Master’s in Higher Education Leadership Curriculum

Our two-year Master’s in Higher Education Leadership (MHEL) program will prepare you to challenge the current state of higher education and lead the change needed to support the next generation of college students. Courses encourage you to analyze and critique the history and policy of higher education, identify ways to move the needle on belonging, diversity and equity initiatives and investigate leadership and innovation techniques.

The MHEL requires completion of 10 credits including eight courses (4 core, 4 electives) and four half-credit assistantship or internship placements. In the spring of their second year, each student will also complete a graduate seminar tied to an assistantship or internship placement.

Core Courses

MHEL 501 Student Development, Identity and Belonging: College student development theories are often used to explain, predict, and plan for “college-aged” behavioral choices and learning needs. The American education system has not always been considered a professional career path. The professionalization of “college personnel” can be understood in terms of the evolution of the United States in general: who had access to higher education? what identities were accepted and supported, or suppressed? what type of identities were welcome at specific institutions of higher education? Answers to these questions help us understand how college student development theories may overgeneralize the experiences of “traditional-aged” college students and deserve to be critiqued from a variety of lenses and perspectives. This course will provide an overview of widely accepted theories while asking students to evaluate the applicability of these theories to a wide variety of students attending college today. In addition, the course asks students to apply the (de)constructed theories to their previous, current professional experiences while forecasting how the theories may apply to the future careers.

MHEL 502 Leadership and Innovation in Higher Education: Today, institutions of higher education exist in a rapidly changing landscape that is characterized by political, social and economic turmoil.  Its leaders must drive innovation by fostering inclusive workplaces with diverse teams, cultivating organizational cultures that allow for creative ideas and evidence-based solutions and tackling significant issues on an individual, group and institutional level.  This course offers a fusion of contemporary leadership concepts that can be applied in higher education contexts along with essential innovation principles necessary for undertaking higher education’s most urgent concerns.  Embedded within the liberal arts learning, this course is constructed with concepts, theories and models from a multitude of disciplines and is designed for emerging higher education leaders who want to strengthen their ability to generate ideas, solve problems, affect and manage change, think creatively, develop strategic plans and implement high-impact programs.

MHEL 503 Problems of Practice in Higher Education: Educational settings are being newly defined by technology and globalization.  Particularly, at small, liberal arts schools, institutions are trying to carve out their unique niche in an every-changing landscape.  This course is a study of the varied roles delegated and assumed by higher education leaders. Essential characteristics of these leaders will be to examine in-depth problems of practice. Special emphasis will be on recruitment, enrollment, retention, and overall cost, which are multi-dimensional challenges that small, private institutions face. Although many of us do not want to focus on the business side of education – we need higher education professionals to understand how their decision making, work with students, focus on student success, etc., informs the bottom line of the institution. “Best practices” in these areas will be covered as students examine these problems of practice.   

MHEL 504 MHE Project Course: The master’s project is a graduate level integrative experience that addresses issues of educational relevance. The project will be undertaken collaboratively with the MHEL cohort and will analyze an issue in higher education from multiple perspectives. The master’s project includes an investigation of the scholarly literature on an educational topic or problem as well as an applied component that actively engages graduate students in a scholarly approach to understanding and investigating a set of education-related issues. The project typically includes active engagement and investigation around a selected topic, data collection, and an application of systematic techniques of analysis and interpretation. The master’s project must be presented before the end of the semester at one or more public forums (e.g., Senior Symposium, Engaged Scholarship Forum, academic conference, stakeholder’s meeting). 

Graduate Seminar: In the spring of your second year, as part of an assistantship or internship, you will be required to attend a weekly seminar that helps you reflect on and analyze your placement experience. Career development and readiness plans will be incorporated into the seminar to help you transition to the workforce.

Elective Courses

MHEL 551 History and Politics of Higher Education: This course surveys the perennial forces (social, political, and economic) that have shaped America’s colleges and universities from the colonial period to the present.  Students will build a historical perspective and political acumen when considering topics such as how tenure came to be, why so many colleges are predominately white, how political activism became a stable on campuses and what generationally drives enrollment. The course is divided into three sections. Section 1 provides a brief introduction to key social science theories that can explain the relationship between higher education and society at any point in time. Section 2 is dedicated to the study of historical issues in higher education. Section 3 focuses on contemporary issues such “how colleges work”, specifically, the role of faculty (tenure and promotion), administration, leadership and board of trustees. Also, how colleges are organized, politics on the college campus, and the influence of internal and external constituents (such as Title IX, state policies, campus charters, NCAA, accreditation).

MHEL 552 Diverse Students on the College Campus: This course considers issues of college student diversity broadly defined to include race, ethnicity, culture, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and ability. Through an interdisciplinary social science lens, we will examine the following questions: How do we experience and understand diversity and difference? How do diversity and differences shape systems that affect our college campus communities? Students will explore the contours of difference and the dynamics of diversity, equity, and inclusion in domestic and global contexts. Building on standard models of multicultural competence that emphasize knowledge, awareness, and skills, students will be introduced to cultural humility, culturally specific approaches to practice, and frameworks for equity and empowerment.  Additionally, this course will focus on multicultural competency development – of all students, their identities, and their experiences on the college campus. Students will benefit from the course where it examines hidden biases, use of microaggressions, campus climate, and how racism negatively impacts all students. The course will also address the decolonization of higher education. 

