What to Expect from Ed.D. Programs

Dr. Jeff Keeling
Dr. Jeff Keeling
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
Doctoral graduate gown in front of a large curtain.

What is a Doctorate Degree?

Generally speaking, a doctorate degree is the terminal level of education pursued by those in the field of education. The Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in education generally focuses more heavily upon preparing candidates for academic research, while the Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) focuses more upon professional practices such as school administration or special education while including a research component. Ed.D. programs vary significantly among institutions; however, reputable programs generally require approximately 60 credits comprised of required and elective courses and a nine-credit dissertation.

What is the Primary Goal of an Ed.D. Program?

Ed.D. programs focus upon developing exemplary educational leaders that are able to teach and train other educators and also be able to understand and conduct research into educational matters. Ultimately, an Ed.D. program capitalizes on the prior knowledge and experience of educators and takes them to a higher level through training surrounding leadership, legal issues, statistics, and qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Ultimately, the Ed.D. is a useful degree because it provides two distinctive pathways for those who attain it. The most common pathway is that of preparing and/or enriching school administrators such as superintendents, principals, and directors of curriculum and special education. The knowledge and skills gained through the pursuit of an Ed.D. produce leaders who possess the ability to analyze both instructional and situational data to inform their decisions. This background lends itself to improving schools both academically and instructionally, as degree holders are fully trained in managing curriculum and personnel. This allows those with an Ed.D. not only to identify areas of improvement within their institutions, but also with the skills necessary to manage the human and fiscal resources necessary to complete the improvement process.

The second pathway option for Ed.D. holders is teaching in the postsecondary sector. Typically, individuals possessing an Ed.D. have not only extensive training but also a vast array of professional experience to bring to the college-level classroom. This factor makes Ed.D. degree holders uniquely qualified to instruct future educators and school administrators because they possess not only textbook knowledge and research abilities but also the experiential background necessary to assess how popular theories and approaches actually function in actuality.

Without this “real-world” experience, it is easy to view every approach or theory that is proposed as wonderful and the latest solutions to the problems of the education world. Often, however, the efficacy of some theories falls short when actually applied under authentic circumstances. As a result, college and university professors with an Ed.D. are better able to analyze the information the present to their students and thus, continuing the cycle of developing effective leaders.

Structure of Ed.D. Programs

Ed.D. programs vary from institution to institution based upon specific requirements, concentration areas, and format. As a general rule, Ed.D. programs require 60 total credits for completion, including a completed dissertation. As a result, the most abbreviated time frame necessary to complete a program is in the three to four year range. Naturally, candidate’s personal circumstances factor into the amount of time necessary for completion, as individuals who work full-time may need to pace themselves according to their availability.

Once a candidate has completed his or her required course work, most Ed.D. programs permit candidates to use up to seven years to complete their dissertation process. The idea of taking the maximum time to complete the dissertation is not recommended; however, as candidates’ momentum tends to wane as they become farther removed from their course work and research training.

Ed.D. candidates have the opportunity to specialize in several areas depending upon the institution chosen. Several of the most common specializations include Educational Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, and Special Education. In a majority of cases, the general course requirements will be much the same, with candidates then choosing elective courses relevant to their area of specialization. The dissertation research, then, should surround a problem or topic within the candidate’s specialization area.

Numerous Ed.D. programs are available globally at this time, so candidates must critically examine a variety of programs and then determine which one best meets their individual needs. Programs are offered in all learning formats including in-person, virtual, hybrid in-person/virtual, and asynchronous. While in-person learning is the “tried and true” instructional method, many candidates are limited as a result of their physical distance from an institution with the program they have chosen to pursue.

The most user-friendly and effective option for working individuals is the synchronous hybrid model. Most hybrid Ed.D. options rely heavily upon online instruction and courses, as well as participation and collaboration with peers pursuing the same degree. The synchronous hybrid option allows candidates to have regular communications with their instructors and to develop a rapport with their cohort. This is further enhanced when candidates and instructors meet face to face.

Asynchronous Ed.D. programs, while convenient, can sometimes be challenging, as they rely primarily upon the motivation of the candidate and include only limited interaction with instructors. While one can feasibly earn an Ed.D. asynchronously, the overall value and richness of the program may be compromised. One of the significant benefits of in-person and hybrid programs is the intangible life lessons gathered from interacting both with instructors and other professionals within the cohort, and that can be lost in an asynchronous format.

Learning in an Ed.D. Program

The terminal accomplishment of most Ed.D. programs is the written dissertation. As candidates explore potential programs, they should seek one that requires the dissertation to be at least somewhat experimental with regard to research design along with the requirement that the dissertation must result in an original contribution to the body of research surrounding their area of study. While the dissertation process is rigorous, most institutions provide a structured timeline and format for candidates to follow. This structure assists candidates in staying accountable to their timelines and completing the dissertation process within a timely manner.

Depending upon their areas of specialization, candidates may benefit from of a variety of other learning opportunities. Naturally, direct instruction from experienced and highly qualified professors is the primary feature of all programs. Apart from this, however, doctoral candidates may participate in independent and collaborative research projects, classroom observations, and scenario-based simulations. Except in rare cases, Ed.D. students do not participate in student teaching as most have already completed this requirement through their undergraduate or graduate certification processes.

Ultimately, the experience of earning an Ed.D. results in not only more knowledgeable and effective educators and administrators but also denotes to potential employers that applicants have the ability to complete challenging tasks and accomplish goals in an efficient manner. Although the process can be strenuous, the long-term benefits are beyond worth the effort invested both in terms of educator effectiveness and the personal sense of pride and accomplishment upon receiving one’s doctoral hood.

Ready to dive into the next journey of your educational career? Explore our Ed.D. programs to find the fit for you and enroll today!

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