Masters in Higher Education Administration and Policy Gene Lowe
MSHE comprehensive curriculum prepares students for myriad higher education roles.

We believe that students' own passions and experiences should guide their learning. Therefore, our courses offer flexibility for students to examine areas of particular interest within each topic. The Master's Project and internship experience(s) give students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the higher education issues that are most important to them.

The master's degree requires twelve courses: five core courses, one leadership course, three courses taken for the master's research project, the internship course (unless waived), and two electives (three electives if the internship course is waived).

Our curriculum is designed to expose students to the full institutional and social context of the American higher education system. The course of study helps students to consider all of the important factors and stakeholders that will impact their professional practice. Experience with a wide range of careers and functions within higher education gives graduates career flexibility and helps them discover what types of positions most closely fit their interests.

Proseminar in Higher Education 

This introductory course focuses on current and ongoing issues in the American higher education system. Students are introduced to a variety of areas of professional endeavor, such as enrollment management, student affairs, athletics administration and others. They explore major issues and policies, including affirmative action, college access, and governance and mission of different institutional types. They also have the opportunity to meet senior-level professionals in a variety of higher education positions.

The College Student

This introductory course explores the characteristics of today’s college students and reviews the literature on student development theory, which describes the developmental challenges (e.g., cognitive, psychosocial and identity) facing college students and how students change while in college. A secondary focus looks at how multiple identities influence student development. Students have opportunities to apply theory to practice.

Law and Ethics in Higher Education

Legal professionals guide students through legal and ethical issues of higher education administration. Topics include the framework of federal, state and local laws that apply to higher education institutions; the legal difference between public and private institutions; tort liability and negligence; constitutional rights; civil rights; discrimination and harassment; FERPA and student privacy; discipline; affirmative action; athletics and Title IX; student disability accommodations; campus crime; homeland security issues; and off-campus study programs. 

Higher Education Policy 

This course examines theories about the public policy process and their applications in analyzing policy areas of major importance to higher education (e.g., student aid, tax incentives for charitable giving, scientific research and affirmative action). It provides future higher education administrators with a basic understanding of higher education policy and its impact on the institutional policies and operations of colleges and universities in the United States.

Choose ONE of the following:

Budgeting and Finance in Higher Education 

The budget process in colleges and universities is addressed comprehensively, along with the impact of budget activities on all areas of institutional planning and operations. Students enhance their ability to write and speak effectively about budget- and finance-related issues.

Assessment in Higher Education

Students examine how assessment can be used to improve higher education. The content includes a review of a variety of methodological approaches as well as the public policy context that is bringing assessment to the forefront of the nation’s educational agenda. Students develop a framework for thinking about the circumstances under which assessment and evaluation can be successfully conducted to promote educational quality.

An important part of the MSHE student experience is to develop theoretical frameworks around leadership ranging from the individual to the institutional level. Students take one of the following three leadership courses (they may take additional leadership courses within the program or across Northwestern as elective courses)

Structure, Governance and Leadership in Higher Education

This course provides students an opportunity to understand the structure and governance of colleges and universities and the characteristics of leadership in these institutions. Students explore the potential and limits of presidential leadership as well as competing and complementary forces, both internal and external.

Developing & Coaching Leadership: Fundamentals of Learning Strategies

The objective of this course is to learn how to develop leadership for students and with others, especially in the context of higher education. It is organized to allow students to answer three questions: (1) What are the fundamentals of effective leadership development? (2) What learning strategies work best for my own leadership development? (3) How can I effectively coach and develop leadership in others?

Advancing Diversity and Inclusion Through Intentional Leadership and Organizational Change

To effectively lead initiatives that support the needs of higher education organizations and their diverse students, faculty, staff, employees, customers, and stakeholders, we must have a solid understanding of how individual identities and institutional/organizational and structural inequities impact experiences. In this course, students are expected to analyze and discuss bias, power, privilege, and marginalization on individual and systemic levels. This course focuses on understanding and practicing the critical elements of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) work through assessment, strategic planning, initiative alignment, and influencing organizational change.

Inquiry and reflection are essential tools for educators. That's why all students in Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy complete a Master's Research Project, which involves conducting original research on a topic of genuine interest related to higher education. Within the class, students work with a smaller cohort for the duration of the Master’s Research Project. Cohort team members read each other's proposals and project drafts, discuss research articles, and provide feedback, encouragement and support.

