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    Ph.D and D.Ed.: Similarities and Differences

    Information about the Ph.D versus the Ed.D provided by the Penn State College of Education.

    Both Ph.D. and D.Ed. programs in higher education at Penn State require students to develop strong analytical and critical thinking skills.  Both programs of study engage students in a breadth of relevant theoretical and empirical knowledge, including the contributions of other disciplines/fields to further and more fully understand the complex issues within colleges and universities.  Through coursework, individualized research, collegial networks, and more, Ph.D. and D.Ed. students alike gain a deeper understanding of a particular area of inquiry through thoughtful, rigorous engagement.  In addition, regardless of the doctoral degree that a student pursues, all higher education doctoral students are eligible for university funding.

    While the Ph.D. and D.Ed. doctoral programs have much in common, there are differences as well:

    • The Ph.D. degree (in any field) is a competency-based degree, whereas the D.Ed. is a credit-based degree.  That is, the D.Ed. requires students to complete a minimum of 60 credit hours beyond a master’s degree, or a minimum of 90 credit hours if a master’s degree has not already been earned.  This includes a minimum of 15 credit hours of dissertation research.  In contrast, the Ph.D. requires that students fulfill a residency requirement of two consecutive semesters of fully time study, maintain continuous enrollment during the dissertation phase, and successfully demonstrate particular research competencies, most notably in their dissertations.
    • The Ph.D. degree, compared to the D.Ed., includes more research methodology coursework in the interest of developing research competencies in both cases (i.e., a minimum of 6 courses compared to a minimum of 4 courses, respectively)
    • Ph.D. dissertations typically seek to produce generalizable knowledge of a particular aspect of higher education that may have particular relevance and significance for discovery-scholarship audiences, whereas D.Ed. dissertations typically uncover knowledge regarding particular practices of colleges and universities that may have relevance and significance for higher education practitioner audiences.

    By identifying such differences between Ph.D. and D.Ed. doctoral programs at Penn State, we do not mean to suggest that Ph.D. recipients cannot be academic or student affairs administrators, or that D.Ed. recipients cannot be faculty members with external funding and robust research agendas.  At the same time, however, our best advice is that candidates most oriented towards higher education practice do well to consider a D.Ed. degree, and that candidates most oriented towards higher education research do well to consider a Ph.D. degree.  Faculty members in the program stand ready to assist students in discerning which doctoral degree may be a better fit.