Top 5 PhDs in Hospitality Management

From restaurants to resorts, the hospitality industry attracts professionals who like to elevate the customer experience. People around the world interact with hospitality workers and managers on a daily basis. Fast-food restaurants, sit-down bistros, and fine-dining establishments fall under the hospitality label. Travelers staying in hotels and resorts are helped by front-desk staff, custodians, and managers who work around the clock. The hospitality industry encompasses event planners who organize weddings, conferences, and other happenings down to the minute. Tour companies, boutique travel firms, and seasonal attractions are also considered hospitality companies. Students looking for fulfilling work in a growing industry should consider all of the possibilities offered by hospitality companies. 

Research from academics and industry groups finds the hospitality industry in constant need of new workers. Hospitality data provider STR concluded that global hotel brands drew $208 billion in revenue for 2017. This figure exceeded the industry's $198 billion in revenue for 2016. The National Restaurant Association projected $863 billion in sales for American restaurants for 2019. As hospitality brands continue to grow, they need to acquire new talent to replace staff members who move up the chain or to other companies. In May, 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that hospitality companies led the way in annual job openings with 5.1 million available positions. The hospitality industry also topped other industries in separations and hires that month, indicating frequent turnover that ensures plenty of jobs for incoming professionals. 

Staffing company Benchmarque provides insights into what skills are necessary to succeed in the hospitality industry. Waiters, hotel managers, and other professionals need to show empathy to stressed travelers and customers concerned about food safety. Hospitality workers need to be patient and flexible to accommodate patrons of all ages and expectations. Companies in this industry also expect staff members to be able to pivot from one type of task to another. Team cohesion from entry-level to advanced workers is essential since no hotel or restaurant is a one-person operation. With these skills in mind, prospective hospitality managers should consider other reasons to enter the industry. 

Why Become a Hospitality Manager?

Professionals who enter hospitality management positions can earn salaries near the national average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed a median salary of $54,240 for food service managers in May, 2018. Lodging managers earned an average salary of $53,390, while event planners received salaries of $49,370. According to PayScale, management experts with doctoral degrees in the field earned median salaries of $79,000 in 2019. The average salary for all occupations in May, 2018 was $51,960. The hospitality industry offers a variety of salary levels to accommodate new and experienced professionals. 

Hospitality managers and their direct reports tend to be more satisfied on the job than workers in other industries. Culture Amp's 2019 survey of hospitality workers around the world found 72% of hospitality and 73% of food and beverage employees expressed engagement with their work. These figures compared with a 70% average engagement rate by other surveyed industries. A major driver in high engagement rates is whether or not an employee feels they have an opportunity to advance their careers in the short term. Culture Amp determined that 78% of hospitality workers responded positively to this question. 72% of survey respondents also said that their companies helped with their professional development and enhanced their ability to help customers. 

The broad spectrum of hospitality industry segments means that workers and managers can quickly shift career gears. A successful restaurant manager possesses the interpersonal and financial skills to move into a hotel management position. Event planners can move from the corporate world to their own businesses, thanks to their organizational prowess. The hospitality industry is also known for extensive onboarding and managerial training programs that leverage the skills of incoming professionals. Another option for hospitality professionals is to teach future workers and research trends in the public or private sector. A PhD in hospitality management from a leading program makes this path possible for dedicated students. 


Top Management Degrees uses seven data points to rank college programs. Here they are in order of importance:

  1. A Reputation Aggregate Score from Other Rankings
  2. Graduate Average Salary
  3. Alumni Reviews
  4. Percentage of Admitted Students Who Graduate
  5. Price
  6. Admitted Students' Test Scores
  7. Acceptance Rate


#5 University of Missouri – Columbia, Missouri

Doctor of Philosophy in Food and Hospitality Systems

Program Website

Students in the University of Missouri's Doctor of Philosophy in Food and Hospitality Systems program choose from three areas of concentration. These tracks include Agricultural Systems Management, Food Science, and Hospitality Management. Food Science candidates pursue additional classes like Food Microbiology and Food Process Engineering. Future hospitality managers learn new skills through coursework in hospitality sales and human resources management along with internships in food science. The Agricultural Systems Management track requires completion of safety, health, and water-management courses. The university requires all doctoral candidates to complete courses in statistics, ethics, and career development. This PhD program offer overlaps with work done at on-campus research centers like the Missouri Agricultural Research Experiment Station. 

The University of Missouri's value to students was confirmed with a No. 149 place in the Forbes America's Best Value Colleges rankings for 2019. U.S. News & World Report highlighted the university's national reputation with a No. 129 rank in National Universities for 2019. The publication also highlighted returns on investment for graduates, with a No. 78 rank in Best Value Schools. Founded in 1839, the University of Missouri became the centerpiece of the four-school state university system bearing its name. Graduates across the university's academic departments join esteemed alumni, including actor Brad Pitt and Nobel Prize-winning scientist Barbara McClintock. 

