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Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership (PhD-EdL)

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100% Online Doctorate

Complete your studies on your own time.

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New start date every Monday

Start your first course when it’s convenient for you.

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39 Months to your Doctorate

Finish your PhD-EdL in as few as 20 courses.

Home » Programs » Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership

Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership

Lead organizations to success with the 100% online Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership (PhD-EdL) degree program at National University. This theoretical research degree is designed to help you learn how to ethically address the complex problems facing education today.

NU’s PhD-EdL program explores leadership theories and models, and practices so you can become a more effective leader. You’ll learn about evidence-based decision-making, educational policy, and the relationship between policy and overall school performance. You’ll also cover essential topics like qualitative data collection and quantitative research principles. You will acquire skills to ethically address the complex problems within educational practice using data-driven decision-making and other theoretical frames linking systematic inquiry with innovative, research-based solutions. The degree culminates in the completion of empirical dissertation research with direct implications for educational theory and policy.

Inspire and Influence Change from the Top

You’ll be paired with a professor in each course who will give you the personal guidance you deserve. You’ll also have support with online learning tools and through our innovative one-to-one learning model. If your goal is to improve educational practices across private and public sectors, such as PK-12, higher education, military, and corporate learning environments, this program is for you!

Please be advised that this program is NOT accredited in Kentucky by the Education Professional Standards Board and is NOT recognized for initial, additional, or renewal of certification or salary enhancement (rank change) for P-12 educators in Kentucky. For more information, please visit the Education Professional Standards Board’s website at http://www.epsb.ky.gov/mod/page/view.php?id=12.

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The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredits public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S.

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Course Details

  • Credit Hours: 60
  • Courses: 20
  • Estimated Time to Complete: 39 months

The Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership (PhD-EdL) program can be completed in 60 credits. Each foundational course runs 8 weeks, and some dissertation courses run 12 weeks. 

This program can be completed with a minimum of 60 credit hours, but may require additional credit hours, depending on the time required to complete the dissertation research. If needed, additional courses will be added to the student degree program in alignment with the SAP and Academic Maximum Time to Completion policies. Students who do not complete their program in accordance with these policies may be dismissed.

This foundational course will introduce you to the concepts and practices of advanced graduate study. You will examine concepts and expectations of advanced graduate study and academic integrity as well as investigate best practices of scholarship and research. You will explore university resources and supports associated with student success, including technologies for learning and research. You will also evaluate the program process and requirements for success. Finally, you will advocate for self-care and reflection during your studies.

Academic writing is at the heart of scholarly writing. How you explore and navigate your topic of interest is both a personal and professional matter. In this course, you will integrate effective research and writing skills, and evaluate standards of academic writing, honesty, and integrity. Literature and writing are closely related, so this course also offers you a first chance to examine the elements of conceptual and theoretical frameworks and critique the role of supporting literature and inquiry with conceptual and theoretical frameworks. Finally, you will synthesize the frameworks commonly used in educational research.

In this course, you will explore theories, philosophies, and professional standards related to educational leadership. You will also examine diversity, equity, and inclusion in the context of school leadership. Based on best practices, you will develop a personal leadership approach and promote ethical behavior and decision-making to become an effective leader within your educational setting.

You will develop effective search and scholarly writing strategies to create a scholarly review of literature. The course emphasizes how to: (a) use effective literature search strategies; (b) develop a scholarly synthesis of research literature; (c) organize research literature around identified research themes, including a study problem, purpose, and theoretical perspectives for an empirical research study; and (d) focus on developing a scholarly exposition that reflects divergent viewpoints and contrasting perspectives. The overarching goal of this course is for you to understand strategies to survey scholarly empirical and theoretical literature to avoid bias, focus on educational practice-based research problems, and address the required components of a scholarly literature review.

In this course, you will explore evidence-based decision-making in leadership to facilitate school and district performance. Utilizing authentic situations, you will analyze techniques to identify valid evidence to make informed decisions, processes in effectively collaborating with major stakeholders, and the effectiveness of the evidence-based decision making process.

