Masters Degree vs PhD in Literacy + Online Options

This article compares the masters and PhD degree programs in literacy, some of the subjects and courses they cover, what sets them apart, and how both degrees could help you achieve greater advancement. It also presents a masters degree in literacy program and a PhD in literacy program from two institutions, which can be completed online.

What Is a Masters Degree in Literacy?

A masters degree in literacy teaches students to assess literacy levels, how to teach reading, and how to integrate literacy in the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools. The programs can be delivered online, but they usually require a classroom practicum experience as well. Graduates can become teachers, but they can also take on administrative positions in school systems and government organizations.

As part of the degree program, you are likely to have to take courses in:

  • Supervision of Literacy Programs
  • Reading and Writing Practices
  • Literacy Assessment
  • Literacy Practices in Elementary and Secondary Schools
  • Experimental Research Methods
  • Literacy Foundations and Models

What Is a PhD in Literacy?

At the PhD level, which is a doctorate degree, students are required to conduct new research into literacy, and to integrate this and existing research, into the practice of education in a variety of settings. Often, students learn about evaluation methods, human development, and the foundations of literacy. Students are prepared to become researchers or to become academics. They are able to apply theory and research to various learning complexities, and they can often also complete a specialization in an area such as literacy measurement, instruction, or reading disabilities. A focus is generally also placed on developing the next generation of literacy teachers and literacy policy.

As part of the degree program, you are likely to have to take courses in:

  • Advanced Reading Methods
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Young Adult Literature
  • Identity and Literacy
  • Reading Development and Comprehension
  • Effective Schools and School Improvement

Why Earn a Masters Degree in Literacy?

Upon completion of the masters degree in literacy, you will have the opportunity to move on to the PhD degree. However, you can also enter the workforce and, thanks to your graduate level education, set yourself apart as a leader in your field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), instructional coordinators had a median salary of $62,460 per year as of May 2016. They have also estimated that from 2014 to 2024, there will be a 7% increase in demand for these professionals, which is as fast as the national average and will translate into some 10,500 new jobs.

Why Earn a PhD in Literacy?

When you complete a PhD in literacy, you will become more specialized in a certain area of research and how it pertains to literacy. You will also be able to extend your focus beyond elementary and secondary schools and move into postsecondary education if you so choose. In so doing, you will be able to take on positions of administration, research, or academia in private and public schools, nonprofit organizations, government, and colleges or universities.

The BLS has reported that postsecondary teachers had a median salary of $75,430 per year as of May 2016. They have also predicted that there will be a 13% increase in demand for these professionals from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the national average and will translate into some 177,000 new jobs.

Online Option for Masters in Literacy

Concordia University

If you are interested in a graduate study in literacy, you may want to consider the Masters in Education with a concentration in Literacy that is offered by Concordia University. It is one of the few schools in the country that offers this degree program online. Other concentrations (special education, counseling, educational design and technology, teaching and learning, and education administration) are also available. The degree prepares students for the Wisconsin Reading Teacher Licensure and for the Reading Specialist Licensure if three additional credits are completed as well.

Concordia University is ranked:

  • 23rd in the country by The Best Schools.
  • 1st in Wisconsin by The Best Schools.
  • In the Top 10 best online masters in reading and literacy by Early Childhood Education Degrees.
  • In the best online master’s in education & teaching degrees by Affordable Colleges Online.

The program has been designed to equip students with classroom reading strategies that can be applied immediately and to assess the needs and strengths of students in reading. Furthermore, students learn how to match their training to the individual abilities of their pupils. They create lifelong learners by making reading fun, while also understanding language development from early childhood to adolescence. Graduates of the program are able to link speaking, writing, listening, reading, and how these relate to literacy together and ensure that their students become skilled, confident readers. One way they achieve this is by evaluating, designing, developing, and implementing K12 reading programs.

As part of the degree, students complete a core curriculum that includes:

  • Improvement in Literacy Instruction
  • Disciplinary Literacy
  • Portfolio
  • Language and Literacy Development
  • Literacy Assessment for Instruction
  • K-12 Literature
  • Literacy Practicum

Those who choose the literacy concentration must also complete:

  • Supervision of Instruction
  • Curriculum Leadership
  • Current Topics and Research in Literacy
  • Graduate Capstone Project

Should students wish to be eligible for the Wisconsin reading specialist license, they must also complete a literacy internship.

Career opportunities for those who complete this degree are varied and interesting and include:

  • Reading specialist
  • Reading or literacy coach
  • P-12 teacher
  • Curriculum specialist
  • Coordinator of reading or literacy program
  • Education director

Online Option for Ph.D. in Literacy

St. John’s University

If you are interested in a doctorate degree in literacy, you may want to consider the Ph.D. in Literacy program offered by St. John’s University. It is one of the few online programs of its kind in the country, helping students to find solutions to various academic challenges that get in the way of reading proficiency. Graduates are expected to be able to help administrators, teachers, and students alike in order to improve their learning in any type of subject.

The degree focuses holistically on at-risk learners at every part of the curriculum. It also provides various specialization opportunities. The concentrations offered are:

  • Special education
  • Educational leadership
  • Teach English to speakers of other languages (TESOL)

The focus is strongly on research and it helps to develop advocates for social justice and equity. The program can be completed in around three years, which is much quicker than many other doctorate degrees. Students are fully supported by highly experienced faculty, who will also help students during their dissertation project.

The program is 42 credits in length and focuses on instruction, implementation, and research. It increases the depth of literacy knowledge of graduates as it relates to at-risk and diverse populations. Graduates are highly proficient literacy educators with a forward-thinking perspective on existing evaluation, practice, theory, and research of literacy. They often move into research and inquiry upon graduation.

St. John’s University, meanwhile, is highly respected, having been accredited by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC). It is also ranked 22nd for online graduate programs by the 2017 U.S. News and World Report.

The degree is made up of a core, a research element, and a cognate element. The core includes:

  • Foundations of Literacy Inquiry and Professionalism
  • Models and Processes of Reading and Writing Acquisition and Competency
  • Literacy Leadership
  • Special Topics in Literacy
  • Seminar in Literacy for At-Risk Diverse Populations
  • Dissertation Seminar
  • Dissertation Project

The research element includes:

  • Research Perspectives in Literacy
  • Educational Research and Data Analysis
  • Single-Subject Research
  • Qualitative Research: Methodology and Analysis
  • Educational Research and Data Analysis

The cognate studies are:

  • Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • Educational Leadership
  • Special Education
  • Literacy

Graduates can work within human services or community and educational settings. Many choose to work in policy and administration, staff development, and instruction. Common career outcomes for graduates from a PhD in literacy include:

  • Educational foundation administrator
  • Private practice multisensory instructor
  • College or university professor
  • Literacy supervisor or coach
  • Reading interventionist
  • Senior social worker
  • Human resources director
  • Director of disability services


As you can see, earning either a masters or a PhD in literacy is a great way to improve your career in education. Each degree leads to different types of professions and areas of focus. Both, however, ensure that you will be able to play an integral part in the development of reading proficiency across various populations, something to take a great deal of personal and professional pride in.


  • Instructional Coordinators. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from
  • Postsecondary Teachers. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from
  • Online Ph.D. in Literacy: Advance the Practice of Literacy Education. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Master of Science in Education – Literacy. (n.d.). Retrieved from