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The Value of the Southern Wesleyan University Ed.D. in the Age of Practicality

The Value of the Southern Wesleyan University Ed.D. in the Age of Practicality

The Value of the Southern Wesleyan University Ed.D. in the Age of Practicality

by Nathan Street, Ed.D. & Michael Hylen, Ph.D. on December 20, 2022

The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) involves a most interesting and extensive history. Through the late 19th century, colleges and universities were predominantly awarding doctoral degrees, or their equivalents, in the sciences – medicine and law (Toma, 2002). In 1893, the Teachers College at Columbia University installed the first Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program for the education profession and was a reaction to advocacy for more professional degrees (Shulman et al., 2006). Henry Holmes, educator at the then-Harvard College Graduate School of Education understood the need for a degree with a more practical approach to the education profession. Many primary and secondary educators were not seeking positions in higher education but desired to improve effectiveness in their current settings. Because the demand for a more professional-based graduate experience was increasing, Holmes instituted the first Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree at Harvard University in 1921 (Perry, 2012) followed by the Teachers College in 1934 (Toma, 2004). The primary courses of study were social theory, history of education, and educational psychology. From that point, even to today, doctoral students seeking the Ed.D. are encouraged to formulate dissertation topics that are immediately relevant and applicable to the profession.

Over the years, the Ed.D. has increased and waned in popularity but, nevertheless, has demonstrated immense flexibility across the spectrum of study. As a practical degree in education, and considering the science and art of educating humans is pertinent to all disciplines, practitioners continue to seek the Ed.D. To that end, many disciplines from business to religion, psychology to the sciences, and the arts to other humanities have adopted the Ed.D. for specific practical fields in their disciplines. This, however, has not occurred without significant criticism. Many higher education professionals have historically considered the Ed.D. as “Ph.D.-light” (Redden, 2007) or that the Ed.D. has diluted the prestige and importance of earning a doctorate (Townsend, 2002). Still, the Ed.D. is predominantly sought among those studying to serve as a practicing educational administrator.

However, in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “Times, they are a-changin’.” Enrollment in higher education programs continues historic declines (Nadworny, 2022) and the cost of living is increasing due to many factors not limited to inflation being the highest in 40 years at 5.9% (Blakely-Gray, 2022). As a result, an increasing number of students perceive decreasing value in earning a college degree (Alsever, 2022), much less a graduate degree, and even less a degree that is not immediately operational to their profession. According to Alsever (2022), 34% of college graduates indicated they could have obtained a higher-paying job without the college degree – and without the debt. 

According to Hanson (2022), student loan debt comprises $1.745 trillion in the United States alone, of which $1.617 is currently outstanding, representing 92.7% of all student loans. Forty-three million borrowers maintain an average of $37,787 in student loan debt. With the median income in the United States at approximately $44,000, $59,600 for college graduates, and $69,700 for individuals with graduate degrees (McGurran, 2022), it is becoming increasingly critical to families that investing in a degree results in a comparable increase in earnings. Considering these trends, more students seeking immediate return on investment are seeking practical degrees.

In 2022, Fortune indicated that among all of the potential degrees available to students and even considering the overall decline in college enrollment, there is one degree that is countering the trend and actually surging – the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) (Becker, 2022). In 2022, enrollment in this degree offering increased by 13% overall with some outliers surging up to 50%. Those offering the degree option are even marketing the degree not just to education professionals but also to CEOs, nonprofit executive directors, organizational leaders, middle-managers, and more.

So, why is the Ed.D. surging? Becker (2022) indicated that it is primarily due to the degree’s versatility and broad applicability. Individuals seeking leadership or supervisory roles in their respective organizations often find the Ed.D. the most practical, applicable, and achievable degree for their goals. In true utilitarianist fashion, the degree is an immediately applicable means to their goals. According to a second recent Fortune article, successful graduates of Ed.D. programs earn, on average, six-figure salaries (Griset, 2022). This includes, in some cases, between $40,000 and $140,000 more than the expected median earnings of individuals with graduate degrees in the United States depending on the position.

In essence, more students are seeking opportunities to advance, improve their earning capacity, maintain leadership positions in their current organizations, and exercise their capacities as “scholar practitioners” rather than pure “academics” (Griset, 2022). Anecdotally, many individuals have served banks, credit card companies, marketing firms, nonprofit/philanthropic organizations, legal firms, and religious organizations in “director of education” positions that were predominantly filled by individuals maintaining Ed.D. degrees. In nearly every instance, the earning potential for each of those positions encompassed six figure salaries.

Well, does this mean that because an individual may teach content that is not purely “education” or “educational administration,” “curriculum and instruction,” “special education,” etc. that this point is moot? On the contrary, the Ed.D. is incredibly versatile, so much so that it is becoming the favored degree for practical application in many content areas. In many institutions, the Ed.D. is awarded upon completion of a practical doctorate program in religion, psychology, counseling, business, health professions, technology, and executive leadership among others. Not to disenfranchise the arts, there is an increasing number of schools of music and fine arts that hire professors and administrators who possess Ed.D. degrees. Anecdotally, the doctoral program in the school of music at one of the largest universities in the nation is primarily staffed by professors with Ed.D. degrees.

The possibilities are becoming increasingly endless with the versatility and practicality of the Ed.D. The concern may be that with increasing numbers of students earning the Ed.D. that it will eventually dilute the prestige. On the contrary, according to the US Census Bureau in 2018, approximately 4.5% of the US population had earned a doctorate with 3.2% earning a professional degree. The odds of diluting the pool of doctoral candidates are unlikely.

