The human services field isn't discussed as much as it should be, but that's changing because more professionals than ever are searching for a way to get their Ph.D. in Human Services. A broad field, the term refers to public outreach organizations and fields, such as social work, substance abuse rehab centers, community centers, and more. All of these organizations and even the government need educated and prepared professionals to help ensure that the organizations are working to help the populations they were built to serve.
Many professionals are already working in the field, but more are needed to meet the demands of the diverse populations that make up America. From early childhood to mental health services to social services, there is a demand for every type of human services professional imaginable. This ranking serves to help these professionals find the degrees and programs that best fit their needs.
Research was conducted to pull this ranking together utilizing the National Center for Education Statistics and it's public College Navigator database. From this research, 30 schools were selected and then reduced to the final 10 found below. Schools are listed below in descending order based on in-state graduate tuition rates.
Ranking Low-cost Online Human Services PhD Programs
10. University of the Rockies
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services
The online Ph.D. in Human Services from the University of the Rockies was designed for professionals who are currently working in the field as academics or managers. This degree comes with a general degree and two specializations: Mental Health Administration and Nonprofit Management. Students are advised that this is a hybrid degree that requires three in-residence weekend workshops at the school's campus. The program is unique in that it offers students the chance to take one course at a time in an accelerated and asynchronous format; these courses are all taught by professors who have their own doctorates and have completed work experience in the field. Students will be expected to complete 62 credit hours of coursework, complete the residency requirements, engage in a research project, pass a comprehensive exam, and complete a dissertation. Sample courses include History and Systems of Human Services, Evidence-Based Practice in Human Services, and Theories and Strategies of Community Development and Advocacy.
8. University of Connecticut
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Human Development and Family Studies
Students interested in a human services doctorate online will want to consider the University of Connecticut. This is a degree that focuses on research and implementation of policy in order to better serve underserved communities. It is a rare degree in America and therefore highlights original research and community service as the program hallmarks. Each student will have to choose a research area to specialize in; these can include Diversity and Culture, Lifespan Human Development, and Basic and Applied Research. Students can expect to complete 60 credit hours of coursework, including research courses, as well as a comprehensive written and oral exam; a dissertation is also required. Some students, depending on their previous educational background, may be required to take on a practicum. This is determined on a case-by-case basis. Sample courses include Patterns and Dynamics of Family Interaction, Theories of Family Development, and Models and Concepts of Lifespan Human Development.
7. Capella University
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services
Tuition: $14,250 (information provided by the University)
Capella University offers a professionally aligned online Ph.D. in human services. This 100 percent online degree comes with three specializations: Social and Community Services, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and Multidisciplinary Human Services. Capella also makes it possible for students to earn the Doctor of Human Services, a leadership degree aimed at preparing professionals for high-level management positions within the human services field. The degree requires 60 credit hours of coursework beyond the master's degree level, a research paper, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Research papers are decided by the student and their mentor but must stay within the realm of human services. Sample courses include Financial Analysis and Reporting for Nonprofit Leaders, Leadership, Governance, and Ethics, and Multidisciplinary Practice and Case Analysis for Doctoral Learners.
6. Montclair State University
Montclair, New Jersey
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Family Science and Human Development
Montclair State University confers the multi-disciplinary human services online Ph.D. degree that focuses on family science as the main discipline. This hybrid program requires two in-residence weekends for all students; the rest of the program is conferred online via synchronous and asynchronous courses. It is a research-based degree that relies heavily on original research. Students will also find that unlike many other doctoral programs in this field, the Montclair degree requires an understanding of a vast number of disciplines; this includes a variety of electives carrying a requirement to be obtained outside of the department. Students can expect to complete 48 semester hours of coursework, include research and core curriculum requirements, a research project, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Critique of Family Processes, Critical Change and Advocacy, and Power and Intersectionality of Social Locations.
