Is an online doctorate feasible?
April 28, 2006 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Is it feasible or as valuable to get a doctorate online?

My wife is a special education teacher with a gift for developing lesson plans for students with significant disabilities that incoroprate therapies the children need for rehabilitation and maximum access to general curriculum.

Are the courses valuable and do they prepare the students for application upon graduation?

Any potential pitfalls that wouldn't occur with an on-site education?

Any good resources out there? Online or otherwise?
posted by UncleHornHead to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Can you point to a couple example programs? I can't imagine a first tier or second tier school granting PhDs (this is what you are talking about, right?) online.
posted by onalark at 5:33 PM on April 28, 2006


There are certainly quality schools that do this, although MA/MBA level is more common. It's going to take longer than it would normally, and it's going to be less respected by a lot of people who don't realize this kind of thing has gone legit.

Other than that I wouldn't suspect any major issues, just make sure she's using a legit school (e.g. one that also does in person classes and has an actual campus) and she should be fine.

Most people/employers aren't really going to care where you got your degree, as long as it wasn't out of cereal box.
posted by tiamat at 5:39 PM on April 28, 2006


Oregon State (for some reason) has maybe the best site about diploma mills. They also discuss on-line education which sometimes has certified legitimate and accredited universities behind them. (Beware: everyone claims accreditation)
Diploma mill degrees should be worthless. We live in a bizarre world where sometimes some places accept them (for example they can bump up a state teacher's pay just as well as a legitimate PhD in some states).
In my opinion they are worse than worthless in respect to demonstrating you have an education. Although some diploma mills will put you through a modest amount of work to get their degree, they survive by not rejecting students or requiring quality work. I say less than worthless because they lump you with people who would never have a degree without having a phony one - even if you are competent. You could get a doctorate in Spookology just as easily as your psychology PhD from these school.

As for the legitimate online schools that offer PhDs, try to see if you get info on their grads. (Googling, not just asking the school). Maybe they'll tell you whether it was worth it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:46 PM on April 28, 2006


Even in a legitimate program I suspect it would be a lot harder and more frustrating to go the online route. You don't get face-to-face interaction with the professors, but have to wait until they get around to answering emails. Discussions with other students and basically everything would be done via email, which could be maddening for lengthy in-depth conversations. Real-time in-person discussions are still the best way to deal with complex topics, I think.

Also, you would not have access to the university library. Sure, lots of things can be found via Google, but some journal articles would not be accessible without a subscription.

(I once took an extension class in programming, and even with 1 class per week where I could talk to the instructor, it was incredibly frustrating not to have ready access to the instructor and more experienced students. I can only think that a totally online experience would be an order of magnitude worse.)
posted by Quietgal at 6:12 PM on April 28, 2006


My mother is actually looking into semi-online programs for a PhD in Nursing right now...the most legitimate ones to her appear to be the ones that require you on campus once a term, for a few days or a week. (I think she was looking at Drexel, and some other, possibly state universities like that.) Your best bet is to look at all the schools doing programs at all and then whittling them down to the ones with distance learning programs.

Ditto the university library problem. In my mother's case, since she works for a university (one without a nursing program but with a medical school) it's not an issue, but all the JSTOR in the world isn't going to have the books/journals you need.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:34 PM on April 28, 2006


Wouldn't an Ed.D. be more appropriate for curriculum development?
posted by jmgorman at 7:43 PM on April 28, 2006


The only instance in which I would recommend a fully on-line Ph.D. from a properly accredited institution (if they even exist yet) is if you already had a job that guaranteed advancement if you have the online degree in-hand.

As for whether it is worth it, it depends on what your wife needs the degree to do and what she values in an education. I would, however, point out that the Ph.D. is a research degree and it requires a lot of specialized institutional support and time to complete properly. People hiring Ph.D.s usually have Ph.D.s themselves and have pretty well formed opinions about the degree in their field, what makes it valuable, and what programs/institutions make good researchers. In these respects, the Ph.D. is much different than a bachelors or masters degree.

