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Best online master's in organizational leadership 2021: Top picks

Organizational leadership teaches learners how to inspire others. Read on for our rankings of top-notch online organizational leadership master's degrees.

Have you ever wondered about the difference between management and leadership? An organizational leadership degree answers that question: leadership sets an organization's vision, while management carries it out. 

To form a strong company vision, leaders benefit from the strong communication skills and organizational behavior knowledge taught in a master's in organizational leadership degree. Organizational leadership deals with organizational behavior, psychology, and business fundamentals.

 Students majoring in organizational leadership develop communication and leadership skills that can lead to jobs at the executive level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that training and development managers earn $115,640 annually, on average. 

Read on for our rankings of the best online master's in organizational leadership programs, and some guidance for how to pick the right organizational leadership program for you.

The best online organizational leadership master's degrees

We weighed programs' admission rates, graduation rates, reputation, affordability, and more to bring you a list of the best online organizational leadership master's degrees. For more details on how we chose these schools, check out ZDNet's ranking methodology

Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Scorecard.

1. Michigan State University

East Lansing, Michigan

About the program: MSU's online master's in management, strategy, and leadership includes 30 credits. The program emphasizes hands-on learning and caters mostly to working students.

  • Acceptance rate: 71%
  • Graduation rate: 80%
  • Annual net price: $19,173
  • Time to completion: One to two years
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Michigan State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

2. University of Colorado Boulder

Boulder, Colorado

About the program: CU Boulder's 30-credit online master's in organizational leadership follows a cohort model. The program offers five tracks: organizational leadership, strategic leadership, human resources, leading innovation, and organizational communication.

  • Acceptance rate: 78%
  • Graduation rate: 69%
  • Annual net price: $21,680
  • Time to completion: One to two years (Accelerated pace offered)
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: University of Colorado Boulder is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

3. Lincoln Christian University

Lincoln, Illinois

About the program: LCU's fully online master's in organizational leadership caters to working and nontraditional learners. Course topics include organizational leadership development, cultural expressions of organizational leadership, and dynamics of change and conflict.

  • Acceptance rate: Not available
  • Graduation rate: 55%
  • Annual net price: $18,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Lincoln Christian University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4. Pepperdine University

Malibu, California

About the program: Pepperdine's online master's in management and leadership follows a cohort model and requires two years' relevant work experience in management. The program concludes with a community-based capstone project. 

  • Acceptance rate: 32%
  • Graduation rate: 84%
  • Annual net price: $37,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years (Accelerated pace offered)
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Pepperdine University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

5. University of Wisconsin Platteville

Platteville, Wisconsin

About the program: UW Platteville's catalog currently features a 30- to 39-credit online master's in organizational change leadership. The program offers four optional areas of emphasis: healthcare, human resources, project management, and safety risk control.

  • Acceptance rate: 85%
  • Graduation rate: 53%
  • Annual net price: $16,000
  • Time to completion: Two years
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: University of Wisconsin Platteville is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

6. Creighton University

Omaha, Nebraska

About the program: Creighton's 36-credit online master's organizational leadership requires applicants to present a resume and two years' relevant work or leadership experience. Students can choose an optional concentration in business leadership or healthcare leadership.

  • Acceptance rate: 74%
  • Graduation rate: 76%
  • Annual net price: $31,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Creighton University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

7. John Brown University

Siloam Springs, Arkansas

About the program: JBU's 30-credit online master's in leadership mixes business fundamentals with Christian ethics. Course topics include Christian foundations of business, designing and executing strategies, and leading organizational transformation.

  • Acceptance rate: 76%
  • Graduation rate: 70%
  • Annual net price: $22,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: John Brown University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

8. University of Mary

Bismarck, North Dakota

About the program: Mary's online master's in organizational leadership teaches how to exemplify Benedictine values through business leadership. Course topics include business analytics, executive leadership, and marketing.

  • Acceptance rate: 74%
  • Graduation rate: 55%
  • Annual net price: $17,000
  • Time to completion: Two
  • Minimum GPA: 2.75
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: University of Mary is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

9. Saint Louis University

St. Louis, Missouri

About the program: The Catholic university's 33-credit online master's in leadership and organizational development teaches through assessment, reflections, and projects. Many students can simultaneously earn a graduate certificate without taking additional credits.

  • Acceptance rate: 58%
  • Graduation rate: 69%
  • Annual net price: $28,000
  • Time to completion: Two to three years
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Two
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Saint Louis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

10. Gonzaga University

Spokane, Washington

About the program: Gonzaga's 33-credit online master's in organizational leadership emphasizes critical, strategic, and creative thinking. Optional concentrations include change leadership, global leadership, servant leadership, and strategic and organizational communication.

  • Acceptance rate: 62%
  • Graduation rate: 85%
  • Annual net price: $34,000
  • Time to completion: Two years
  • Minimum GPA: 3.2
  • Enrollment periods per year: Two
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Gonzaga University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

11. University of Northwestern St. Paul

St. Paul, Minnesota

About the program: UNW's 36-credit online master's in organizational leadership teaches leadership skills built on biblical ethics and values. Course topics include business leadership ethics, human resource leadership, and data analysis and decision making.