It appears a perfect storm is forming. Considering greater costs of living; decreasing enrollments in college; devolving perceptions of the value of earning a college degree; increasing utilitarianist desire for practicality; rising costs of student debt in the United States; unsustainable income-to-student-debt ratios; the flexibility, and versatility of the Ed.D.; and the promotion and earning potential for professional degrees outpacing most other degree options, the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” would seemingly be expanding Ed.D. offerings into as many content areas as possible. Indeed, education in all settings is universal. There exists no organization or profession that will not include some aspect of training or education. A professional with the capacity to offer a variety of versatile options to improve the abilities of all employees would, in effect, improve the earning potential of the organization holistically. It was, after all, Horace Mann, 19th century educator, who asserted, “education, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”

Furthermore, it was the writer of Proverbs, a great advocate for education, particularly practical education, who, in Proverbs 18:15 (ESV), wrote, “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” It was in Proverbs 22:6 the writer enjoined the reader to “train up a child.” It is training, not learning or teaching, that most often relates to work. The Lord certainly never called us to learn to serve no practical purpose for the kingdom. On the contrary, He has trained us through his word to “go out into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15) and discipline the learner (make disciples) (Matthew 18:19-20).

Offering grand ideas without specific concepts is akin to eating diet doughnuts – what’s the purpose? Some ideas for implementation would include:

  • Professional Training Consortium: Adult students pay for concept-specific training courses that lead to earned hours in master’s/doctoral programs. The university encourages the students that since they have already earned credit, it would only make sense to enroll and finish the degree.
  • Early College Program: High school students finish high school coursework in two years; immediately continue to complete general education requirements for an associate degree from SWU. Students are then eligible for immediate acceptance into SWU to complete four-year professional degree in two years with immediate acceptance into graduate program. In four years, students could graduate from SWU with a professional master’s degree. Immediate acceptance and marketing to continue toward Ed.D.

Southern Wesleyan University’s Ed.D. is rigorous yet achievable, practical yet theoretically sound, and prestigious yet immediately operational. Students graduating with an Ed.D. from SWU continue serving Christ as researchers, scholars, teacher leaders, and school administrators. It is a degree with a practical purpose, immediately operational, and directly correlates to quality performance in the classroom. Our students will agree that while the coursework is sufficiently challenging, the uniqueness of SWU’s approach is personalization ensuring our students not only maintain access to the highest quality content and rigorous standards but engaging each individual student to ensure he or she has mastered the process. Mastery learning is synonymous with our ethic of care – authentic experiences with opportunities to produce the highest quality product no matter what it takes. Our nation’s children ultimately depend on our students’ abilities which, in turn, depend on our abilities to train them.

The opportunity to train disciples in every profession is before us. The catalyst for providing a practical, versatile, professional education is already established in the Ed.D. The core classes are designed and the unrivaled expertise unique to Southern Wesleyan University is divinely appointed. Will we revolutionize our culture through professional leadership appointments with biblically-sound curricula promoted through our graduate offerings? The perfect storm is upon us. The SWU Ed.D. is established. The opportunities for expansion await. The calling is without repentance. So, let us work while it is yet day (John 9:4).


Alsever, J. (2022, July 19). The declining value of college degrees. [Podcast]. Humans at Work. https://outofoffice.room.com/the-declining-value-of-college-degrees/#:~:text=Meanwhile%2C%20new%20grads%20are%20finding,a%20recent%20survey%20by%20ResumeBuilder.

Becker, S. (2022, October 28). Enrollment in this doctorate program is surging – here’s why. Fortune. https://fortune.com/education/business/articles/2022/10/28/enrollment-in-this-doctorate-program-is-surging-heres-why/.

Blakely-Gray, R. (2022). The average cost of living per state, and why ignoring it could sink your business. Patriot. https://www.patriotsoftware.com/blog/accounting/average-cost-living-by-state/#:~:text=The%202022%20cost%20of%20living,%2C%20you're%20not%20alone.

Griset, R. (2022, November 8). How much do people with an Ed.D. degree make? Fortune. https://fortune.com/education/business/articles/2022/11/08/how-much-do-people-with-an-ed-d-degree-make/.

Hanson, M. (2022). Student load debt statistics. Education Data Initiative. https://educationdata.org/student-loan-debt-statistics#:~:text=42.8%20million%20borrowers%20have%20federal,be%20as%20high%20as%20%2440%2C780.

McGurran, B. (2022, July 28). Average salaries of college graduates 2022. Fortune. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/student-loans/average-salary-college-graduates/.

Nadworny, E. (2022, October 20). Fewer students chose to go to college this fall: That’s the bad news. [Radio broadcast] National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2022/10/20/1129980557/the-college-enrollment-drop-is-finally-letting-up-thats-the-good-news#:~:text=According%20to%20preliminary%20data%20released,fewer%20students%20enrolled%20in%20college.

Perry, J. A. (2012). What does history reveal about the education doctorate? In Latta, Margaret (Ed.) Placing Practitioner Knowledge at the Center of Teacher Education. Information Age Publishing, p. 51-75.

Redden, E. (2007). Envisioning a new Ed.D. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com.

Shulman, L. S., Golde, C. M., Conklin, B. A., & Garabedian, K. J. (2006). Reclaiming education’s doctorates: A critique and a proposal. Educational Researcher, 35(3), 26.

Toma, D. J. (2002). Legitimacy, differentiation, and the promise of the Ed.D. in higher education. [Paper Presentation]. Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education: Education Resource Information Center (ERIC). Sacramento, California, USA. pp. 11-12.

Townsend, B. K. (2002). Rethinking the Ed.D., or What’s in a name? [Paper Presentation]. Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. Sacramento, California, USA. http://www.usc.edu/dept/chepa/pdf/ASHE_townsend.pdf