In this course, you will explore the understanding of and relationships among educational policy, leadership, and research. Course emphasis will involve definitions and examples of effective educational policy, leadership theory, and research as well as how these areas can be effectively employed together. You will analyze various seminal educational policies, effective leadership qualities and practices, and research approaches to facilitate school performance.

Today’s educators must appraise, assess, and argue the best means to reach diverse and exceptional students. Additionally, individuals differ in gender, sexual orientation, age, cultural background, experiences, and abilities. In this course, you will explore different means to address the nature of cultural diversity, its sources, and its importance to educators. You will consider how districts can plan and prepare to meet the needs of diverse students, taking into consideration epistemological and axiological perspectives unique to many cultures.

In this introductory research course, you will explore the underpinnings of the research process, examine research paradigms, and investigate theoretical and practical foundations of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies used within educational research. You will identify criteria for the development of a quality research study that is ethical, accurate, comprehensive, cohesive, and aligned. Specific course topics will involve the ethics of conducting research; data collection and analysis techniques; and issues of feasibility, trustworthiness, validity, reliability, generalizability or transferability, and rigor. This course is intended to familiarize you with concepts and skills associated with conducting theoretical and applied research.

In this course, students will focus on research, theory and philosophy in developing powerful schools that educate all children well, grades K through 12. Students will learn about various school reform efforts, policies and politics behind various local, states, and federal efforts, and be able to draw upon the educational change and leadership literature to develop their own process and design for better schools.

In this course, students will utilize various research-based leadership decision-making concepts and supervisory processes to advance teacher development and instructional practice. Emphasis will be on the educational leader as a decision-maker, supervisor, and teacher advocate to support student achievement. Additional topics will involve perceptions of leadership, instructional strategies and support, professional development, and collaboration.

In this course, students will explore classic and contemporary approaches to organizational development from a leadership perspective. Major emphasis will be placed on theories, strategies, and leadership styles relative to implementing organizational growth. Students will address various organizational concepts leading to the development of their own organizational leadership plan.

In this course, you will explore the theoretical foundations of effective school district leadership. Course emphasis will involve an understanding of leadership theory, the importance of leadership theory, and how leadership theory can inform effective school district leadership. You will analyze various leadership theories and their application within the school learning environment as a school district leader.

This course offers foundational knowledge to become a critical consumer of statistical- based research literature as well as develop the necessary skillset for non-inferential quantitative analyses. The emphasis will be on understanding multivariate data, non-inferential and inferential statistical concepts, the conventions of quantitative data analysis, interpretation and critical inferences from statistical results. Statistical computations will be completed using statistical software applications for quantitative data analysis. The course culminates in a synthesis project to demonstrate statistical skills and aligned with APA guidelines for presentation of statistical results.

This course focuses on qualitative research methodology and designs and the methods used to collect and analyze data in educational research. You will examine the principles of qualitative research and explore commonly used designs (also referred to as qualitative traditions or genres) with a focus on application and feasibility. Qualitative data collection and analysis methods will be examined for their suitability with regard to the research design selected. Alignment between qualitative designs and research methods, issues of trustworthiness pertaining to qualitative research, and the role and responsibilities of the qualitative researcher will also be explored.

This course explores the quantitative research methodology and associated designs and methods. You will examine paradigmatic perspectives along with the tenets and conventions of quantitative research. This examination of designs and methods will include topics such as feasibility, validity, reliability, variable operationalization, inferential designs, and analytic software applications used within the quantitative research paradigm. You will also explore the components of aligned and coherent quantitative research designs that support meaningful research within the field of education.

This course builds on a foundational understanding of qualitative designs and measurements to focus on analyses of the data. The course takes you deeper into the skills and techniques necessary to ensure the appropriate analyses of qualitative data, including integrating relevant frameworks, verifying trustworthiness of the findings, and selecting suitable methods to present the analyses and findings.

You will learn advanced statistical principles and how to apply them to quantitative research. You will be provided an overview of advanced statistical concepts used in empirical research, including inferential analyses. Advanced computations will be performed using SPSS. The focus involves helping you build independent scholarly skills with an emphasis on understanding multivariate data; the use, comprehension, and evaluation of sophisticated statistical concepts; and presentation of statistical results.

