By Iris Stone
According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), health promotion is "the process of enabling people to increase control over and to improve their health." It involves addressing individual health behaviors and risks through both intervention and prevention programs, and it often utilizes health education to inform people and communities about the risks they face – as well as the steps they can take to lead healthier lives.
In order for this field of study to have any impact, we need qualified researchers who can determine the best way to communicate with people about these topics, which professionals can then use to implement effective strategies. Enter the PhD in Health Education and Promotion.
Ranking the 15 Best Health Promotion PhD Programs
In ranking the top PhD degrees in this field, we only considered programs at public and private non-profit colleges. We ranked each eligible program in the following three categories:
Public Health Accreditation
There is no specific accrediting agency for health education graduate programs. However, many degrees in this field are either embedded within a public health program or are closely associated with one. As such, we used CEPH (Council on Education for Public Health) accreditation as one indication of academic quality. We awarded the most points to universities that have an entire department/college of public health that is CEPH-accredited and offer a PhD in Health Promotion and Education within that department. Schools that meet the first condition (but offer their doctorate in health promotion through a different academic division) or offer other CEPH-accredited programs in related areas earned fewer points.
Concentrations and Areas of Research
Research is perhaps the single most important aspect of any PhD program. Therefore, we sought to identify the colleges that (1) clearly indicate which area(s) of health education/promotion research they specialize in and (2) include some sort of concentration, "depth," or minor (sometimes called a "cognate") requirement within their curriculum. We awarded the most points to universities that meet both of these conditions. Programs that feature a concentration component to their curriculum, but do not list specific areas of interest, or do not clearly identify their primary research areas, earned fewer points.
Most people who earn a PhD do not expect to pay the full cost of tuition at the school they attend. That is because – especially for research-oriented programs – colleges often provide funding (which typically includes free tuition plus a monthly stipend) through graduate teaching and research assistantships. Schools that guarantee funding for all doctoral candidates earned the most points on this ranking. We awarded fewer points to colleges that provide funding to some students, and we provided a bonus to programs that state the actual dollar amount of the stipend they provide.
As an extra piece of information, we included each school's average annual tuition for graduate students (as reported on College Navigator) with the descriptions below. However, these values did not factor into our methodology.
15. University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT
Like most doctoral degrees, the University of Utah's PhD in Health Promotion and Education requires students to complete several years of independent research and develop true expertise in their field. But don't be fooled; this program is anything but typical. In fact, the curriculum is practically unmatched in the level of flexibility it provides, allotting nearly one third of its 72-credit course plan to open electives. And because Utah's College of Health – which houses departments in communication sciences, kinesiology and recreation, nutrition, and physical therapy – has such a huge selection of classes, you'll have no trouble designing the best doctorate in health education degree program for your unique interests.
Graduate Tuition: $15,714/yr
14. University of Connecticut
Because the University of Connecticut doesn't have a College of Public Health, you'll find its PhD in Health Promotion Science in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources instead. Although this might seem like an unusual setting for a top PhD in health education and promotion, degree candidates receive all the support they need through a larger Graduate Program in Allied Health (GPAH). This includes full tuition coverage and generous stipends (upwards of $18k a year) for qualifying grad students who work as teaching or research assistants. With its 54-credit curriculum and estimated four-year timeline, UConn's program is also one of the shortest on this ranking.
Graduate Tuition: $26,514/yr
13. Kent State University
In contrast to some of the other options available, Kent State University's doctoral degree draws much more heavily from the educational side of the field, rather than the promotional. Ideal for current health educators as well as practitioners, this is one of the best health education graduate programs for individuals who want to teach at the college level. The curriculum includes multiple seminars in topics like "Professional Development" and "Research Proposal Development and Presentation" as well as a two-part residency requirement. Just as importantly, you'll also need to complete at least six credits in an area of specialization like Substance Abuse, School Health, or another topic of your choosing.
Graduate Tuition: $15,226/yr
12. University of Nebraska Medical Center
The University of Nebraska Medical Center offers an accredited doctorate in health promotion with a relatively strong clinical focus. In contrast to other programs, which often emphasize nontechnical skills like communication, UNMC favors scientific coursework in epidemiology, biostatistics, and disease prevention. But the school's preference for medical training doesn't come at the expense of a balanced education. You'll complete course modules in Health Promotion (18 credits) and Research (24 credits) but also Writing (4), Ethics (3), and Electives (24). Another major benefit? UNMC College of Public Health faculty claim a wide range of interests, so you'll have your pick of dissertation topics from a list that includes adolescent risk behaviors, nutrition, socio-behavioral economics, and much more.
Graduate Tuition: $16,019/yr
11. University of Alabama-Birmingham
The University of Alabama's Health Education and Health Promotion program features a well-balanced, research-focused curriculum that puts equal weight on academic and promotional topics. By combining the resources of multiple departments (including the Schools of Public Health and Education and the Departments of Health Behavior and Human Studies) UAB is able to provide students with more course options in more subjects – as well as more research opportunities. In fact, this affordable doctorate in health education degree program devotes 24 credits – a third of the total – to "directed" (with a faculty member) and "dissertation" (original) research experience.
Graduate Tuition: $12,441/yr
10. University of South Carolina-Columbia
One major benefit of attending the University of South Carolina is the ability to study within the Arnold School of Public Health, which has earned full program accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). What's more, the school boasts a particularly robust Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior. You can even choose from two accredited health education graduate programs – a traditional PhD or a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). While the former prepares degree candidates for roles in academia and research, the latter places greater emphasis on professional skill development for careers in public health practice, applied research, and advocacy.
