: This course will explore the historical and cultural ideas of “difference” and how they affect the relationships found in education.

Ultimately, your curriculum will depend on your school’s specific program. Most PhD programs also have a dissertation component that involves original research.

Admissions Requirements

Woman preparing requirements for PhD in Adult Education Online

The admissions requirements for adult education PhD programs will vary, but here are a few common criteria that you may see when applying:

  • Master’s degree from accredited school
  • Official school transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Statement of intent
  • Resume or CV

It’s necessary to check the specific admissions requirements for the schools you’re interested in. Some programs, for instance, may request GRE scores, though a growing number of schools no longer require them. Some education PhD programs will also consider applicants who only hold a bachelors, while others may require an on-campus or online masters in adult education or related field.


University offering PhD in Adult Education Online

If you’re looking into getting your PhD in Adult Learning, it’s strategic to choose a school that has regional accreditation.

Regional accreditation is awarded when a regional accrediting agency has reviewed an institution and found that it gives students a high-quality education. Many students attend accredited institutions because they desire a quality education, and many employers prefer graduates of accredited institutions because they trust their qualifications.

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You can verify the accreditation status of a prospective school by visiting the website of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Adult Education Financial Aid

Many PhD students seek financial aid to help fund their education. For many, student loans from the federal government is the primary source of financial aid. You can file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for federal aid.

You can also choose to apply for scholarships or grants. These are essentially free money that’s given to you if you’re selected. Scholarship and grant opportunities may be available through schools, nonprofits, the government, and private institutions. Many employers also offer tuition reimbursement or professional development programs for employees who want to pursue advanced education.

What Is an Adult Education PhD Degree?

Teacher guiding an adult student

An adult education PhD degree is a program that allows students and professionals to develop their leadership skills within the field of education. You could learn how to encourage the development of emerging learning communities and individual learners.

PhD programs are more research intensive, and a PhD is often a qualifier for positions in research and postsecondary teaching. Many adult education professionals also give academic support to adults entering or returning to academics. Graduates with a PhD in this field may go on to play an essential role in the development of the emerging workforce.

Should I Get a PhD in Adult Education?

professor teaching adult college students

There are some factors you may want to consider before applying to a PhD in Adult Learning program. Generally speaking, your earning potential is likely to increase after receiving a PhD.

A PhD in Adult Education can also help you increase your job prospects and contribute original research to the field. A PhD can also be a required education for certain positions, such as postsecondary teaching and executive university positions. Your professional interests and goals can also impact your decision to get a PhD.

What Skills Do You Learn in a PhD in Adult Education?

Postsecondary Teacher lecturing a class of adult students

Core courses in an adult education PhD program typically cover topics such as:

  • Introduction to adult learning leadership
  • Issues in adult learning
  • Teaching adults
  • Curriculum development
  • Workforce education

These programs are typically designed to help you develop the following skills:

  • Research
  • Leadership
  • Strategic planning
  • Teaching
  • Oral and written communication

These skills are essential to research, teaching, and leadership roles in the field of adult education.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Adult Education?

Training & Development Manager and staff in a university

Earning a PhD in Adult Education can help you build your qualifications for various career paths. Because of the nature of the degree, it’s common for graduates to enter academia or research-based fields.

Many professionals pursue this degree with the goal of advancing their existing careers in education. Some PhD graduates go on to become instructional coordinators, while others teach at the postsecondary level. Others work as education administrators at colleges, universities, or other adult education facilities.

Top leadership roles can include college president, dean, or provost. That said, graduates can also pursue careers outside of education. Some of the fields they may enter include nonprofit organizations, government, and private organizations.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Adult Education Online?

Man taking PhD in Adult Education Online

Online PhD programs in adult education are typically comprised of between 48 and 72 credits. This can depend on a number of factors, including whether you take on an emphasis.