Prerequisites: Completed all foundational, research, and specialization courses as required by program.

The doctoral comprehensive assessment for the Ph.D.-EDL is your opportunity to demonstrate your preparation for entering the dissertation phase as a doctoral candidate. Throughout this course, you will synthesize discipline-specific content with scholarly literature as you create a prospectus for a theoretically based research study focused on furthering knowledge in the field of education. Ph.D.-EDL research has a focus on contribution to theory, whereas Ed.D.-EDL research focuses on addressing a researchable problem that has practical applications. The two are similar in that they both apply the scientific method to collect data, analyze data, and present results. However, the results are given greater emphasis in terms of theory for the Ph.D.-EDL. In the Ph.D.-EDL degree, you will therefore conduct research that contributes to the broader discipline rather than a specific problem rooted in an applied, professional practice. This prospectus will likely become the foundation of your Ph.D.-EDL dissertation. Note that you will take this course only after all foundation, specialization, and research courses have been completed.

Students in this course will be required to complete Chapter 1 of their dissertation proposal including a review of literature with substantiating evidence of the problem, the research purpose and questions, the intended methodological design and approach, and the significance of the study. A completed, committee approved (against the minimum rubric standards) Chapter 1 is required to pass this course successfully. Students who do not receive approval of Chapter 1 to minimum standards will be able to take up to three supplementary 8-week courses to finalize and gain approval of Chapter 1.

Students in this course will be required to work on completing Chapters 1-3 of their dissertation proposal and receive committee approval for the Dissertation Proposal (DP) in order to pass the class. Chapter 2 consists of the literature review. Chapter 3 covers the research methodology method and design and to includes population, sample, measurement instruments, data collection, and analysis, limitations, and ethical considerations. In this course, a completed, committee-approved Chapters 2 and 3 are required and, by the end of the course, a final approved dissertation proposal (against the minimum rubric standards). Students who do not receive approval of the dissertation proposal will be able to take up to three supplementary 8-week courses to finalize and gain approval of these requirements.

Students in this course will be required to prepare, submit, and obtain approval of their IRB application, collect data, and submit a final study closure form to the IRB. Students still in data collection at the end of the 12-week course will be able to take up to three supplementary 8-week courses to complete data collection and file an IRB study closure form.

In this dissertation course students work on completing Chapters 4 and 5 and the final Dissertation Manuscript. Specifically, students will complete their data analysis, prepare their study results, and present their findings in an Oral Defense and a completed manuscript. A completed, Committee approved (against the minimum rubric standards) Dissertation Manuscript and successful Oral Defense are required to complete the course and graduate. Students who do not receive approval for either or both their Dissertation Manuscript or defense can take up to three supplementary 8-week courses to finalize and gain approval of either or both items as needed.

Degree Requirements

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Educational Leadership (EdL) requires 60 credit hours for degree completion. Coursework includes foundations, educational leadership, research methods, the pre-candidacy prospectus, and the dissertation. Additional credit hours may be allowed as needed to complete dissertation research in alignment with the Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) and Academic Maximum Time Frame policies. Students who do not complete their program within these requirements may be dismissed

The PhD-EdL degree program has the following graduation requirements:

  • A minimum of 48 credit hours of graduate instruction must be completed through NU
  • Successful completion of all courses with a “B” or better
  • Official transcripts on file for all transfer credits accepted by the University

The University may accept up to 12 semester credit hours earned with a grade of “B” or better for graduate coursework completed at an accredited college or university and evaluated to be substantially equivalent in content with the required coursework for the PhD-EdL program. See the Transfer Credit Policy in the Course Catalog for additional information.

Career Potential*

  • Educational Administrators, PreK-12 through Higher Education
  • Distance Learning Coordinators

*Positions may require additional experience, training, and other factors beyond successfully completing this degree program. Depending on where you reside, many positions may also require state licensure, and it is the responsibility of the student to ensure that all licensure requirements are met. We encourage you to also review program specific requirements with an NU advisor. Any data provided on this page is for informational purposes only and does not guarantee that completion of any degree program will achieve the underlying occupation or commensurate salary.


