Completing a doctorate degree is a significant accomplishment. This achievement represents the culmination of hard work, extensive critical thinking and research about the chosen field of interest, and the result is a contribution made in the form of new ideas, thoughts, plans, methodologies, and/or actionable recommendations.
Consider in contrast, the number of individuals who complete their coursework but not the dissertation portion of the doctorate program. Current research shows there is an unprecedented number of individuals who are at the “all but dissertation” or ABD phase, and it is unknown what weight or influence a doctorate degree with the initials ABD in the title may have, if any at all.
Also consider that a doctorate degree, in academia, is the highest level of academic achievement. As those of you know, it is also the costliest of academic degrees as well. In fact, the total number of people within the United States who possess a doctorate degree is less than 10%. Within academia, doctoral candidates are generally told they will become scholar practitioners, and they are encouraged to continue their research and practice what they have studied.
For those individuals who complete a doctorate degree, there is an expectation that their careers will change in some manner, especially given their new status as a scholar practitioner. I remember completing my Ph.D. approximately seven years ago. I chose Postsecondary and Adult Education as my major, since I worked in both the corporate world and academia, and I believed I could easily find an advanced career in either environment. Unfortunately I have learned, like many others, earning a doctorate degree does not always change a person’s career and that leads to my important question: What is the real value of a doctorate degree?
The Journey of a Doctoral Graduate
I have worked in the field of higher education now for over 12 years. Prior to working in academia, I worked in corporate America for approximately 20 years. However, I have not remained exclusively in academia as I have also accepted consulting and contract positions that have allowed me to work with organizational development and instructional design projects. As to my work in academia, most of my positions have been online teaching and online leadership roles, working with for-profit institutions.
I am certain most of you may know about the state of the for-profit industry and how most of these institutions have had significant enrollment drops. Some institutions have even been forced to close. There are new non-profit institutions taking over the market; however, the leader in this market is known for low pay and a reputation for offering correspondence-style courses, which will lead to accreditation issues at some point.
What all of this indicates is that adjunct online teaching jobs are becoming fewer year by year, and full-time positions are almost non-existent. When I began in 2005 there were more jobs than instructors and the “gold rush” began. Now that has been reversed and those of us with doctorate degrees are competing with thousands of adjuncts who have master’s degrees for just a few jobs. If you believe a doctorate degree gives you a competitive advantage, you would be just as disappointed as I am on a daily basis.
Finding Employment in Higher Education
The online application format has taken away the human element from the application process and being a scholar practitioner no longer matters when filling out online forms. The fact I have a degree that less than 10% of the United States population has makes no difference to an automated online application system, and I am talking about positions in the field of academia.
Can you imagine having a doctorate degree (Ph.D. Postsecondary Adult Education), with 11 years of experience in higher education (including roles such as Chief Academic Officer and Dean), and not having a competitive advantage with institutions of higher education? Sure, we could blame the automated online application system; however, that is only part of the issue since it is the institutions who are implementing these systems.
More importantly, do you believe that someone with my education and experience is treated any differently as to how my application is handled? Now let me clarify, I do not expect white glove treatment. However, I earned a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) and that is a degree which is supposed to be the most respected and highly positioned degree in academia. Yet I receive the dreaded automated human resources emails that do not even have the courtesy to address me by my name.
What is even worse? The changing nature of jobs within academia. Here is an example. There is a newer non-profit institution, which is operating as a for-profit. This institution advertises hundreds of jobs and if you look on salary review websites you will be shocked with how low the pay is for these positions. However, what is even more shocking are the qualifications for senior leadership positions. One senior leadership position was advertised with the following requirements: master’s degree, three years experience, and some higher education experience preferred but not required.
I should clarify that the positions I am referring to above are remote or online based positions. I have also looked into employment with traditional colleges and universities; however, my doctorate degree was obtained from an online university and traditional schools tend to reject anyone with degrees from online schools. In addition, I would not qualify for a teaching position which requires earning tenure and other positions within traditional schools are also few and rarely advertised.
Finding Employment in Corporate America
The next option for me to explore is Corporate America as I have over 20 years of experience in this field and I have continued to work contract positions involving organizational development, along with training and development. I also have experience as a Manager of Training and Development.
How do you believe Corporate America responds to someone with a doctorate degree in Postsecondary and Adult Education? The answer is: not very well. I am either viewed as someone who may be too academic, too over-qualified, or a variety of other factors I have yet to ascertain. I have yet to find a training and development department that is open to the idea of having someone with a doctorate degree help lead their employees.
I also have the same hurdles to face with Corporate America as I do with academia and it is the online application forms. If you cannot obtain a name of someone to contact, such as a hiring manager or even a recruiter, you are left to the mercy of an algorithm to determine your future fate with that company.
So where does that leave me now with a doctorate degree, seven years after obtaining a Ph.D.? I am definitely not where I thought I would be. I am writing articles and blog posts, conducting research, and picking up contract positions as I can find them. Job searching has become a full-time job, and I thought that making a financial investment in a degree to work in a field I love would have brought me further along than this and I know there are not guarantees in life.
However, I am still left wondering about the value of a doctorate degree if institutions of higher education cannot support it through employment opportunities and do not value persons holding these degrees when they apply for positions. I understand there are economic factors, and there always will be, yet what has happened to the field of academia? Institutions of higher education continue to enroll students into doctorate programs and tell them they are scholar practitioners. Will the value of the doctorate degree eventually become so diluted that it only looks good on paper, or have we already reached that point? It seems I cannot answer my own question yet and perhaps one day I will, as I continue on my doctoral journey.