It might be a good idea for your wife should talk to the kind of people she would want to work for if she got the online Ph.D. Chances are she might be able to come to a decision quickly if she realizes no one will hire her with an online degree.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:58 PM on April 28, 2006


The University of South Dakota's Department of Education is rather progressive when it comes to online degrees (Alumni of the M.S. there), due to the sparse population concentration of the state.

They have an Ed.D. Degree, though they don't mention it on their website. I'd recommend giving them a call about it.

Check It Out
posted by hatsix at 10:16 PM on April 28, 2006


Boston University doesn't have the program your wife wants, but their prospective students page has lots of information for helping her decide if distance education is a good fit. They've also put a lot of effort into making the online experience as good as possible, with every class created specifically for an online audience by instructional designers who work with the professors a year in advance, cohorted classes to encourage interaction between students, and a very low student-to-teacher ratio. In addition to academic resources, each student is assigned a facilitator/advisor for administrative purposes, and the actual defense has to happen on-campus. Also, the admissions process is very similar to that of their traditional degrees. You might want to look for these features when evaluating programs.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:50 AM on April 29, 2006


I think mrmojo is right. In my experience not too many people take distance PhDs/EdDs seriously. I don't know how it works in North America but you might look into opportunities for PhD by publication which are more respectable. In short this is where the person in question publishes their work in respectable peer reviewed journals and this sort of greases the wheels of the standard PhD route.
posted by anglophiliated at 3:52 AM on April 29, 2006


Be very diligent about investigating the quality of any graduate program you apply to, whether online or not.

I don't know whether there are any decent distance-learning graduate programs in education as it's not my field, but I have investigated distance learning options before. One very good resource for distance learning info is DANTES (Defense Activity for Nontraditional Education Support) - the military uses distance learning all the time, and this is their resource list (available to all.)

But, again, be careful.

As the author Paul Fussell memorably remarked (and I'm paraphrasing here, but this is the gist of it), when you examine the great majority of colleges and universities in the United States, their resemblance to actual institutions of higher learning is purely architectural. This may sound snobbish, but in my experience this observation is dead-on. Especially for a graduate program, you want to get into the best one you possibly can.

In general, people may have more of a tendency to discount the value of online education than "resident" education, but practically speaking, a distance-learning degree from an established, high-quality institution with a good reputation may well be superior to a resident degree from the nearest local U.

Prejudices against online degrees are steadily decreasing over time. Prejudices against crappy graduate programs are likely to always remain.
posted by enrevanche at 5:51 AM on April 29, 2006


I'm doing a doctor of pharmacy degree online through Creighton university in NE. They require you to be on-campus once a year, and it's hard as hell. They're the only ones in the country who have this program (for pharmacy), and there was a lot of resistance when they first began setting it up years ago. It's been around 5 years now. Respect has increased as people see that it works. They have both a regular pharmacy school (150 students/yr) and a web class (50). The web students actually have done slightly better than the campus students on the NAPLEX (national licenceing exam), so that's nice to know. The web students also tend to be older (30-somethings) with kids, and possibly more mature.

Anyway, my point is this: respect for this sort of thing - if it is legit - is only going to increase. More and more people want to go back to school without relocating and uprooting their whole life. If people want to hire someone with your wife's qualifications and experience, they are not going to be too put off by what institution the piece of paper came from, or whether she was there in person when she got it. Again - this is assuming it is legit and not a diploma mill.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:40 AM on April 29, 2006


Oh, and it appears that I can't spell "license." Oh well.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:41 AM on April 29, 2006


If you're still watching this thread....
Maybe another viewpoint (and possibly off-topic as you are looking for a quality school recommendation):

My wife is also a special ed teacher in Florida. In our grand state, your pay is almost solely based on your education level. As long as the online school is accredited, the degree counts.

But yes, in any industry, there are degree/school pedigree snobs.
posted by JimBobNoPants at 10:41 AM on May 1, 2006


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