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Online PhD programs typically take students anywhere from 3 to 5 years to complete with full-time enrollment. Doctoral programs that don’t require a dissertation may be completed in as little as 3 years. Completing a PhD program as a part-time student can allow for more schedule flexibility, but it can also extend your overall completion time for online degrees in education.

What’s the Difference Between an EdD vs. PhD in Adult Education?

Here are some of the differences between a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Adult Education and a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Adult Education,

PhD in Adult Education EdD in Adult Education
  • More research focused
  • Covers theory and research methodologies
  • Often designed for educators looking to advance their careers in research or academia
  • Generally requires a dissertation
  • More practice oriented
  • Focused on the application of research in professional settings
  • Covers educational policy
  • May allow for a capstone project in lieu of a dissertation

It’s helpful to assess your professional goals when choosing which degree path to enroll in.

Is a Doctorate in Adult Education Worth It?

university professor teaching adult students

Yes, a doctorate in adult education is worth it for many students. Pursuing a doctoral program in adult education online can allow you to enhance your knowledge and leadership skills in the field of adult learning.

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There is a continual need for highly educated professionals who can teach adults or push the field forward through administration, curriculum development, or research. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment for education, training, and library occupations is expected to grow by 7% over the next ten years. Postsecondary teachers, in particular, are expected to see 12% job growth over the same period.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Adult Education Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University

Kansas State University offers a doctorate in Adult Learning and Leadership using a hybrid online and in-person learning model. Depending on professional goals, the degree may be completed as a Doctor of Philosophy or a Doctor of Education. Classes are usually 8 to 14 weeks and the program requires the completion of at least 90 credits.

Kansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Lesley University

Lesley University

Lesley University offers a Ph.D. in Human Development and Learning. The low-residency program combines online learning with periodic required residencies that provide hands-on learning experience and networking opportunities. The program is designed to teach the skills needed to work in settings like colleges, universities, healthcare facilities, social services, schools, or government agencies.

Lesley University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

Montana State University

Montana State University Billings

Montana State University offers a doctorate in Adult and Higher Education partially online. Classes meet primarily on-campus with occasional online learning components. The program may be completed as a Doctor of Education if interested in research or faculty roles, or as a Doctor of Philosophy if interested in pursuing administrative leadership roles. The program requires the completion of 66 credit hours.

Montana State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Oregon State University

Oregon State University

Oregon State University offers an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. in Adult and Higher Education program utilizing a hybrid online and in-person learning format. The program seeks to equip educators and administrators with the knowledge and skills needed to become effective leaders in the education field. On average, degree requirements are completed in 3 to 5 years of full-time study.

Oregon State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.(Hybrid)

Regent University

Regent University

Regent University offers an online program for a Doctor of Philosophy in Education. Common courses include Policy Studies, Program Planning for Adult Learners, and Global Issues in Adult Education. The program aims to teach how to effectively expand upon theory and research of teaching and learning, motivation, supervision, and program planning. The program requires the completion of 67 credits.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Tennessee – Knoxville

University of Tennessee Knoxville

The University of Tennessee–Knoxville offers an online program for a PhD in Educational Psychology and Research with a specialization in Adult and Continuing Education. The program usually admits twice yearly, in the fall and spring terms. The completion of at least 85 credit hours is required.

The University of Tennessee – Knoxville is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Getting Your PhD in Adult Education Online

adult student pursuing PhD in Adult Education Degree Online

Online PhD programs in adult education allow students and professionals to develop their expertise as well as grow their skills in leadership, research, and education. Additionally, your high level of education can give you more opportunities for career mobility and increased earning potential.

Some adult education professionals work as teachers, guiding nontraditional students to success or educating postsecondary students in colleges or universities. Others work outside of the classroom as education administrators, instructional coordinators, adult education researchers, or university executives.

If you’re interested in taking your adult education career to the next level, then you could start exploring online PhD programs from accredited schools today.

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David Garcia
David has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Film from Syracuse University. While in school, much of his time was dedicated to Syracuse’s literary magazine, both as a writer and editor. David’s current interests include literary and film studies as well as social justice.