6 types of Ed.D. programs—and how to choose the right one for you

BY Isabel Peña AlfaroDecember 08, 2022, 2:26 PM
A student studies in the Rice University Library, as seen in August 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A doctorate in education, or Ed.D., is a degree that focuses on preparing students for academic and administrative roles in K-12, higher education, as well as business. Graduates of Ed.D. programs can help improve practices and systems in a variety of fields—which helps explain why enrollment in these programs is surging.   

As interest in this doctorate degree has grown, so too has the number of programs and available concentrations, with options that are geared toward students from different career paths. One commonality among the various Ed.D. concentrations is these programs prepare students for leadership positions where they will have the opportunity to improve educational systems.

“Students can be from higher ed, but they can also be in other fields where they can benefit from not only the doctorate but understanding how learning can improve,” says Tracy Poon Tambascia, a professor of clinical education in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. Students come from a variety of backgrounds beyond education, including human resources, museum curation, and the military. “They take what they’re learning from an Ed.D., which is focused on learning but not necessarily in a school or university, and learn how to effect change within those organizations.” 

With more than a handful of options, it’s important to consider your career goals when evaluating various Ed.D. programs. Here’s what you need to know about six of the most common concentrations. 

1. Organizational change and leadership

An Ed.D. in organizational change and leadership has broad applicability, often beyond the field of education. That’s one reason this concentration was the focus of Fortune’s first-ever ranking of online Ed.D. programs

“Our students in organizational change and leadership come from more diverse professional backgrounds,” says Tambascia, adding that this concentration has deep professional diversity, drawing students from school settings, as well as former or current military, law enforcement, and non-for-profits. “I worked with a student who’s an aerospace engineer,” she adds.

Best for: Students with a business or professional background. “You might benefit from learning from others who also work in more business or non-school settings,” Tambascia notes.

2. Entrepreneurial leadership

Entrepreneurial leadership programs focus on finding innovative solutions that can be applied to non-for-profits, schools, as well as startups. Courses in this concentration examine challenges in educational environments across industries and settings. 

Instead of trying to find a general “right” answer that applies to every context and population, students learn analyze specific challenges critically, synthesize data, and look beyond what has typically been considered the right answer so that students can explore new solutions, says Laura Flores Shaw, interim director of the online doctor of education program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

These students also learn to create a plan of action and use financial models to run a profitable business.There is a limited number of entrepreneurial leadership programs. Courses include data driven decision making and organizational finance.

Best for: Students who are executive-level professionals from a range of industries interested in education and learning, as well as startups and business. 

3. Curriculum and instruction

Students focusing on curriculum and instruction in Ed.D. programs learn how to design a curriculum to address specific challenges or improve programs of study. Students may address educational challenges, such as teaching underserved educational populations. More broadly, doctorate students also learn how to improve areas of study, such as math and science or language.

Best for: Graduates of Ed.D. programs in curriculum and instruction typically work in K-12 settings, higher education, educational policy roles, or research institutions.

4. Educational leadership

Students who enroll in educational leadership typically arrive with prior work experience in early care and education, public schools, higher education, or community education. This type of Ed.D. program is created for university and high school teachers and leaders who want to prepare themselves to lead at the school district or university system level, Tambascia notes.

Aside from the core curriculum, students choose classes that will help them prepare for educational group or administrative roles.

Best for: Students who want to be in an environment with other educators. In these programs, students usually also earn a superintendent certification or principal certification along with an Ed.D. degree. Graduates may go on to become a K-12 school administrator, the head of a community college, or a leader in a government agency. 

5. Educational technology

In educational technology programs, students focus on learning how to create and implement technology-driven solutions for a variety of settings, which include grades from K-12, as well as higher education, corporations, and not-for-profit organizations. In addition to solving challenges by using technology, students in educational technology learn how to improve online and e-learning methodologies, which have become increasingly common as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Best for: Students who want to lead, manage, and attain decision-making roles in K-12 school settings, higher education, as well as corporations and non-for-profit organizations and leverage technology to improve education. 

6. Global executive program

The global executive program is an accelerated year-round Ed.D. offering for those people with a high level of leadership experience. “They are oftentimes very senior people in the government working in education,” says Tambascia. These positions include the ministry of education and university leaders in the U.S. and overseas, she adds. 

This program has a global component and the student body is made of people from across the globe or students who have had international experience. “We’re specifically looking to create a cohort of students with diverse backgrounds, and by that we mean they may be U.S.-based, but they may have lived in Vietnam for 30 years,” says Tambascia. 

While global Ed.D. programs can be offered online, they may have an international component in which students have the option to travel as a group for one week each semester and learn about a country’s specific approach to education. 

Best for:  This concentration is best for “people with quite a bit of senior leadership and professional experience who want to understand policy and problem solving around education in a global context,” notes Tambascia.

How to choose the right Ed.D. program for you

The variety of Ed.D. programs allows you to tackle education from different perspectives and surround yourself with a cohort of students with whom you will create a learning environment geared for the type of professional outcome you are seeking. If you are unclear about what path to take, talk to a mentor or admissions counselor to discuss which Ed.D. program is best for you and take note of which one seems more interesting and exciting for you.

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.