5. Walden University
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Human and Social Services
Students interested in the online Ph.D. in Human Services will be happy to know that Walden University offers a fully online, accelerated track towards this goal. This program has more than a dozen specializations, some of which include Community Intervention and Leadership, Conflict Management and Negotiation, and Human Services Nonprofit Administration. It is possible to also tailor a program of study independently, however, this option is not available for fast-tracking. Students without a master's degree can also take on this degree; however, they will have to complete an additional 36 credit hours of coursework in order to earn their master's degree in the process. The accelerated option requires 72 credit hours of coursework, a research project, a comprehensive written exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Research Theory, Design and Methods, Management and Leadership Development in Human and Social Services and Foundations of Graduate Study in Human Services.
4. University of Kentucky
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Family Sciences
The University of Kentucky confers a Ph.D. in Human Services online degree that has a stated focus in family science. This hybrid program requires an annual weekend residency on campus with all other coursework being completed online. Students who take on this degree can choose from four specializations, including Aging, Family Process, Adolescent Development, and Family Finance and Economics. Students can also choose to pursue the doctorate in a part-time or half-time format, an option that the university makes available for working professionals. Students will be required to complete 36 credit hours of coursework, a portfolio that includes research, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Field Studies in Educational Institutions, Allocation of Family Resources, and Readings in Family Theory and Research.
3. University of Missouri
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Human Environmental Sciences, Human Development and Family Studies
The human services Ph.D. online from the University of Missouri is an exceptional example of what an individualized course of study looks like at the doctoral level. This hybrid program enables students to take a short core curriculum and then create their own doctoral program based on their career ambitions. Students will graduate with the ability to work in both the public and private sectors in a variety of different careers. With the guidance of a nationally renown staff, students will march through their education with an online staff and faculty that is ready to support them the whole way. Students will be required to complete 93 credit hours of coursework, a research project, comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Life Course Perspective, Aging and the Family, and Gender and the Family.
2. University at Albany SUNY
Albany, New York
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare
An incredible opportunity lies at the University at Albany SUNY for students who are ready to participate in a human services Ph.D. online degree. This hybrid program is nationally renown, both for the quality of the program and its own faculty. Students, both traditional and online, have access to research institutions and international research initiatives that take place all over the world, an opportunity that cannot be found at most schools. This is a research-based program that relies on a student's ability to discipline their studies and work hard; they will be expected to complete 36 credit hours of coursework, a qualifying examination, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Social Welfare Policy, General Readings in Social Welfare and Social Work, and Statistics and Data Analysis.
1. North Dakota State University
Fargo, North Dakota
Online Doctor of Philosophy in Developmental Science
One of the most flexible programs on this ranking comes from North Dakota State University. It confers a human services Ph.D. online that provides both research and teaching opportunities in the field of developmental science. This is a student-focused, cohort-based hybrid program that also offers students the ability to enter into the program as part of the assistantship program, which provides a full tuition waiver; this is best suited for students who live in the area. Students will focus on either original research or teaching, which is indicated in their own personalized plan of study. Students will be required to complete at least 36 credit hours of coursework, a research project, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Longitudinal Research Methods and Analysis, Professional Development in Developmental Science, and Physical and Cognitive Development Across the Lifespan.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Career Options for an Online Doctorate in Human Services?
There are so many career options available at the doctorate level of human services that it would be fruitless to name each and every single one of them. The field is an umbrella for several different careers and so it is best to try to categorize career options by type of sector. It is important to remember that there are a variety of fields that are available in these sectors, so students should do extra research to see what career options are available to them.
The government has a great need for human services professionals. This ranges from social workers to case managers to probation officers and more. Professionals can also work their way up in the Department of Health and Human Services, working first as a specialist and moving up to the rank of manager. In any subfield of human services, you can find the government in demand of those professionals.
The private sector includes charities and nonprofit organizations, as well as businesses, who need professionals in human services. Many of these positions are the same as what's available in the public sector, although it comes with far more responsibilities in most cases. Therapists, counselors, public administrators, nonprofit leaders, health educators, and specialists in mental health and drug rehabilitation are all positions available in this sector.
How Much Can You Earn in this Field?
