Doctorate in Adult Education Online Programs

Updated January 6, 2023

Graduates with a Ph.D. in adult education can land adjunct and full-time faculty positions, including dean and other positions. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Degree Options & Potential Careers

A doctoral degree in adult education online is the highest level of education one can earn, and it qualifies its holders for nearly any career in the field. Graduates with a Ph.D. in adult education can land adjunct and full-time faculty positions, including dean and other leadership roles in community colleges. By earning a Ph.D. in adult education, graduates prepare themselves for a variety of academic, research, and leadership roles.

This page outlines how to earn a Ph.D. in adult education online, the types of courses you can expect from a Ph.D. program, and potential careers you can pursue after you earn your Ph.D.

Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Adult Education?

Before you apply to an online doctorate in adult education program, be sure you're starting for the right reasons. Each student has their own rationale for earning a Ph.D., and it's important to understand your personal and professional goals at the outset.

Career advancement is usually one of the top reasons students pursue a Ph.D. For instance, some jobs require a minimum of a Ph.D., such as administrative and leadership positions at community colleges and universities. This makes earning an online Ph.D. an essential step.

Other students may pursue their Ph.D. to facilitate a career change. While some positions require relevant experience, not every Ph.D. program requires an extensive background in your field of interest.

Increasing your earning potential is another popular reason to earn a Ph.D. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median weekly earnings for master's degree-holders is $1,401, compared to median weekly wage of $1,743 for doctoral degree holders. While the potential earnings for Ph.D. graduates depends on the field and career, professionals have a higher chance of earning more with a doctoral degree.

Some students may earn their Ph.D. to fulfill a personal goal. In this case, completing a Ph.D. online is one of the fastest, most flexible, and most cost-effective ways to do so.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Adult Education?

An online doctorate in adult education makes nearly any career related to adult education available, including positions outside of academia and education. For instance, graduates qualify for positions in a non-profit, a government organization, or even a private company.

A common landing spot for adult education doctoral degree-holders is an adult education program. Adult education is offered at every academic level, including post-secondary options. While a Ph.D. isn't always required to become a post-secondary professor, many employers prefer professors to hold the highest level of education possible. Post-secondary adult education is offered through both four-year and community colleges, and both types of institutions hire qualified professionals.

Other graduates may pursue careers in continuing education programs. Continuing education is required for many licenses and certifications. To become a continuing education teacher, you may also need expertise in an additional field; for example, if you have a background in accounting, a Ph.D. in adult education could help you find a position working in an accounting continuing education program.

Government organizations — such as school boards and departments of education — also require highly-educated individuals to lead parts of the organization. The government also looks for educators to work within the military.

Corporations need adult education Ph.D. graduates, as well. These professionals perform independent research and teach seminars on-site at a corporation. The career options available through a corporation are endless for Ph.D. graduates. Similarly, becoming a self-employed consultant or educator is always an option, as a Ph.D. demonstrates expertise in a specific area.


From managing faculty and staff to creating new academic goals for an institution, a dean's life is particularly full. Deans are responsible for hiring staff, setting an academic standard for all to follow, and providing leadership to ensure goals are met. A minimum of a master's degree in education is required for this role, as is experience with management and leadership.

College Professor

A common position for many Ph.D. grads, professors at the post-secondary level teach within their field of expertise. An adult education professor may be tasked with teaching adults, teaching courses that focus on educating adults, or both. A master's degree is required to become a professor, though Ph.D.s are often preferred.

Academic Affairs Vice President

These administration professionals direct one or more departments in a college or university, and oversee the academics within the department(s). Meeting accrediting and university standards may also be part of the vice president's role.


As the head of academic administrations, these individuals plan and develop programs within an institution to meet academic standards. Provosts provide leadership and advocacy for student affairs, and often allocate funds and budgets. A doctoral degree in education is preferred for this position.

College President

As the leader of a college or university, the president wears many hats. They primarily provide guidance to a college and oversee meetings with the Board of Directors. These professionals must exhibit leadership and possess significant experience. A background in education and a master's or doctoral degree are required.

Adult Education Ph.D. Program Overview

As the highest level of education possible, earning a Ph.D. is a rigorous process. From strict application requirements to a demanding curriculum, students must be prepared for an emotionally and intellectually taxing experience. Below we outline the common admission requirements for Ph.D. programs, the curriculum highlights you can expect, and the potential career paths once you complete a doctoral program.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Before applying to an online adult education Ph.D. program, you must complete at least a bachelor's degree, though many schools require a master's degree. Applicants should submit all academic transcripts and demonstrate a 3.0 GPA or higher from undergraduate and graduate education. GRE test scores are also required for doctoral applications, though some schools may require other/additional exams.