MHEL 553 History of Disability in Higher Education: This graduate level course is an overview of historical perspectives of disability using a social justice paradigm for analysis. Historical trends in institutions (e.g., schools, governmental agencies) are presented. Conceptual perspectives such as social justice and oppression are reviewed in relationship to legal issues. Federal and state laws are presented, especially the educational significance of these laws.  This course has a larger goal of deconstructing concepts of normalcy and deviance as social and educational mechanisms. Our goals are to think critically about science and medicine in relation to claims about human differences, and to deepen our understanding of the history of disability and ableism. How does disability as a category of analysis inform other social categories such as class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality? We’ll focus especially on the interconnected social constructions of disability and race. In addition, this course focuses on the historical significance of: the evolution of the specific terms and labels in the special education and special service fields as related to religious, social/cultural, medical, psychological and educational fields; past and present philosophies related to educational definitions, labeling issues and identification of individuals with disabilities; past and present philosophies related to educational definitions, labeling issues and identification of individuals with disabilities; historical legal treatment of individuals with disabilities; current legal mandates and policies that influence higher education; social movements and their influence on perspectives toward deviancy within our society.

MHEL 554 Social Contexts and College Student Identities: An individual’s social identity indicates who they are in terms of the groups to which they belong. Social identity groups are usually defined by some physical, social, and mental characteristics of individuals. Examples of social identities are race/ethnicity, gender, social class/socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, and religion/religious beliefs.  As classrooms and other university learning communities become increasingly diverse, issues related to individuals’ social identities may surface. Emerging practitioners in higher education, regardless of department or college, should be aware of and acknowledge how their social identities as well as those of their students impact the teaching and learning experience.  Students who identify with one or more minoritized/marginalized social groups may experience learning environments in ways that can impact their learning process and overall experiences in classrooms and other educational spaces. For example, studies on stereotype threat provide evidence of the link between the salience of a student’s membership in a minoritized/marginalized social group and their academic performance. And, while college students from all backgrounds report experiencing imposter syndrome, its impact on maladaptive psychological adjustment (e.g., depression) is exacerbated for individuals who identify with an ethnic or racial minoritized group.  This course focuses on the social and contextual influences of higher education, from a learning, teaching, research and policy perspective. We will examine the role of race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, and identity in the ways individuals and groups influence and are influenced by our higher education system.

MHEL 555 Higher Education and the Law: This course explores the relationship between legal frameworks and higher education institutions in the United States and globally. With a heightened focus on civil rights laws, the course examines constitutional, statutory, and regulatory frameworks impacting higher education. Substantive areas of law covered include the ADA, Title IX, the First Amendment, Equal Protection, Title VI and Title VII, and analogous state laws. The course examines the impact of these laws and structures on topical areas in the higher ed sector including equitable access and admissions, speech on campus, campus safety, global education, student rights, student mental health, governance, fundraising, and other emerging/novel legal challenges. Through case studies and discussions, students will develop a nuanced understanding of how legal principles intersect with the higher education landscape, with a particular focus on the impact of the law on social justice, diversity, and the fundamental mission of higher education.

Other Possible Electives:

MHEL 556 The College Student and the Law

MHEL 557 Administrative Leadership in Higher Education

MHEL 558 Institutional Research and Analytics

Assistantship/Internship Requirement

Students will be required to participate in a graduate assistantship or internship each semester for a total of four half-credit placements.

The Colleges will offer specific graduate assistantship and internship positions within areas such as Residence Life, ODEI, Athletics, the Centennial Center, CTL, CCESL, Advancement, Admissions, Institutional Research, Global Education, and Career Services. Graduate students with an assistantship (20 hours per week) will receive a stipend, housing, and a full-tuition scholarship. Students without an assistantship will be required to participate in credit-bearing internships of approximately 12 hours per week. All students will enroll in a 0.5 internship/assistantship credit each semester.

There are two different options for students to participate in this aspect of the program:

  • Graduate Assistantships – one or two placements over two years

    Each assistantship will be a one-year placement within a specific office or program. Assistantships will provide graduate students with professional experiences that complement and enhance their coursework. Most assistantships will be renewed on an annual basis for a two-year term; however, some students will be able to do two different placements in two years. Assistantship placements could potentially be fulfilled at nearby institutions.

  • Internships (Self-Pay Students) – one to four internship placements over two years

    Each internship will be a placement within a specific office or program in a manner similar to the graduate assistantships. Students with considerable life experience can apply for up to two semesters worth of internship credit to be granted for prior experience.

Part-time (Self-Pay Student) and HWS Employees

Students may elect to participate in the program on a part-time (1 course per semester) basis at the discretion of the Director of the program.

Current, full-time HWS employees can pursue this degree either part-time or full-time. Employees should review the criteria and process for tuition remission.  Mostly likely, HWS employees could enroll on a part-time basis, one course per semester, at no charge. Full-time employees could take the program on a full-time basis (two courses plus an internship) and receive a discounted rate for courses not covered by tuition remission. As part of your application process, we will review the pathways for completion. In most situations, an HWS employee can count their full-time employment as their internship.