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Ready to take on a new level of leadership in education with a doctorate degree? You may be wondering whether an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. is worth your time. You may also be wondering what exactly the difference is between these two doctorate in education programs. In this guide, we describe what an Ed.D. degree is, what a Ph.D. degree is, and how to determine whether your experience and career goals make you a better fit for one or the other.
An Ed.D. degree is a doctoral degree in education focused on educational leadership. The abbreviation stands for Educationis Doctor, and the degree indicates that the person holding it has advanced leadership knowledge in teaching, administration, and education research. According to the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate, the Ed.D. “prepares educators for the application of appropriate and specific practices, the generation of new knowledge, and for the stewardship of the profession.” (Source: https://www.cpedinitiative.org/page/framework)
Ed.D. degrees emphasize transformational leadership skills—that is, leadership that can change systems to better serve students and their communities, rather than leadership that merely manages efforts within the existing system. In the modern educational environment, where educators seek to provide an excellent education to students from an ever more diverse range of background and abilities, transformational leadership is in demand.
By completing an Ed.D. program, experienced educators can develop executive-level leadership skills, advanced education policy knowledge, pedagogical skills, and research capabilities to innovatively solve problems for the schools and students they serve.
Ed.D. degrees are aimed at current education professionals working directly in their organizations outside of academia. These professionals may include:
Essentially, Ed.D. programs are ideal for experienced education professionals who hold a master’s degree and who do not want to work mostly within academic education research. While Ed.D. programs can also teach advanced classroom teaching skills, the primary role of an Ed.D. degree vs. a Ph.D. is to empower the professionals who are shaping and leading today’s schools and colleges.
Ed.D. career options will vary depending on your previous work experience and your master’s degree field of study. However, the degree is designed to equip you for senior leadership roles.
What are the benefits of an Ed.D. program? Aside from expanded pay potential and the opportunity for more responsibility, there are several.
A Ph.D. in Education is a research-intensive academic degree focused on producing leaders who can nurture new educators, either within college classrooms or as leaders within educational institutions. Ph.D. programs in education emphasize the production of scholarship-- the research and analysis which describes for practitioners and policy makers what works in education, what doesn’t work, and why that is.
Typically, Ph.D. in Education degrees aim to produce researchers who can also teach at the university level, ensuring that new teachers get off to a strong start in their careers and that mid-career teachers gain the advanced skills they need to serve students even more effectively, whether as master teachers, administrators, or school counselors. Education Ph.D. graduates may also serve as administrators, whether at the K-12 level, in higher education, or in government departments and private companies which serve education.
While current teachers and administrators can make a good fit for Ph.D. in education programs, they should already have a demonstrated focus on research in their careers before applying. Other potential good fits for education Ph.D.s are academics from other fields who are interested in investigating specific problems within the field of education.
These may include:
There is some overlap between the careers you can pursue with an Ed.D. and the careers you can pursue with a Ph.D. in Education. Your ability to pursue administrative roles will vary depending on your previous experience managing others within an education setting. Other roles may include:
With its emphasis on research and teaching, the Ph.D. in Education demands full-time commitment, can take longer to complete than an Ed.D. and can be difficult to complete while continuing to work. However, it has its own benefits for those who truly want to follow a scholarly career path.
The two doctoral degrees in education overlap in many ways, but also feature key differences in terms of their intended student prospects, aims, goals, and formats.
When it comes to deciding on a Ph.D. vs. Ed.D., consider where you’ve come from and where you want to go. If you are an established classroom teacher or administrator and want advanced skills to continue solving complex problems as a leader in that area, choose an Ed.D.
If you have a more academic background and want to investigate major issues around education through research or want to contribute to the profession by training new teachers in colleges, choose the Ph.D.
Related to the differing career path goals of a Ph.D. vs. Ed.D., the skills emphasized in each degree do vary. Ed.D. students will focus primarily on hands-on, transformational leadership skills within education settings at any level.
Ph.D. students will cover many courses in research methodologies, spend more time producing a dissertation and other scholarly publications, and focus on teaching and mentoring college students.
Both Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs teach advanced research skills, including statistics, data analysis, and qualitative and quantitative methodologies such as surveys and other investigation tools. However, the research aims in each degree differ.
Ed.D. programs teach research skills to help students employ those processes to solve very specific problems through the application of evidence to practical solutions.
Ph.D. programs teach more open-ended academic inquiry skills, designed to contribute to the wider body of scholarship which informs education practice and policy.
The final difference between Ed.D. programs vs. Ph.D. programs is the way the formats are commonly structured by colleges and universities. Because of its more practical, hands-on focus, the Ed.D. is usually a credit-based program that can be delivered via online study as well as on-campus study (or with some combination of the two). In addition, Ed.D. programs are often designed to accommodate working education professionals, whether they are teachers, curriculum designers, or administrators.
Finally, Ed.D. degree programs are typically shorter than other doctoral degrees in education, with programs lasting anywhere from two to four years in length. Ph.D. in Education programs are more likely to be full-time residential programs which require students to leave full-time jobs to pursue. While some Ph.D. programs focused on educational leadership may be structured for people who need to keep working, they are less common in other specialization areas. Ph.D. degrees are also competency-based, meaning whether you earn the degree or not depends on the defense of your dissertation. Because of this requirement, they are more likely to take in the region of 5-7 years to finish.
In summary, the chief difference between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. is about the long-term career goals of the student. Which one is right for you will depend on where you’ve come from in your career to this point and where you want to go.
Dedicated to solving problems in education through hands-on, transformational leadership? An Ed.D. program is likely to be the best bet for you. Passionate about scholarly research and policy development within academic settings? You may be ideal for a Ph.D. program.
We hope this guide has helped you understand the differences between an Ed.D. in Education Leadership and a Ph.D. program in education with more clarity. Good luck with your career in education, no matter which degree you choose!
Ready to help transform schools, colleges, and universities through advanced leadership? Contact Gwynedd Mercy University to learn more about our Accelerated Online Ed.D. in Executive Educational Leadership today!