Should I Choose an Ed.D. Degree or a PhD in Education?

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If you’re thinking of getting a doctoral degree in education, you’re probably trying to decide between an Ed.D., or Doctor of Education, or a PhD in Education. Which degree is right for you? That depends on what you plan to do with it.

The Ed.D. degree is considered a “practical” degree that helps students focus on developing the skills needed for the workplace. You’ll learn the fundamentals of educational theory and how to apply them in the real world. This is a good degree to pursue if you want a career in educational leadership or policymaking.

A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, in Education is considered a “theoretical” degree. You’ll learn how to perform original research and form new educational theory. This is a good degree to pursue if you want to perform original research in a university setting.

The Pros and Cons of the PhD in Education

Among many academics, the PhD in Education is considered the more distinguished of the two degrees. Depending on where you study and what research you plan to base your dissertation on, it could cost more and take longer to get. If you look forward to a career as an academic researcher in the field of education, this is the degree that will impress hiring universities the most. In general, you must perform original research in education to earn this degree.

However, if you’re not interested in performing research but want a career in educational administration, leadership or policy work, the PhD in Education may not be the degree for you. Employers in these fields tend to look for candidates with practical experience. You’d gain that experience in the course of earning an Ed.D. degree.

The Pros and Cons of the Ed.D. Degree

Unlike the PhD in Education, the Ed.D. degree generally doesn’t require candidates to perform original research. Instead, it places more emphasis on developing a thorough command of existing educational knowledge, and much less emphasis — or none at all — on the development of new educational knowledge.

As a result, you may be able to earn this degree faster and at a lower cost, since the time spent doing research is a nonissue. Some Ed.D. programs take only three years to complete, while a PhD in Education can take up to five years or more.

Unfortunately, many in academia see this degree as less distinguished than the PhD in Education. Many academics feel that Ed.D. degree programs are insufficiently rigorous and prepare students for neither a practical career in educational administration and policy nor a career in educational research. Some schools, like Harvard, are dropping their Ed.D. degree programs altogether.

If you’re planning a career in educational leadership, administration or policy, however, academic opinions about the worth of your degree won’t matter. What matters are the opinions of your prospective employers, who will value the practical knowledge and experience in educational theory, policy, and leadership found in Ed.D. degree holders.

Is There Really a Difference Between Ed.D. and PhD in Education Degrees?

Many academic researchers feel that the increasing emphasis on research and theory in Ed.D. degree programs has eroded the distinction between these and PhD in Education degrees. Furthermore, a majority of people who earn PhDs in Education fail to go on to a career in research.

The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate is currently seeking to restructure Ed.D. degree programs at universities around the country to return this degree to its original purpose — that of a practical knowledge qualification for educators looking to move into administrative and policymaking roles. The Carnegie Project hopes to make the Ed.D. a more standardized professional practice degree, similar to the J.D. degree for those who hope to practice law, for example. So far, the Carnegie Project has restructured Ed.D. degrees at over 50 schools.

If you’re thinking of pursuing an Ed.D. because you want to practice as an administrative professional or policymaker, look carefully at the program to see if it emphasizes practical professional knowledge over original research. This sort of Ed.D. degree program will best prepare you for a career in education administration, leadership or policymaking.

The Ed.D. or Doctor of Education degree was originally intended as a professional practice degree, as opposed to a PhD in Education, which was intended as a research degree. Over the years, the distinction between these two degrees has faded, but initiatives such as the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate have been working successfully to restore it.


About the Author: Contributing blogger Suzanne Sallan holds a Doctor of Education in Higher Education and Organizational Change. To learn more about similar programs, click here for online edd degree info.

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