Last Updated: March 27, 2020
Doctoral degrees represent the highest level of education one can achieve in a certain area of study. Of course, not all doctorate programs are in medicine. In addition to MD programs, other types of degrees such as EdDs, DBAs, and PhDs, for example, can be pursued in a wide range of subjects such as education, business, criminal justice, computer science, and more. More and more colleges and universities are offering doctoral degrees via distance education. In this ranking, we explore the top 25 universities with online doctoral degrees.
Ranking the Best Online Colleges for Doctoral Degree Programs
To develop this ranking of the best colleges for doctoral degree programs, we began with an initial pool of over 60 schools. To narrow the pool, we applied the rating and ranking methodology above, using data from College Navigator, U.S. News & World Report, and each school's website. In cases of a tie, the schools offering the more affordable online doctoral degrees received the higher rankings.
1. University of the Cumberlands
Established in 1888 as a ministerial preparatory school called Williamsburg Institute, University of the Cumberlands now supports nearly 12,000 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees across several disciplines. Cumberlands offers online doctorates in business administration, information technology, counselor education and supervision, and educational leadership.
The doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in counselor education and supervision offers specializations in addiction, advanced counseling, and leadership. Degree-seekers can earn the Ph.D. in information technology completely online. The university also offers an executive Ph.D. in information technology with mandatory weekend residencies (one weekend each semester). Business administration doctoral candidates can choose to pursue a research-oriented Ph.D. program or a more practice-based doctor of business administration (DBA). The doctorate in educational leadership offers several specialty content areas, including health science, information systems, criminal justice, and student personnel services.
University of the Cumberlands is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
2. Johns Hopkins University
Founded in 1876 Johns Hopkins University, enrolls more than 24,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees across nine academic divisions. JHU offers online doctorates in several fields, including nursing, engineering, and computer science.
JHU offers both a research-oriented Ph.D. and a practice-based doctor of education (Ed.D.) program. Students can pursue the Ed.D. online on a part-time basis. The Ph.D. is only available as a full-time onsite program. The online doctorate in engineering covers civil engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering. JHU offers an online dual degree option that combines the fields of nursing and business. The doctor of nursing practice (DNP)/master of business administration (MBA) program follows a cohort model.
JHU also offers several online doctoral programs that follow a hybrid format, including public health, molecular microbiology and immunology, environmental health sciences, and epidemiology.
Johns Hopkins University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
3. Concordia University Chicago
Although Concordia University Chicago offers undergraduate and graduate degrees across several fields, the school started as a small college for teachers founded by the Lutheran Church in 1864.
CUC offers online doctorates in business administration and education. Students pursuing a DBA can choose from four specializations: innovations in healthcare management, strategic leadership, innovations in human resources, and marketing innovations. The online DBA program begins the dissertation process early. Learners choose a preliminary topic as soon as they begin their doctoral studies.
CUC offers both a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. in leadership in several areas, including education technology, health and human performance, gerontology, and sports leadership.
Concordia University Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
4. Regent University
Established in Virginia Beach in 1978 with an initial enrollment of 77 students, Regent University now supports a student population of nearly 10,500. Regent comprises seven schools and two colleges.
Degree-seekers can pursue online doctorates in several fields, including nursing, business and leadership, and psychology and counseling. Students can earn a Ph.D. in education or an Ed.D. Both programs support four specialization areas: higher education leadership and management, Christian education leadership, K-12 school leadership, and advanced educational leadership. Students can complete these programs entirely online.
Some of Regent's online doctoral programs require an onsite residency, including Ph.D. programs in organizational leadership, communication, healthcare leadership, and counselor education and supervision.
Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
5. Nova Southeastern University
Although Nova Southeastern University was officially established in 1994 after a series of consolidations and mergers, the school can trace its roots 30 years earlier to the founding of the Nova University of Advanced Technology in 1964. Today, NSU serves more than 20,000 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees across several academic disciplines.
NSU offers online doctorates in several fields, including computer science, criminal justice, speech-language pathology, and nursing. Many of the university's online doctoral programs offer specializations. For example, the Ph.D. in conflict analysis and resolution features four specializations: interpersonal conflict, community-based conflict, conflict in organizations, and global conflict.
Some fields allow degree-seekers to pursue either a research-oriented degree or a practice-based program in their field, such as nursing, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.
Nova Southeastern University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
6. Brandman University
Brandman University's focus on adult learners goes back to its founding in 1958. As an extension of Chapman University, the school was established to provide for the educational needs of service members at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Today, Brandman enrolls more than 8,700 students and offers two online doctorates: the DNP and the Ed.D.
Brandman offers its DNP as a hybrid program. Students can enroll in the program with either a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or a master of science in nursing (MSN). Learners enrolled in BSN-to-DNP programs can specialize in one of two nurse practitioner (NP) fields: psychiatric mental health NP or family/across the lifespan NP. The DNP programs follow a cohort model of education and require students to complete clinical hours prior to earning the degree.
Brandman University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
7. University of Southern California
When the University of Southern California opened in 1880, it enrolled 53 students and maintained a 10-member faculty. Today, USC supports more than 48,000 undergraduate and graduate students and a faculty with over 4,600 full-time teachers.
USC offers online doctorates in education and teaching, physical therapy, and social work. USC's online doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program is the country's top-ranked graduate physical therapy program. Learners can pursue the DPT either as a hybrid degree or as a completely residential program. USC offers the degree only on a full-time basis. Students typically graduate within three years. Degree-seekers complete the program's clinical experience portion in their home communities or in other preferred sites throughout the country.
University of Southern California is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
8. George Washington University
Chartered by an act of Congress in 1821, George Washington University is now the largest institution of higher learning in the nation's capital. GW enrolls over 26,000 students, comprises three campuses, and offers more than 70 programs of study at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.
GW offers online doctoral degrees in engineering management, occupational therapy, nursing, and systems engineering. Students pursuing a DNP can choose from six specializations, including family NP, adult-gerontology primary care, health policy, and executive leadership. GW also offers an online Ph.D. in nursing, which is a more research-oriented program compared to the practice-based DNP.
George Washington University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
9. Andrews University
Established in 1874 with 12 students and one teacher, Andrews University now boasts over 4,700 students, maintains a 228-member faculty, and comprises five academic colleges. Andrews offers more than 200 programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.
Andrews offers online doctorates in education and nursing. Students can pursue either a practice-based Ed.D. or a research-oriented Ph.D. in educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, higher education administration, or leadership.
The online DNP program at Andrews accepts applicants with either an undergraduate nursing degree or an MSN. The school's BSN-to-DNP program comprises 65 credits. Learners can complete the program in 4.5 years. The MSN-to-DNP degree comprises 56 credits and takes students 3.5 years to complete. Andrews also offers an online DNP program for advanced practice registered nurses consisting of 40 credits.
Andrews University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
10. Wilmington University
Starting out in 1968 with just 194 students, Wilmington University today supports a student population of more than 20,000 and comprises seven academic colleges. Degree-seekers can choose from more than 125 online programs at the certificate, associate, undergraduate, and graduate levels.
WilmU offers online doctorates in education, nursing, business administration, and social science. Learners can pursue an online Ed.D. in one of three areas: organizational leadership, learning, and innovation; educational leadership; or higher education leadership and innovation. WilmU offers a DNP in leadership and in advanced practice. Core DNP courses follow seven-week delivery schedules. Students enroll in one course at a time. Project courses follow a regular 15-week semester schedule. Online learners pay the same tuition as in-state on-campus enrollees, no matter where they live.
Wilmington University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).