  • Acceptance rate: 92%
  • Graduation rate: 61%
  • Annual net price: $22,000
  • Time to completion: 18-22 months
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online or blended

Accreditation: University of Northwestern St. Paul is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

12. Concordia University Irvine

Irvine, California

About the program: CUI's 33-credit online master's in organizational leadership takes 12-20 months to complete at a pace of one to two seven-week courses at a time. Elective options include group coaching and systems and project management.

  • Acceptance rate: 71%
  • Graduation rate: 61%
  • Annual net price: $26,000
  • Time to completion: One year (Accelerated pace offered)
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Concordia University Irvine is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

13. Dallas Baptist University

Dallas, Texas

About the program: DBU's online master's in global leadership features concentrations in East Asian studies, international business, and nonprofit organizations.

  • Acceptance rate: 90%
  • Graduation rate: 58%
  • Annual net price: $26,000
  • Time to completion: One year
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Dallas Baptist University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

14. Lipscomb University

Nashville, Tennessee

About the program: The Christian university Lipscomb offers an online master's in business leadership catering to working and nontraditional learners. Course topics include strategic leadership, accounting for leaders, and financial management for leaders.

  • Acceptance rate: 63%
  • Graduation rate: 59%
  • Annual net price: $25,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years
  • Minimum GPA: 2.5
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Lipscomb University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

15. Central Michigan University

Mount Pleasant, Michigan

About the program: CMU offers a 100% online, 33-credit online master's in leadership as a concentration in its administration master's program. Course topics include organizational dynamics and human behavior, strategic leadership, and labor relations issues.

  • Acceptance rate: 70%
  • Graduation rate: 59%
  • Annual net price: $16,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Central Michigan University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

16. Regis University

Denver, Colorado

About the program: Regis University's 30-credit online master's in organizational leadership includes courses in leading in a new era, transformational leadership, and organizational development.

  • Acceptance rate: 71%
  • Graduation rate: 57%
  • Annual net price: $25,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years (Offered at an accelerated pace)
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Regis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

17. Drexel University

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

About the program: Drexel's online catalog includes a 45-credit online master's in education leadership. This program caters to education professionals looking to advance to leadership positions in their workplace.

  • Acceptance rate: 75%
  • Graduation rate: 66%
  • Annual net price: $35,000
  • Time to completion: Two years
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

18. Messiah University

Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

About the program: The Christian university's 30-credit online master's in strategic leadership is designed for recent graduates and established professionals. The program culminates with a capstone project with an organization of your choice.

  • Acceptance rate: 76%
  • Graduation rate: 78%
  • Annual net price: $28,000
  • Time to completion: Two years
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Messiah University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

19. Lewis University

Romeoville, Illinois

About the program: Lewis's online catalog features a 30-credit online master's in organizational leadership. The program caters to students interested in earning Association for Talent Development certification.

  • Acceptance rate: 64%
  • Graduation rate: 67%
  • Annual net price: $19,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years (Offered at an accelerated pace)
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Lewis University is regionally accredited by the HIgher Learning Commission (HLC).

20. Western Governors University

Salt Lake City, Utah

About the program: WGU's 31-credit online master's in management and leadership covers business acumen, leadership, and strategy. The program culminates with a capstone project in leadership and management.

  • Acceptance rate: Not available
  • Graduation rate: 49%
  • Annual net price: $10,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years (Offered at an accelerated pace)
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Western Governors University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

21. Duquesne University

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

About the program: The Catholic university's 30-credit master of science in leadership offers the convenience of self-paced courses. Curriculum topics include leadership for turbulent times, leading mindfully, and valuing a diverse workforce.

  • Acceptance rate: 74%
  • Graduation rate: 79%
  • Annual net price: $29,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years (Offered at an accelerated pace)
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous

Accreditation: Duquesne University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

22. Palm Beach Atlantic University

West Palm Beach, Florida

About the program: PBA offers a 36-credit online master's in leadership catering to working and nontraditional students. Learners examine business acumen, leadership theory, and organizational behavior theory through a Christian lens.

  • Acceptance rate: 95%
  • Graduation rate: 52%
  • Annual net price: $26,000
  • Time to completion: Two years
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Palm Beach Atlantic University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

23. Champlain College

Burlington, Vermont

About the program: Champlain College's 30-credit online master's in leadership includes courses in leading for creativity and innovation, the leadership ecosystem, and shared leadership.

  • Acceptance rate: 85%
  • Graduation rate: 61%
  • Annual net price: $34,000
  • Time to completion: One to two years
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Champlain College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

24. North Central University

Minneapolis, Minnesota

About the program: NCU's 36-credit online master's in strategic leadership tackles leadership theory through a biblical lens. The program offers concentration options in business administration, church leadership, and worship arts leadership.

