For the past few years, online advanced-degree programs have been touted as a convenient way for teachers to meet their requirements for certification and ongoing professional development. Now, prospective K-12 administrators may benefit from such programs, too.

Anyone who wants to become a principal or superintendent–but has held off from earning an advanced degree in education administration because they were pressed for time or live in a remote area–now can fulfill the certification requirements in at least 20 states from an online university.

Supporters of the online program say it could alleviate the shortage of school administrators that many states now face. But critics say an online program is no substitute for the rigors of a traditional program.

Capella University, an internet-based university headquartered in Minnesota, offers both a masters and doctorate program in education administration. In June, the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education announced that Capella University’s program meets Arizona’s requirements for certifying principals and superintendents.

Because of the state’s reciprocity agreements, Arizona’s certification is valid in 20 other states, including Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas.

But just because an online program meets certification requirements doesn’t mean its graduates will be able to get a job as a superintendent or principal, said Joe Schneider, executive secretary of the National Policy Board for Educational Administration.

“Online programs are a long way from preparing tomorrow’s principals and superintendents for the complex job of running our schools,” said Schneider, who also is deputy executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “I don’t think you’re going to see school systems running out to hire these people simply because Arizona approves the program.”

Capella University maintains its online education administration program can help alleviate the shortage of K-12 administrators, because it provides a convenient way to reach those who are interested in pursuing administrative careers.

“To do the program online at your desk, it lets you simplify your life and lets you reach your professional goals,” said Elizabeth Bruch, dean of Capella University’s school of education and professional development.

During the next decade, more than half of the superintendents now in America’s school districts are going to have to be replaced, said Barbara Knisely, AASA’s public information manager. “There are 14,000 school superintendents, and you’re looking at half of that number being replaced.”

Schneider doubts whether online programs like the one from Capella University will have any impact on the number of people who enter superintendent or principal positions. “More than 50 percent of people enrolled in these programs never become school administrators,” he said.

In his experience, he said, mostly classroom teachers enroll in online degree programs because they want to earn a convenient, comfortable, and low-cost masters degree.

“Those aren’t the people who want to be school administrators. They’re just people who want a masters degree to get a pay raise,” Schneider said. “Those aren’t the people we want running our schools.”

An informal poll of the students enrolled in Capella University’s online program seemed to refute Schneider’s claim, as respondents overwhelmingly said they aspire to K-12 administrative positions.

Barbara Smith is a language arts supervisor in a New Jersey school district and a 27-year veteran of teaching. She said her goal is to become a curriculum director or principal of a small school in New Jersey.

Smith enrolled in the program “because of the flexible hours and availability of the courses. There are no schools of higher education locally, so I must travel an hour or more to get to classes. Also, the class times often begin before my day ends.”

Schneider said a good education administration program should be rigorous and offer a lot of practical experience.

“We’ve got a lot of lousy traditional degree programs. … If we are going to add online ones, they really have to impress us,” he said. “They’ve really got to convince us before we endorse them.”

Capella University has a total enrollment of 3,000 students; there are 287 students in the masters in education administration program and 421 in the doctorate.


Capella University

American Association of School Administrators