Ed.D. and Ph.D. Programs in Education Leadership in the Southern region of the United States; twins or kissing cousins?

Jessica Hanna, Michael Cunningham


The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) are the most common terminal degrees offered in the field of Educational Leadership.  Many in the past, and some still today, consider the Ed.D a practitioner’s degree, while the Ph.D. is viewed as a researcher’s degree.  Furthermore, the Ed.D. is often criticized as being nothing more than a “Ph.D. lite” that lacks the rigor and respect of a traditional doctoral program. A critic of both Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs, Schulman (2004) proclaimed  “The problems of the education doctorates are chronic and crippling. The purposes of preparing scholars and practitioners are confused; as a result, neither is done well”.


To further explore this diversity of opinion it is important to go back to a 1994 study of Ed.D. and Ph.D. dissertations by Nelson and Coorough (1994) and their list of typical features for each degree:


Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

• The Doctor of Education degree (Ed.D.) has traditionally been focused more on educational administration and scholarly practice.

• Ed.D. programs typically offer more courses related to educational administration and policy of practice.

• Ed.D. students focus their dissertation research more narrowly on particular practices or policies that affect state or regional schools or school systems.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

• The Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) traditionally has been focused on research and scholarship.

• Emphasizes greater breadth and depth in theory and research methodology.

• Ph.D. programs typically have more courses related to research.

• Students who pursue the Ph.D. in Education are more inclined to research nationwide or international trends or large-scale practices.


Ten years later the role and function of Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs remains murky and consensus in the field is small to non-existent. This study examined a sampling of current doctoral programs websites to ascertain if there were any clear distinctions based on Nelson and Coorough’s listing.


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Nelson, J. & Coorough, C. (1994). Content analysis of the PhD versus EdD dissertation. Journal of Experimental Education, 62(2), 158.

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Shulman, L.S., Golde, C.M., Bueschel, A.C. & Garabedian, K.J. (2006). Reclaiming education’s doctorates: A critique and a proposal. Educational Researcher, 35(25), pp. 25-32. Doi:10.3102/0013189x035003025.

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