  • Acceptance rate: 90%
  • Graduation rate: 49%
  • Annual net price: $21,000
  • Time to completion: Two years
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: North Central University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

25. Siena Heights University

Adrian, Michigan

About the program: SHU offers a 36-credit online master's in organizational leadership that culminates in a capstone project and e-portfolio presentation. Course topics include negotiations as a process, teaming and decision making, and entrepreneurship.

  • Acceptance rate: 73%
  • Graduation rate: 69%
  • Annual net price: $21,000
  • Time to completion: Two years
  • Minimum GPA: Not required
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Siena Heights University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

What to expect in an online master's in organizational leadership degree program

An online organizational leadership degree covers disciplines that include behavioral science, psychology, and business ethics. Students get an overview of the human components of leadership, including:

  • Cross-cultural communication

  • Conflict management

  • Human psychology

Learners in this major also study business fundamentals and statistics. Most programs offer concentration options that may include human resources development, public administration leadership, and criminal justice leadership.

To succeed in an organizational leadership degree program, you need strong communication skills, professional leadership or management experience, and a proactive, motivated mindset. Some programs even require candidates to submit a resume documenting several years' relevant work experience. Most organizational leadership master's programs culminate in a thesis or capstone, or a portfolio presentation.

Master's in organizational leadership courses

An organizational leadership master's degree touches on disciplines including organizational behavior, holistic thinking, and business. 

Degree courses drive home the importance of collaboration, creative thinking, and diversity. While the degree is business-focused, this major stands out for emphasizing communication-related people skills.

These courses are common among master's in organizational leadership degree programs.

Organizational behavior theory

This course gives an overview of the study of human behavior within organizational environments. Topics may include group dynamics, leadership communication, and self and team management. The class may mix group work with individual projects.

Diversity in the workplace

Students investigate how to manage cultural misunderstandings and other conflicts that can arise in a modern, diverse workplace. They also study how diversity benefits and encourages innovation in workplaces.

Human resource management

This class tackles how human resource departments help guide organizations, and how state and federal laws and regulations affect them. Topics include recruiting, hiring, training, and organization development.

Organizational sustainability

Learners explore how social, environmental, and economic factors influence an organization's long-term goals. Students leave the course empowered to express opinions on what environmental, social, and fiscal practices support organizational sustainability.

Organizational leadership degree levels

The right organizational management degree for you depends on your unique goals and learning needs. 

If you are earning a degree on a limited budget and want to quickly go from your degree to entry-level work, an associate degree may suffice. However, if you want to obtain an high-paying business leadership role, a master's will likely prove a better fit.

Read on to learn more about what each degree level can offer you.

Associate in organizational leadership

Length: One to two years

Cost: $3,000-$10,000

Post-grad careers: Administrative assistant, office manager, sales support specialist

An associate degree in organizational leadership is a less-common degree that can either prepare for entry-level work or act as a bridge to earning a bachelor's. The degree may appeal to people interested in human resources or office management jobs. 

An organizational leadership associate develops basic leadership skills such as communication, conflict management, and team-building. Coursework will likely concentrate on collaborative and independent projects.

Bachelor's in organizational leadership

Length: Three to four years

Cost: $40,000-$200,000

Post-grad careers: Human resources manager, training and development manager, sales manager

A bachelor's in organizational leadership may be ideal for a professional looking to switch careers or a student hoping to enter the workforce upon graduation. Typically, graduates use this degree to springboard into a mid- to high-level position in HR, sales, or marketing.

An organizational leadership bachelor's delves more deeply into organizational behavior theory, leadership theory, and hard skills-related topics such as statistics. Graduates leave the program empowered with strong collaborative and leadership skills or ready to pursue their master's. 

Master's in organizational leadership

Length: One to two years

Cost: $60,000-$200,000

Post-grad careers: CEO, program director, organizational development manager

This degree can prepare you for executive leadership roles. Organizational leadership master's programs usually attract established professionals looking to switch careers or boost their credentials.

The degree investigates organizational behavior, psychology, and advanced business topics such as global business operations. Typically, students complete a thesis or practicum as a culminating experience. Many programs require or encourage students to complete an internship.

Some learners opt to earn an organizational leadership MBA, which places more emphasis on business coursework.

Doctorate in organizational leadership

Length: Four to six years

Cost: $100,000-$200,000

Post-grad careers: University professor, university dean, policy analyst

Earning a doctoral degree in organizational leadership opens your options to academia and research roles. This degree often appeals to people interested in educating others on organizational behavior or innovating in the field.

An organizational leadership doctoral degree culminates with a thesis and defense. Curricula usually feature coursework in qualitative and quantitative research to prepare for the thesis. These programs often feature experiential learning, and many schools may ask applicants to present a resume.

In conclusion

Organizational leadership stands out among other management-related majors as deeply connected to the values of teamwork, collaboration, and empathy. 

If you choose to pursue an online organizational leadership degree, you will be immersing yourself in the human values that drive innovation. You can start preparing to pursue this degree by:

  • Developing clear career goals

  • Researching programs

  • Consulting online career and degree guides

Best of luck.