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Online doctoral programs?
June 24, 2011 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Are there any accredited, credible, online doctoral programs?

I have seen different MBA and other masters level programs. Are there any credible (as in someone from the field wouldn't laugh hysterically at you), accredited online doctoral programs in the USA? I don't care what field. If you think of something, go ahead and through it out. I am just asking out of curiosity.
posted by Silvertree to Education (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
No, not really. But it depends on your goals, I suppose.
posted by proj at 9:14 AM on June 24, 2011


Generally, the answer is no. However, there are some fields where "online" doesn't carry the same pejorative connotations. Education comes to mind. There are a number of Ed.D's offered online, often by "real colleges", not just for-profit type places.
posted by griseus at 9:21 AM on June 24, 2011


I think the most reputable "distance" doctorate is offered by Union Institute. But lots and lots of people will say a distance doctorate is inherently suspect.

There's also a distance/online/low residency doctorate in "communication" offered by the European Graduate School, a school in Switzerland that has a roster of "rock star" celebrity faculty such as Slavoj Zizek, Peter Greenaway, Judith Butler, etc.
posted by jayder at 9:30 AM on June 24, 2011


Coursework, some of which could be done online, is only a part of PhD training. PhD students also pursue independent research under the auspices of their universities, teach classes, attend professional conferences, integrate themselves into the academic community, organize workshops. Research in particular would be difficult to carry out without access to a physical campus, physical labs, physical research subjects, or physical primary sources.
posted by Nomyte at 9:32 AM on June 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


In the humanities and social sciences, there really are none that are "credible" in the sense you mean, at least in the US academic market (which ain't so credible overall these days anyway). The reasons are various, but many of them could be overcome even with existing technology if we figured out how to make online education both more interactive and more communal. There is nothing sacred about face to face contact. I advise doctoral students whom I have never met before in person in significant ways all the time. The amount of actual face time required (as opposed to interactive video conferenced face time, because I'm not discounting the importance of one-on-one and small-group interaction in the training of PhDs) is not that great. A couple of meetings a year in person would be simple for most people to manage even from significant distances.

The problem is not online education as such. The problem is the model. Earning a PhD is a very labor intensive process, but the labor can be mediated by technology just fine on both sides of the adviser/student dynamic, and nearly as well as in the seminar room to create student/student dynamics.

The other side of this, however, is that universities still rely on funded PhD students to do a great deal of undergraduate classroom teaching in person. That's why they invest in PhD programs, mostly. So you'd need a different funding model (and face not much lower costs, which are so extensively labor costs for time) to move high-end PhD education in the arts and sciences into a fully online space. I am unusual among colleagues of my generation in thinking it could be done, however, and done well.

And the fact is that as each year goes by, more and more of the day to day of PhD education happens online anyway, from advising to study to primary research. I am right now in constant contact with half a dozen of my advisees working in as many countries, from Ukraine to Brazil to Nepal. I can give them direct feedback on their research (fieldwork based) as it happens, in real time via Skype or in near-real time via email. They can run ideas by me as they happen whereas before the net became ubiquitous (which in my field, includes in the developing world) the period of field research was a black hole of very limited communication between student and faculty members, or fellow students (not to mention the tremendous leverage the net has provided for actual social research as such). My students are certainly getting an online training as part of their PhD process.

And so are the faculty members, as we discover what this stuff is good for. Unclear if we've gained efficiencies or cost savings, but we've certainly gained a powerful pedagogical tool in this decade that has radicalized graduate training at the doctoral level.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:35 AM on June 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


We had a similar thread to this about nine months ago. A few non-resident programs were found, but the general feeling seemed to be that these wouldn't be terribly valuable for anything other than putting a few letters after your name.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:39 AM on June 24, 2011


What fourcheesemac said.

While it is possible to imagine them in the future, I am not aware of any really credible programs, in the sense that their graduates would be competitive in an academic job search.

On the other hand, there are (with virtual certainty) online doctoral programs that are credible in the sense that they satisfy requirements for professional advancement in some fields, esp. government or education, for people who have no interest in entering academia.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:45 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a friend getting an Ed.D. online (but maybe not completely online) from Argosy. She has taught college for a number of years, has a master's from UNC-G, and needs her union card. Her interest is in online education, so she figures this will work for her. I hope she's right.
posted by jgirl at 9:52 AM on June 24, 2011


I am not aware of any really credible programs, in the sense that their graduates would be competitive in an academic job search.

This is true not only for tenure-track positions, but also I would imagine even temporary postdoctoral positions in most cases.
posted by grouse at 9:56 AM on June 24, 2011


Accredited, yes. Credibility is subjective. As I've mentioned in several questions in the past I was for several years assistant to the Dean of Health and Human Services at Walden University. I haven't worked there for years, I don't have any continuing connection with the school and I don't work in that field any more so I really don't have anything to gain by supporting the institution (I also have no insight into how it has developed or changed since I left).

