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Degree Programs

The Educational Leadership Program offers a variety of online and residential degrees and certifications that can help you succeed academically and take your place among the leaders of educational institutions around the world.  We offer three separate graduate degrees, a joint Ph.D/JD degree, and certifications in becoming a Principal and/or a Superintendent (called a Letter of Eligibility).

Our graduates hold positions as:

  • Principals
  • Supervisors
  • Superintendents of Public and Independent Schools
  • Intermediate Unit Officials
  • State and Federal Agency Administrators & Staff
  • Professors of Educational Leadership
  • Research and Development Personnel

What We Offer

Master's Degrees (M.Ed.) 

Quality educational leadership is important to the overall success of an individual school or school system. Strong leaders are key to high-performing schools; they help orchestrate school reforms, and serve as motivators to fellow teachers and students.

If you are a K-12 teacher who wants to broaden your leadership potential, expand your knowledge about schools, teachers, and student learning, and renew your passion to work on behalf of public education as you meet professional development goals, Penn State's educational leadership master's program is for you.  Our program offers degree programs that can be taken online or on campus.  All of our Master's degrees are a 30-credit M.Ed. program.

General Educational Leadership-- this is our core M.Ed program that will help you elevate your knowledge about educational institutions.  This program has seven course strands:

  1. Leadership & Administration
  2. Organizational Theory & Practice
  3. Diversity & Equity
  4. Educational Policy & Politics
  5. Law & Ethics
  6. Educational Resource Allocation
  7. Data Use & Research

School Leadership-- using the general educational program as a foundation, this emphasis in our M.Ed. program is geared towards students who are interested in being school leaders. Embedded in this program is the Pennsylvania principal certification coursework.

Teacher Leadership-- using the general educational program as a foundation, this emphasis in our M.Ed. program is geared towards students who are interested in being departmental level leaders and mentors. This emphasis does not lead to principal certification and is created and defined through the interaction of student and adviser.

Our goal is to offer a range of distinctive options to students that will help them fulfill their leadership potential.  Each program consists of a collection of courses that student can choose to build their academic track. 

Penn State is an Act 48-approved provider for Pennsylvania educators, so the courses for the master of education in educational leadership may count toward professional development hours.

How to Apply to our Master's Degree programs


Doctoral Degrees - Ph.D. and D.Ed.

We are proud to offer two doctoral degrees through the Educational Leadership Program: the D.Ed. and the Ph.D.  In general, the D.Ed. emphasizes professional practice in educational leadership (students are generally go on to be Principals and Superintendents), while the Ph.D. emphasizes research and scholarly work (students generally go on to be researchers, college faculty). While many requirements are the same across both programs, there are criteria specific to each. Admissions requirements are the same across both programs.

The Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. program is the most flexible course program because it does not require a fixed total number of credit hours for completion. A candidate’s specific program is determined in consultation with your academic adviser but students do have to complete at least 18 credits in Education Leadership courses.  Other courses outside of Education Leadership is strongly encouraged those courses enhance and support the your research interests.  All of our students must also complete a three-credit course referred to as Pro-seminar which typically meets during the fall semester and serves as an orientation to the program and an introduction to program faculty, their different research, teaching, and service activities.  Another core course is Review of Research in Educational Leadership offered spring semester each academic year.

The Ph.D. program coursework basic requirements include:

EDLDR Courses (includes Proseminar and Research, Policy and Evaluation) Minimum of 18 credit hours
Research Minimum of 12 credit hours
Supporting Field Minimum of 9 credit hours. (NOTE: Students may substitute research courses for Supporting Field courses.)
Dissertation Research As needed (typically a minimum of 9 credit hours)

How to Apply to our Ph.D. program


The D.Ed. Program

Our D.Ed. is a professional degree program focused on concepts and issues of educational practice. This degree is for anyone who want careers as educational leaders in schools and other education service organizations (e.g., superintendents, principals, educational specialists). This is a relatively structured program of study requiring a minimum of 90 credits of coursework (some of which may include previous Master’s-level work). The final dissertation, thesis, or project should demonstrate thoughtful application of theories and concepts to problems of practice in educational leadership.

