Differentiation . . . but to what degree? The Ed.D. and Ph.D. in Higher Education Programs
Academic Leadership - Online Journal,
Vol. 9 No. 3 (2008): Vol-9-Issue-3-March-2008
Research into higher education as a field of study is impeded by the lack of an authoritative database
of all graduate programs in the United States. One resource used frequently is the Association for the
Study of Higher Education (ASHE) database, which is self-reported by the host institutions. In 2008,
this database indicated that approximately 77 higher education (HIED) programs awarded the Doctor
of Education (Ed.D.), 91 offered the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), and 35 awarded both degrees. This
distribution recalls questions that have marked research in the field for 80 years: how do HIED
programs differentiate between the two degrees? Are both degrees really necessary?
This concern for differentiation was called “an inconclusive battle” by the Carnegie Foundation (2003,
p. 5), which has since launched an initiative to redefine the Ed.D. Approximately 11 years after Harvard
University awarded the first Ed.D., Freeman (1931) labeled it a substitute or supplement for the Ph.D.
He identified several concerns, including the elimination of a foreign language requirement, the need
for professional experience, and the use of a thesis that “organizes existing knowledge instead of
discovering new truth” (p. 1). These concerns led him to question awarding the Ed.D. in lieu of the