Another common requirement is a letter of intent. This document details your interest in earning a Ph.D. in adult education, potential careers/focuses of study you're interested in, and your future goals. Doctoral programs have strict admissions and limited space, so colleges want to make sure you're the right match for their program. Letters of recommendation from past professors or employers might also be required.


The length of a Ph.D. program depends on the institution, but expect the program to take at least three years. Most Ph.D. programs expect students to study full-time even if they're studying online. Additionally, in-person seminars and residencies may also be required for online students; be sure to account for any in-person requirements for your program.

Students complete 20-30 courses during their doctoral program, though the total number of required credits varies depending on their format (semesters or quarters). In general, schools require students to complete seminars and a blend of core, foundation, specialty, and research courses. Every learner must complete seminars and core courses, and these usually make up one-third of your education. Foundation and specialty courses may vary depending on your area of focus and dissertation, however they are electives that comprise another one-third of your education. Research courses are generally used to help you prepare for your dissertation.

The final part of Ph.D. curriculum is a dissertation. Some schools may also require a comprehensive exam prior to working on the dissertation. All colleges and universities set aside credits for you to complete your dissertation and exam, if required.

While specific courses vary by program, below is a sampling of courses you can expect to take in a doctorate in adult education online.

Teaching Adults
Adults learn differently than children, so this program presents the problems adult educators may face when teaching adults. This is often an introductory course to the Ph.D. program.
Methods of Education Adults
After addressing the problems of adult education, students cover different methods used to teach adults, from planning courses to providing instruction through lectures.
Teaching in the Non-School Setting
Not all adult educators work in school settings; this course teaches students to plan and teach in non-school settings.
Advanced Education Theory
Students cover the advanced theories being practiced in adult education, how to implement them, and how to assess their success.
Classroom Assessment in Education
Classrooms are dynamic places, and adult educators must learn to assess classroom settings to best instruct adult learners.
Workforce Education
Many adult education programs are workforce education. This course covers the high-level differences between academic and workforce education.
Faculty Leadership
Most careers for Ph.D.-holders require strong leadership skills, so faculty leadership teaches you to guide, set goals for, and lead faculty and staff.
Curriculum Development
Curriculum must be developed with adult learners in mind. This course teaches advanced curriculum development techniques..

Program Outcomes

Perhaps the most important skill students develop during an online adult education Ph.D. is leadership. Nearly every role that requires a Ph.D. holds some leadership component, so mastering leadership techniques is integral to success.

Another primary outcome for Ph.D. programs is ethical decision making. Many leadership positions require you to be responsible for staff, faculty, and students, and maintaining an ethical department is key to the long term success of an organization. The lack of professional ethical standards could make it difficult to land a leadership position.

Accreditation for Online Adult Education Doctorate Programs

Accreditation is granted to schools or programs that meet the academic standards of an accrediting body. Regional accreditation is often considered more rigorous and prestigious than national accreditation and is granted by one of six regional accrediting bodies, such as the Higher Learning Commission.

Prospective doctoral students may also ensure their program receives programmatic accreditation. For instance, colleges of education may be accredited by the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation.

While program accreditation is important, it's essential that prospective online adult education students choose a regionally or nationally accredited school.

Adult Education Professional Organizations

Whether you're a seasoned professional looking for a new position or a student looking to make connections, professional organizations are excellent places to start. Professional organizations offer benefits to members like job boards, training, and networking.

As you search for a professional organization, review both small and large organizations. Small organizations can connect you with other experts in your field, and large organizations might offer benefits like advocacy and job boards. You can join more than one organization, too; just keep in mind that some professional organizations charge a membership fee.

Once you join an organization, make the most of your membership by joining a committee or becoming a board member. This can be a great resume-builder, too.

  • NAPAHE members not only receive access to a national conference, they also join a network from across the country to exchange ideas and learn new skills.
  • With over 150,000 members, NCEA is the largest private professional organization in the nation. Educators who work for Catholic institutions receive access to webinars, digital magazines, and an online resource library.
  • Designed for all academic professionals at colleges and universities, AAUP also organizes a labor union and charity. AAUP members receive access to toolkits, guidebooks, webinars, and discounted insurance.
  • NEA is the largest professional employee organization in the US, serving millions of members at every academic level. Benefits include discounted legal services, industry news, and access to local resources.
  • Designed for anyone who has finished a doctoral degree, National Postdoctoral Association helps connect individuals with open positions, leadership opportunities, and other professionals in their field.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.

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