Graduate Tuition: $20,103/yr
9. University of Toledo
Consisting of 70 credits and covering six competency domains (including grant writing, teaching, and research), the University of Toledo's Doctor of Philosophy in Health Education is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive on the market. But what truly makes this one of the top doctorate in health education degree programs is its versatility. Not only can you choose from an assortment of electives – like "Sports Nutrition," "Epidemiology of Aging," or even a "Public Health Internship" – but you'll also select a cognate (minor) area of study from one of nine preapproved topics. Popular cognates include Health Policy, Educational Psychology, Exercise Science, and Statistics in Research Design, among others.
Graduate Tuition: $19,889/yr
8. Saint Louis University
Saint Louis, MO
The Behavioral Science and Health Education (BSHE) program at Saint Louis University is just one of seven tracks available within its PhD of Public Health Studies. Yet each track is fully functional, with a comprehensive curriculum that could easily exist as a standalone program. As a BSHE concentrator, you'll focus your studies on "community-based interventions" at all levels, from individual health issues to nationwide epidemics. But SLU goes even further to distinguish its CEPH-accredited doctorate in health education degree program from the competition by providing clearly-defined research areas for incoming students. Options include health disparities, nutrition, disease prevention, and adolescent health, among others.
Graduate Tuition: $19,896/yr
7. Georgia State University
It doesn't take much effort to see why Georgia State University belongs on our ranking of the best health promotion PhD programs. Like SLU, GSU officially offers a PhD in Public Health, but with a robust Health Promotion and Behavior concentration that is jam-packed with high-value classes. In addition to core requirements, the 62-credit curriculum also includes two doctoral research seminars, a doctoral practicum, and 12 credits in "Advanced Research and Statistical Methods." Plus, the skills you gain in these classes will undoubtedly come in handy as you pursue research in one of the School of Public Health's seven specialty areas, which include chronic disease, violence, environment, and policy.
Graduate Tuition: $16,753/yr
6. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Like USC, the University of Texas Health Science Center's School of Public Health has earned full CEPH-accreditation for all its public health programs. This includes a DrPH in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences – one of just two Doctor of Public Health options (the other is at USC) on our top health education graduate programs ranking. Because of its professional focus, the DrPH curriculum only allots three to six credits for dissertation research, which it supplements with an on-site practicum and 39 credit hours of academic coursework. By further dividing the curriculum into core classes plus minor, "breadth" (interdisciplinary), and concentration requirements, UTHSC ensures that you will leave with an unusually broad and diverse perspective of the field.
Graduate Tuition: $18,473/yr
5. University of Massachusetts-Amherst
If you are looking for an affordable PhD in health education and promotion that focuses specifically on community health issues, then the University of Massachusetts Amherst might be your best bet. The program officially awards a degree in public health with a major in Community Health Education, although you'll also earn a minor in a related area (e.g. Epidemiology). As for research, PhD candidates will find a wealth of opportunities in either of the department's two primary research centers. The Institute for Global Health promotes healthy living in developing nations, while The Center for Research and Education in Women's Health seeks to better understand health factors that affect women from birth through old age.
Graduate Tuition: $23,673/yr
4. University of Georgia
A quick look at the course list will leave little doubt that the University of Georgia's PhD program in Health Promotion and Behavior is for serious researchers – and serious researchers only. After completing a few intro-level classes in epidemiology and health behavior, you'll dive into advanced coursework in biostatistics and applied analysis – topics which are essential for a successful career in research. More than many other CEPH-accredited health promotion PhD programs, UGA's curriculum also provides wide latitude for students to explore additional areas of interest through a custom-designed cognate requirement.
Graduate Tuition: $18,561/yr
3. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI
Over the years, the University of Michigan's School of Public Health has established itself as a powerhouse of public health education. Not only is its entire program CEPH-accredited – and ranked in the top 5 on U.S. News' list of public health colleges – but it also offers multiple graduate degrees across nearly every possible subfield. This includes one of the best doctorate in health education degree programs in the country. The curriculum has it all, from core courses in biostatistics and epidemiology and a series of seminar requirements to electives, advanced statistics and methods coursework, and a required "cognate" in a topic outside of your main area of study.
Graduate Tuition: $32,734/yr
2. The Ohio State University
Of all the top health promotion PhD programs on this list, The Ohio State University's is one of the lengthiest and most rigorous. Its 80-credit curriculum consists primarily of major and research-based coursework (31 credits each). Although time consuming, these requirements ensure that program participants develop a solid foundation of knowledge in advanced topics like "Cancer Behavioral Science," "Community Health Assessment," and "Socio-Ecological Strategies in Prevention." You'll also complete a preliminary research rotation and develop a 12-credit minor before embarking on your dissertation. Once you get to that point, you'll be happy to hear that OSU has research strengths in an impressive eight different focus areas, including global health and infectious disease.
Graduate Tuition: $22,649/yr
1. Emory University
In terms of value, Emory University is hard to beat. That's because its Rollins School of Public Health offers one of the best and most affordable PhD in health education and promotion degrees in the entire country. For starters, all full-time doctoral students receive full-tuition scholarships and two years of guaranteed funding – which includes annual stipends of more than $23k! And while you're getting paid to study what you love, you'll also be participating in an especially innovative experience. Emory's 48-credit curriculum consists of unique components like the "Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunities" (TATTO) program, the Jones Program in Ethics, and required Research Rotations to help you narrow down your area of interest.
Graduate Tuition: $42,980/yr
Now that you've read all about the top health education graduate programs, all that's left to do is pick your favorite and apply!
See also: 50 Most Affordable Online MPH Programs