The basic requirements of the D.Ed. program coursework include:


Major Field: 48
General Studies/Minor: 15
Research: 9
Dissertation Research: 15

At least 30 of the required 90 credits must be earned at the University Park Campus.

Off Campus and Transfer Credit

From the Graduate Bulletin:  A maximum of 30 credits beyond the baccalaureate at an accredited school not granting the doctorate in the student’s major program may be accepted by the Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirement for a D.Ed. degree at Penn State.

The accepted credits must be no more than five years old, appear on an official graduate transcript, be of at least B quality, and be deemed acceptable to the student’s academic adviser. Requests to transfer courses should be submitted and approved early in the student’s doctoral program. Additional restrictions may apply to transfer credit. For additional information, visit

Program Plan

D.Ed. students, working closely with their academic adviser, will design a program plan for degree completion early in their program. This program plan will indicate which courses will fulfill all course requirements in the Major Field Area, as well as the General Studies/Minor Area, and the Research requirement. The purpose of the coursework is to provide the breadth and depth of knowledge in the field of educational leadership, to prepare students to pass their written comprehensive examination, and to develop the research skills to conceptualize, develop, and complete a satisfactory thesis or project.

How to Apply to our D.Ed program


Joint Degree Program with Penn State Law School (Ph.D./J.D.)

The Penn State Law and Educational Leadership Joint Degree Program is a great way to blend your interest in the law and the issues facing education. This joint program is offering a path to a variety of degrees including a Juris Doctor, a Master of Education, a Doctor of Education, or a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership.

What this program offers

  1. Compelling and relevant courses
  2. Ability to transfer Educational Leadership credits toward the J.D. degree
  3. A mixture of prescribed courses and the ability to choose your course sequence
  4. Advisors from both Educational Leadership and Penn State Law
  5. Active student groups where you can do important work and make enduring connections

Examples of courses you will take:

Law and Education (taught in the College of Education)
Civil Procedure
Criminal Law
Applied Legal Analysis and Writing
Civil Rights & Education (taught in the College of Education)
Constitutional Law

Educational Leadership courses include:

Introduction to Educational Leadership
Economics of Education
Collective Bargianing in Education
Educational Politics in the United States
Leadership and Diversity
Theory and Current issues in Public Bargaining
Ethics in Education
Schools as Organizations

Comparative and International Education

This dual degree program blends Educational Leadership courses with courses from around the Education Policy Studies that focus on international education and topics that apply to US schools and international school systems.

How to Apply to our Comparative and International Education program


This dual degree program focuses on the power of demography and it's impact on education.

How to Apply to our Demography program

Principal Certification (Online)

Our Principal Certification Program is aligned with the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership standards (PIL), as well as the standards of CAEP (Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation) formerly known as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Penn State's World Campus Graduate Certificate for Principalship site provides more information. The program has three important features:

  1. A standardized Principal Certification Program is offered so that all students receive a consistent, high quality, and uniform program.
  2. The specific designated courses cover all national and PIL (Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership) standards.  All course assignments and student results are aligned with these standards.
  3. A student management system using an electronic portfolio (Taskstream) is utilized to allow all students to maintain a record of their progress through the Principal Certification program. This provides documentary evidence of student proficiency in all related standard elements, an evaluation of student progress, and an evaluation of program outcomes.

How to Apply to our Principal program 


Superintendent Letter of Eligibility

Our program preparing students for the Letter of Eligibility for the Superintendent/Assistant Superintendent/ Intermediate Unit Director has been evaluated by NCATE/ELCC and is in compliance with their current requirements as well as all requirements by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The Letter of Eligibility program is offered only at University Park and has three important features:

  1. A standardized Letter of Eligibility Program so that all students receive a consistent, high quality, and uniform program.
  2. A specific set of courses that explicitly cover all state and national standards. This requires aligning course assignments and student results with ELCC and PIL standards.
  3. A student management system using an electronic portfolio is utilized to allow all students to maintain a record of their progress through the program and provides documentary evidence of student proficiency in all ELCC and PIL standard elements, evaluation of student progress, and evaluation of program outcomes.

How to Apply to our Letter of Eligibility program