Because of the wide range of career options that can be found under the umbrella of human services, the exact range of salary one can expect is difficult to pinpoint. However, most professionals in this field make between $35,000 to $85,000, with entry-level salaries being around $20,000 to $50,000 less than a mid-level or senior-level salary. Salaries also depend on a professional's workplace environment. Federal employees tend to make between $45,000 to $60,000; this salary also comes with benefits, including additional compensation when required.
In the private sector, salaries can be higher. This, of course, also depends on a professional's position. Entry-level manager or analyst positions have starting salaries that are lower than government employees, while managers can make salaries in excess of $100,000. Jobs in the private sector can be well-paying, but they are also incredibly competitive. Working in the public sector, such as a community center leader or a manager at a nonprofit organization, has variable salaries. These depend on the size of the organization and how integral the position is to operations. Some national and international charities are known to pay well; however, many human services professionals choose to work in local settings where the salaries are reflective of the cost-of-living in the area.
What are the Various Disciplines of Human Services?
Human services is an emerging field, but one that requires some knowledge on a variety of different disciplines. This is true for every profession contained within human services. All must have a base understanding of the fundamental disciplines: psychology, sociology, public administration, and family studies.
These are not the only important disciplines within the framework of human services. Other disciplines include education, gerontology, business, childhood development, developmental science, and more. The true range of disciplines that a professional would need to have knowledge of actually depends on what subfield they go into and so it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what disciplines all human services managers would need to have for their career.
Why Choose a Degree in Human Services Over a Specialized Degree?
Many students wonder why a seemingly general degree such as human services would be a better choice than a specialized degree in one area. The answer is simple: this is a multidisciplinary field that requires a student to have advanced knowledge of several different disciplines.
What this means is that human services is a field that is always affected by another field; public administration, policy, law, business, psychology and sociology are all factors that play a role in human services. In America alone, there are over a dozen fields that can be linked back to human services and the field in action.
By choosing a specialized degree, a student is limiting their career choices and impact in human services. For example, a social worker can work with citizens of all ages and in a variety of different settings, but rarely do these professionals go on to work for nonprofit organizations or in government, creating the change they see as necessary in the field. The same could be said about nonprofit managers; they work in community services but have little impact on actual governmental departments, such as Child Protective Services or the justice system.
It's also true that a human services professional do have their specialties, most of which are indicated by their work experience and prior educational background. It is difficult to find an undergraduate in the field, so many students find themselves in a specialized field prior to moving into the general field of human services. Even at the doctoral level, specializations are widely available, as demonstrated above in this ranking.
How Does Earning an Online Degree Aid in the Search for Employment?
This is a good question because many students are still under the impression that earning an online doctorate in any field will be a hindrance to them during the employment search. While this idea is slowly fading away, it is still a hurdle most students need to get over. The truth is that most schools do not distinguish online degrees from traditional degrees. This is because most programs are taught by the same faculty, with the same curriculum, as traditional programs, so there isn't a need to distinguish between the two. Also, removing the distinction has helped pave the way for online degrees to become more accepted in the workplace, as employers would have to specifically ask a potential employee how they earned their degree.
Something else to consider is that employers understand that in order to get qualified employees with a doctorate in their field currently requires the use of online courses and degrees. Most professionals work full-time and cannot afford to take years away from their career in order to complete their degree, so an online degrees make sense. A cheap online human services Ph.D. is a degree that is obtainable to most, while the expensive traditional version is just out of the question for many professionals.
It is also important to note that many employers, including the government, will help a professional pay for their online degree. This is possible because the employer knows the employee will continue to be an asset to them in the workplace while earning a degree so they can move up in that organization. In fact, many professionals only earn postgraduate degrees because of this option.
The need for properly educated human services managers and specialists is growing as more public outreach organizations rise in order to take care of specific populations and their needs. It's never been a better time to contribute to human services, and that is evident by the number of students who are actively looking for online Ph.D. in Human Services degrees. Now all a student has to do is pick a few schools to compare before making their final decision about an online PhD in Human Services.
Updated: March 4, 2020