While carrying out the research needed to pen a brief, but useful, blog on the differences between Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs in Higher Education, I came to the following realizations:
- There is already a wealth of online resources available -YouTube videos, blog posts, university websites, and entire dissertations- that tackle this very topic.
Here are a few links if you are interested:
- Speaking with the educational leaders (at a mid-western university) who are responsible for these programs can provide beneficial insight into differentiating between both programs.
Although my intention was only to interview the program directors of the Ed.D. and Ph.D. Educational Leadership programs, what emerged was an even greater scholarly conversation enriched by an unexpected spate of internal document analyses.
Ed.D: Educational Practitioners Ready to Roll up Sleeves and Get Ready to Work:
I first spoke with a director of an Ed.D. program who elaborated on the importance of prospective applicants having significant work history and/or leadership experience in the field of education. She highlighted that successful applicants and graduates generally enter the program, “ready to roll up their sleeves and work towards solving a problem or current issue in education.” While an applicant’s desire to correct an existent problem contributes a major distinguishing factor to their application, the individual’s fit within the program cannot be ignored. The applicant’s personal and educational goals should align with the program coursework and faculty interest to ensure that candidates push the limits of education beyond the status quo.
Ph.D: Broader Inquiry and Greater Application
After speaking to the program director of the Ed.D. program, I found myself comparing the goals of the professional doctorate with my personal experiences within my Ph.D. program; indeed, the differences were stark. The Ph.D. program director spoke candidly about these and other differences distinguishing the Ed.D. from the Ph.D. She highlighted that the Ph.D. program aims to prepare students for faculty and policy careers. She made it clear that the Ph.D. candidates who were successful generally exhibited a broader academic curiosity and a desire to explore issues of policy and further research. Finally, she admitted that while she and her faculty colleagues held Ed.D. and Ph.D. candidates to similar expectations and standards of rigor, the Ph.D. program requires more empirical research of enrolled students.
Final Muses and Closing Thoughts
Interestingly, the Ph.D. program leader emphasized the importance of Ed.D. and Ph.D. doctoral students adapting their programs to their post-graduation career goals, rather than letting the type of doctoral degree dictate their professional outcome. She advised Ed.D. students whose aim it is to enter the professoriate to ensure that their coursework prepares them for faculty positions. To achieve this goal, she recommended that candidates complete research courses and develop policy analysis skills while pursuing their doctoral degree.
As these thoughts percolated, I considered the interesting crossroads at which the objectives of the Ed.D. and Ph.D. intersect. For example, to which of these programs does a Director of Student Activities who loves co-curricular programming, but who also possesses a burning intellectual curiosity apply? Will an Ed.D. program satisfy this interest? Are the requirements of the practitioner’s doctorate sufficient to answer the scholarly questions pondered by the director at night? Alternatively, what about the recent M.A in Student Affairs graduate who desires in-depth training in research methods, data analysis, and information dissemination, but who has no desire to enter the highly political realm of the ivory tower? Does the Ph.D. program provide the right educational setting for such training and development, and more importantly, does it offer career development opportunities for a candidate with non-faculty aspirations?
As suggested in the Preparation Program Resources document provided by a former Ed.D. program director at the mid-western university, it is crucial for departments to differentiate between both types of programs, so that prospective students are aware of the purpose and objective of their intended terminal degree. The question then arises, “how can this be achieved, if there is little consensus within the academic community about the doctoral level learning objectives which separate the Ed.D. from the Ph.D.?
It would be worthwhile for departmental faculty to closely examine their educational philosophy and expertise when attempting to clearly delineate differences between both programs. Such keen reflection provides an opportunity to distinguish between the objectives, coursework, assessment, and career outlook of each program, while simultaneously illuminating grey areas which may arise. If, or when these instances of ambiguity occur, content area specialists can either take the lead in steering the conversation or they recommend external consultants qualified for quelling these scholarly disputes.
Indeed, such deliberations can be painstaking and time-consuming, however, the end-product will benefit the department and the many students who intend to or who are currently in pursuit of their terminal degree. In the long-run, the institutions that have engaged in this work will serve as aspirant models for those that have not and they will create benchmarks and best-practices for the higher education sector to follow.
Currently an Educational Leadership Ph.D. student, Le Shorn Benjamin has spent the last eight (8) years developing a multifaceted career in the field of education. Le Shorn is a member of ACPA and the current Coordinator of Doctoral Students Initiatives for the Graduate Students and New Professionals Community of Practice (GSNPCoP). Le Shorn’s professional experiences have spanned national and international borders and included K-12 teaching, higher education co-curricular program assessment, and the quality assurance and accreditation of tertiary education programs.