Research I: Question Development and Literature Review

Students identify the central question that will guide their research. Often, the research question grows out of a student's own experiences in college, at work or during an internship. Students then complete a literature review to assess previous research and create a data collection plan to help answer the Master's Project question.

Research II: Research Methodology and Data Collection

Students learn data collection methods, including surveys, interviews, observation and archival analysis. Students then collect data and begin to summarize and analyze that collected data.

Research III: Analysis, Interpretation and Dissemination

Students learn how to systematically analyze those data. The final course of the Master's Project sequence culminates with a written research report and formal presentation of findings.

Internships allow you to connect classroom learning to real-world implications in professional practice. Work opportunities can be labeled as Internships or Graduate Assistantships, depending on the office, but no matter what they are called, internships should give you an opportunity to gain practical experience, set goals for your professional development, reflect on your desired professional setting, and prepare for job interviews. The internship course is intended for students to develop professional skills and experiences associated with their internship environments.

*Students with previous or current work experience in Higher Education may waive the internship requirement.

Students take two electives (or three, if the internship is waived). While Higher Education Administration and Policy offers elective courses each year, students may also take a variety of graduate-level courses at Northwestern University as an elective, provided they can explain the relevance of the course to their studies. Many students study topics such as athletics administration, organizational development, non-profit management, counseling, sociology, psychology and statistics. Not all elective courses are offered every year, and new special topics courses may be offered.

History and Philosophy of Higher Education

This introductory course surveys and assesses the evolution of American higher education from the founding of Harvard College to present patterns of virtual and distance learning. It takes into consideration historical and institutional contexts, including the role of religion, government and the private sector in shaping both elite and accessible forms of higher education opportunity.

Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 

Students explore current issues of learning and teaching in higher education, enabling them to analyze and critique applicable concepts, policies and practices. How college students learn is examined, along with strategies faculty can employ to maximize learning. Students apply models and theories of learning and teaching to real environments. Students also discuss contemporary issues related to faculty, including tension between teaching and research.

The Comprehensive Community College

This thorough overview of the American community college covers mission and functions, students and personnel, finance, governance and administration, instructional programs and outcomes. Students examine policy issues including the educational, economic, political and social forces shaping the role of the community college in American education.

Comparative Higher Education: Impact of Globalization

Students explore higher education systems of other countries and regions with an emphasis on how each system is confronting the rapid changes of globalization. Particular focus is on the European community, India, China and selected countries in South America and Africa.

Crisis Management & Mental Health Issues

This course addresses different crises and mental health issues on university campuses. Students examine the concept of crisis (types and stages), the relationship to legal obligations, communication, and the prevalent mental health issues on U.S. campuses. Real case studies will be discussed using a crisis response model.

Enrollment Management Theory and Practice

Students are introduced to enrollment management as it is practiced in institutions of higher learning in the U.S., with a special emphasis on the admissions process at selective schools. While providing a broad overview, this course will engage students in a “deep-dive” of contemporary and controversial topics including access and equity, college rankings, bias and discrimination, standardized tests and “non-cognitive” variables, race and ethnicity in selective admission, financial aid and enrollment management tools.

Assessment in Higher Education

Students examine how assessment can be used to improve higher education. The content includes a review of a variety of methodological approaches as well as the public policy context that is bringing assessment to the forefront of the nation’s educational agenda. Students develop a framework for thinking about the circumstances under which assessment and evaluation can be successfully conducted to promote educational quality.

Global Issues and Strategic Partnerships

This course examines the "global university" and the role of higher education institutions in addressing global priorities through international partnerships. We analyze the leadership of administrators and faculty in creating the agenda for internationalization and the support of offices throughout campus. Case studies and institutional strategies in theory and practice will focus on transformative partnership models that advance reciprocity and academic quality. Governmental and non-governmental organizations with programs directed to international higher education also will be considered. Recent adjustments made in the field during the COVID-19 pandemic will be discussed.

Degree Options

Full-Time 1-Year Cohort

when you start

Summer or Fall

time to degree

12 months

internships available

courses per quarter

3 courses


when you start

Any Quarter

time to degree

2-3 years


internships available*

courses per quarter

1-2 courses

*Students with previous or current work experience in Higher Education may waive the internship requirement

Contact Us

MS in Higher Education Administration and Policy Program

1800 Sherman Avenue, Suite 7300
Evanston, IL 60208
Northwestern University

Phone: 847/491-7526