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Online options for doctorate of education degrees

By Clare Kaufman

The doctorate in education is the top qualification and terminal degree in the field. Designed for education leaders and researchers, the doctoral degree in education prepares graduates to improve learning systems and techniques at any level.

Online doctorate in education

The education doctorate is available as the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or the Ph.D. in Education. While there is considerable overlap between the two programs, the Ed.D. generally adopts a more applied focus compared to the more theoretical Doctor of Philosophy. The Doctor of Education is a practitioner degree designed for education leaders looking to apply existing scholarship to a real-world problem in education administration. The Ph.D. is modeled on the traditional social science doctorate, with an emphasis on original academic research. The Ph.D. program serves aspiring education researchers and professors.

The online doctoral degree in education is a self-paced program created to accommodate working professionals. Doctoral programs may require applicants to complete a master's degree or bachelor's degree in education before pursuing the doctorate. With a master's degree, the doctoral degree generally takes three to four years to complete.

Online Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs in education: courses and requirements

The online doctorate in education offers educational leaders and specialists the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in a particular area. Both the Ed.D. and the Ph.D. begin with advanced coursework in an education specialty. The doctoral programs culminate in either a capstone project, for the Ed.D., or an original research project and dissertation, for the Ph.D. The Ed.D. capstone project sheds light on an issue in professional practice, often with reference to existing scholarship in the field.

Doctoral specializations in education may focus on the age or special needs of students, as in these options:

  1. Adult and continuing education
  2. Early childhood education
  3. English as a second language, or ESL
  4. Exceptional student education
  5. Special education

Other specializations include the following:

  1. Assessment and evaluation
  2. Curriculum and instruction
  3. Education technology
  4. Higher education leadership
  5. International education
  6. K-12 educational leadership
  7. Workforce development

Curricula vary widely depending on the area of specialization. For example, the higher education leadership specialization may include courses in organizational leadership, public policy and higher education, economics and finance of higher education, marketing for higher education, and colleges as organizations. The assessment specialization may cover assessment methods in education, K-12 education policy and childhood learning development. Ph.D. programs in education incorporate training in social science research methodology and statistical analysis.

Careers for online doctorate in education graduates

An online doctoral program in education can lead to careers in the upper echelons of education administration, program development and academic research. Career paths include the following:

  • Administrative roles such as K-12 principal, college dean, college president, for either Ed.D. or Ph.D. graduates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts excellent job prospects for education administrators, particularly in leadership roles such as principals and assistant principals. Administrators at the K-12 level earned a mean salary of $89,990 in 2010; college administrators earned $96,680, reports the BLS.
  • Academic roles such as researcher and college professor, for Ph.D. graduates. Education professors earned a mean salary of $64,370 in 2010, according to the BLS.
  • Non-profit or government roles such as education policy researcher, education agency director or non-profit education foundation leader. The BLS projects that the best opportunities for social science researchers will go to those with master's or Ph.D. degrees.

Notable doctors of education

The education doctorate Hall of Fame includes these educators and public officials:

  • Jill Biden, education professor and wife to Vice President Joe Biden: Ed.D. in educational leadership from the University of Delaware
  • Matthew Pittinsky, co-founder of online education technology company Blackboard, Inc.: Ph.D. in education from Columbia University Teachers College
  • Gerald Lesser, chief education advisor to "Sesame Street" and Harvard Graduate School of Education professor: Ph.D. in early child development
  • Bill Cosby, comedian and entertainer: Ed.D. from University of Massachusetts
  • Dr. Ruth Westheimer, author, sex therapist and media personality: Ed.D. from Columbia University Teachers College

An online doctorate in education can be a stepping stone to influential roles in education, with studies in a format accessible to working professionals. Doctoral degrees in education offer powerful and versatile credentials for leadership and specialist careers in the field.


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