I can tell you that their accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools via the Higher Learning Commission was legitimate and that they took it very seriously (I was there when their accreditation was up for renewal). They are certainly not the only university with this accreditation (Capella and Phoenix are obvious examples).

I can tell you that acceptance at Walden was by no means automatic, I personally sent many letters from the Dean of HHS telling people they would not be accepted for a program because, for instance, their undergraduate degrees were not from properly accredited institutions.

CHEA homepage with accreditation resources. Although this article is from a think tank, it is a substantive discussion of questions and problems with the accreditation system.

I had responsibilities for producing a newsletter for the department and I personally interviewed people who were in professional positions they had secured on the basis of graduate credentials including PhD's they got at Walden.

More and more accredited conventional institutions are offering online programs to compete in this growing market. I don't have any special insights into them.

Anyone who says there is no credibility in online graduate education is expressing a personal prejudice that is not based in fact. This is not to say there aren't credibility issues with online education, there obviously are, and if I was ever looking at graduate school options I would be very concerned about this issue. Nevertheless it is definitely a substantial part of the future of higher education and you can definitely get a graduate degree that will be considered legitimate online.
posted by nanojath at 9:58 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have friends in a dual-institution PhD program where all labs and research are at a private research foundation, while coursework and accreditation are taken care of by a separate university that happens to be a couple hundred miles away. The classes are all taught online, and students might only visit the university a few times a year. But it's not a true distance program because the labs are all in the same place.

In sort of the same vein, it's common for PhD students to work a few years onsite, then finish up their thesis remotely. I know one guy who spent 8 years in grad school, most of it living 1000 miles away from his university. But this isn't an official program, more of an understanding between the student and the advisor.
posted by miyabo at 10:01 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


but many of them could be overcome even with existing technology if we figured out how to make online education both more interactive and more communal. There is nothing sacred about face to face contact.

I'm not sure this statement really applies to fields involving requiring labwork and/or human subjects (excepting fieldwork), i.e. many or most science / engineering fields.
posted by advil at 10:04 AM on June 24, 2011


There are some out there. I know Texas Tech offers an on-line program for their PhD in Technical Communication, but it requires students to come to a two week seminar every year. There are others. Look for ones through the main state schools and legitimate ones will usually require some kind of regular on-site seminar or visit. Stay FAR away from any for-profit school or anything that swears it can get you through with minimal time/research.
posted by ninjakins at 11:17 AM on June 24, 2011


Actually... a number of British universities offer doctoral programs that don't require residency. Like, Oxford and Edinburgh. They're totally credible. Such programs aren't available in every field, and you will have to show up from time to time. It's also not "online learning" as such, as these programs existed before the internet. But they're probably as close as you can get to what you're looking for.

Of course, they aren't in the US, but if we're doing distance learning, that would seem to matter less, yes?
posted by valkyryn at 11:18 AM on June 24, 2011


(Walden is a bit of a pet peeve because I think they are seriously diluting the meaning of a PhD. I'm not sure how a school with no ongoing research programs whatsoever can claim to offer a research based degree.... But this has more to do with Walden being for-profit than with them being online only. For-profit PhD programs are skeezy as hell. Thoreau would NOT approve.)
posted by miyabo at 2:15 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can tell you that their accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools via the Higher Learning Commission was legitimate and that they took it very seriously (I was there when their accreditation was up for renewal). They are certainly not the only university with this accreditation (Capella and Phoenix are obvious examples).

Accreditation alone does not necessarily confer legitimacy. It is necessary but not sufficient. In the specific case of the Higher Learning Commission, the U.S. Department of Education Office of the Inspector General has questioned the HLC's accreditation procedures, and recommended that the department consider whether the HLC should still be recognized by the federal government.
posted by grouse at 2:56 PM on June 24, 2011


Dakota State University offers an online Doctor of Science in Information Systems.

Not affiliated with DSU.
posted by fireoyster at 8:45 PM on June 24, 2011


Just to clarify, in case it isn't well known, most PhD students only need to be in residence for a couple of years, 3 or 4 max, before they can be anywhere they hell they please writing a dissertation, unless that is dependent on lab or field research facilities of some sort.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:57 AM on June 25, 2011


And also, I wouldn't know about Ed.Ds or technical communication or IS fields. I specifically refer to the major fields in the arts and sciences, and I can assure you there are no credible and *fully* online PhDs in those fields, if credible means you could potentially become a professional researcher in the field.

If you need a sheepskin to get a promotion, or sell vitamins, or whatever, your options are many, and may not require doing any original research or hard work at all.

Also, accreditation has become a scam industry too. After the unaccredited for profits realized they needed to be accredited to compete, they started creating their own accrediting agencies. Fox watches henhouse, news at 11.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:59 AM on June 25, 2011


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