The University has developed a logical step-by-step process that assists in completing the dissertation. NU provides a detailed Dissertation Handbook that explains the process and NU’s dissertation support structure.

The PhD-EdL doctoral research courses, the PhD-EdL comprehensive course, and the PhD-EdL dissertation courses are specifically designed as a guide through the process in an orderly and meaningful fashion and lead to the oral defense.

The dissertation is the capstone academic achievement of the PhD-EdL. The PhD-EdL dissertation is a scholarly documentation of the research. To earn the PhD-EdL the student must demonstrate the ability, motivation, and commitment, and NU will provide the faculty, the academic support, and process to assist with the attainment of high academic goals.

The PhD-EdL research is aimed at contributing to the body of research knowledge – either new research or adding to research already studied in the field. PhD-EdL students take EDR-8201 – Statistics I and EDR-8202 – Statistics II as part of their program of study. There is also an oral defense.


Faculty assists each NU Doctoral student to reach this high goal through a systematic process leading to a high-quality completed dissertation. A PhD-EdL dissertation is a scholarly documentation of research that makes an original contribution to the field of study. This process requires care in choosing a topic, documenting its importance, planning the methodology, and conducting the research. These activities lead smoothly into the writing and oral presentation of the dissertation.

A doctoral candidate must be continuously enrolled throughout the series of dissertation courses. Dissertation courses are automatically scheduled and accepted without a break in scheduling to ensure that students remain in continuous enrollment throughout the dissertation course sequence. If additional time is required to complete any of the dissertation courses, students must re-enroll and pay the tuition for that course. Continuous enrollment will only be permitted when students demonstrate progress toward completing dissertation requirements. The Dissertation Committee determines progress.

Learning Outcomes

As a graduate of National University’s Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership (PhD-EdL) program, you’ll be able to:

  • Examine educational leadership, research, and policy from practice-based, evidence-based, and research-based perspectives
  • Determine the aspects of professional capacity and resource needs for a quality professional learning community within sector-specific learning organizations
  • Develop effective leadership traits to improve educational practice for diverse learning organizations within public and private sectors
  • Devise a research- and theoretically-based examination of a complex problem within educational leadership
  • Conduct theoretically based empirical research to address a complex problem within educational leadership, research, or policy


National University’s dedicated admissions team is here to help you throughout the admissions process. We accept and review applications year-round, and, once you’re admitted, you can begin your studies as soon as the next week.

To apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership (PhD-EdL) you must have a conferred post-baccalaureate master’s degree and/or doctoral degree from a regionally accredited academic institution or a qualifying international institution.

Questions? Call our admissions team at 866.776.0331 or request information, and an advisor will be in touch soon. Ready to apply? Start your NU application today.

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Program Disclosure

Successful completion and attainment of National University degrees do not lead to automatic or immediate licensure, employment, or certification in any state/country. The University cannot guarantee that any professional organization or business will accept a graduate’s application to sit for any certification, licensure, or related exam for the purpose of professional certification.

Program availability varies by state. Many disciplines, professions, and jobs require disclosure of an individual’s criminal history, and a variety of states require background checks to apply to, or be eligible for, certain certificates, registrations, and licenses. Existence of a criminal history may also subject an individual to denial of an initial application for a certificate, registration, or license and/or result in the revocation or suspension of an existing certificate, registration, or license. Requirements can vary by state, occupation, and/or licensing authority.

NU graduates will be subject to additional requirements on a program, certification/licensure, employment, and state-by-state basis that can include one or more of the following items: internships, practicum experience, additional coursework, exams, tests, drug testing, earning an additional degree, and/or other training/education requirements.

All prospective students are advised to review employment, certification, and/or licensure requirements in their state, and to contact the certification/licensing body of the state and/or country where they intend to obtain certification/licensure to verify that these courses/programs qualify in that state/country, prior to enrolling. Prospective students are also advised to regularly review the state’s/country’s policies and procedures relating to certification/licensure, as those policies are subject to change.

National University degrees do not guarantee employment or salary of any kind. Prospective students are strongly encouraged to review desired job positions to review degrees, education, and/or training required to apply for desired positions. Prospective students should monitor these positions as requirements, salary, and other relevant factors can change over time.