TMD Ranking Score: 92.92


#4 University of Houston – Houston, Texas

Doctor of Philosophy in Hospital Administration

Program Website

Forbes identified the University of Houston as a good value for students, giving the school a No. 96 rank in America's Best Value Colleges for 2019. The Doctor of Philosophy in Hospitality Administration helped the university reach this distinction thanks to a mixture of hands-on experience and academic research. Doctoral candidates work with their faculty mentors to fulfill research and teaching requirements for the degree. The University of Houston's Conrad Hilton College of Restaurant and Hotel Management is named after one of America's most renowned hospitality brands. Doctoral students can conduct research and see hospitality staff in action at the Hilton University of Houston located on campus. 

The University of Houston dates back to 1927 and became the flagship campus for a four-campus system in 1977. Generations of students and alumni have followed the successes of Cougars athletics teams, including Andre Ware's Heisman Trophy-winning season in 1989. U.S. News & World Report showed that the school also achieves academic greatness with a No. 91 rank in Top Public Schools and a No. 171 place in National Universities. Niche ranked the University of Houston No. 69 in Best Big Colleges in America and No. 82 in Top Public Universities in America for 2019. The school advances academic research in multiple disciplines with centers like the HEALTH Research Institute and the Institute for Drug Education and Research. 

TMD Ranking Score: 93.14


#3 Kansas State University – Manhattan, Kansas

Doctor of Philosophy in Human Ecology

Program Website

Kansas State University became the state's first public university in 1863. Since its founding, the school has grown its degree offerings, with programs varying from agribusiness to theatre. The Doctor of Philosophy in Human Ecology features a specialization in hospitality and dietetics administration that prepares graduates for hospitality leadership positions. The university requires new students in the program to achieve food-service certification and complete initial coursework in hospitality coursework within the first two semesters. Required coursework in this PhD program includes Grant Writing, Food Production Management, and Cost Control Practices. Doctoral students also prepare for academic careers with courses in Research Methods and Principles of College Teaching. The College of Human Ecology demonstrates its commitment to food research through its Center for Food Safety in Child Nutrition Programs. 

Money identified Kansas State University as a good value for students, giving it a No. 301 place in Best Colleges For Your Money 2018. The school's academic reputation was bolstered by a No. 75 rank in Top Public Schools from U.S. News & World Report in 2019. Kansas State University also placed No. 147 in National Universities and No. 129 in High School Counselor Rankings. The school's list of alumni covers the gamut of professions, from actor Eric Stonestreet to former U.S. Senator and Governor Sam Brownback. Wildcats athletics programs have raised the university's profile with recent conference championships in football, baseball, and basketball. 

TMD Ranking Score: 93.66


#2 University of Tennessee, Knoxville – Knoxville, Tennessee

Doctor of Philosophy in Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management

Program Website

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville emphasizes hands-on experiences for students pursuing its Doctor of Philosophy in Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management. PhD candidates see academic theories in action through on-campus programs like the Rocky Top Institute, the UT Culinary Institute, and the Ready for the World Cafe. Students narrow their focus by selecting the Retail and Consumer Services or Hospitality and Tourism Management specializations. The doctoral program features an 18-credit core that includes classes on consumer behavior and strategies. Doctoral students also gain teaching experience with undergraduates in the Retail and Hospitality programs. The College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences has placed PhD holders in academic jobs from Florida State University to the University of Minnesota. 

U.S. News & World Report recognized UT Knoxville with a No. 115 rank in National Universities for 2019. The publication pointed to the school's affordability with a No. 100 place in Best Value Schools. Forbes also promoted the budget-friendliness of UT Knoxville with a No. 145 place in America's Best Value Colleges. The university's origins date back to the creation of Blount College in 1794. The current name was applied in 1879, and the Knoxville campus was joined by three other campuses in the University of Tennessee System in the 20th century. Volunteers athletics program produced professional athletes like former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and WNBA star Tamika Catchings. 

TMD Ranking Score: 94.03


#1 Cornell University – Ithaca, New York

Doctor of Philosophy in Hotel Administration

Program Website

Cornell University's Doctor of Philosophy in Hotel Administration reached the top of this list because it is a pipeline to the hospitality industry. The School of Hotel Administration hosts events like the International Hospitality Summit that connect industry leaders with leading academics. PhD students also benefit from the flexibility of specializing in 14 areas of the hotel industry, including Employment Relations, Real Estate, and Services Marketing. All graduate students in Hotel Administration complete at least 800 hours of work in the hospitality field through summer jobs or part-time work. Faculty advisors can also help doctoral candidates combine their hotel administration courses with graduate courses in Food Science and Operations Management. 

Forbes lauded Cornell University as an affordable college with a No. 43 rank in America's Best Value Colleges for 2019. The financial magazine also ranked the school No. 13 in Top Colleges. U.S. News & World Report was also effusive in its praise with a No. 16 rank in National Universities and a No. 43 place in Best Undergraduate Teaching. Cornell University's reputation has grown steadily since its founding in 1865. In addition to its main campus in Ithaca, the university provides Ivy League programs at campuses in New York City and Qatar. Prominent alumni of Cornell University include Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

TMD Ranking Score: 100.00