It’s been a long-term goal of mine to earn a doctoral degree. Until relatively recently, I thought that would be in education, but my grad school experience studying school psychology opened up another research interest for me. As I was winding down my Ed.S. program over the last year or so, I began looking into doctoral programs in the PA/NJ area. I was pretty disappointed by what I found. With very few exceptions, my options seemed to be:
- quit my job and go to school full-time for 5-7 years
- forget about getting the doctorate
If I was single, I’d actually consider the first option, but the fact is I’ve got a wife, two kids, a mortgage, day care tuition, and a host of other financial responsibilities for which I have yet to receive my bailout check from the federal government.
Because I live over an hour away from the nearest university that could accommodate my professional schedule, I started looking into online psychology doctoral programs, such as those offered through Walden, Capella, and Argosy. From what I could glean from the institution websites (as well as some discussion boards on this topic), the trade-off for convenience is huge: often higher tuition rates with little or no financial aid/tuition forgiveness, not to mention the seemingly widely-held attitudes that online graduate programs such as these are inferior to “brick & mortar” universities in terms of academic rigor and career preparation.
Of course, incidents like this, in which it was discovered that two teachers and three high-ranking administrators in the Freehold (NJ) Regional High School District purchased their doctoral degrees from diploma mills, do nothing to advance the cause of distance learning in the eyes of the public or other educators.
Let me make two things abundantly clear: #1: I don’t want to buy a doctoral degree, and #2: I recognize the benefits of face-to-face interaction. I don’t want to get my degree from a diploma mill; I want the opportunity to work hard to earn one. I would just like to do that while still being able to pay my bills and see my kids. Is it really necessary for me to drive an hour and a half each way twice a week to be lectured (with bulleted PowerPoints, as was a good part of my grad experience)? Given the technology that is available to us today, can we not do that online, with maybe a monthly or bi-monthly f2f cohort meeting?
So I’m at a temporary impasse here, folks. After 5 1/2 years of part-time grad study, I promised my long-suffering wife that I would wait on the doc degree until our oldest was in school full-time, so I’ve got another year or two before I can make a move, but some questions remain:
- Administrators: Would you dismiss a resume out of hand that featured a degree earned from an online, yet accredited, program?
- Higher Ed folks: Why must doctoral study and earning a living wage/supporting a family be mutually exclusive? That’s the implied message I’ve gotten from 99% of the universities I’ve researched in my area.
- All Concerned Educators: What can/must be done in order to raise distance learning to the same level of perceived credibility as traditional routes of study? Is that even a possibility? Or is it already there and I’m just listening to the wrong echo chamber?
Update! As if guided by Providence, this post from Open Education just came through my RSS reader. While it certainly only addresses one small part of a larger issue, these two takeaways make my heart smile:
Critics have long held onto the fact that being there and hearing the lecture in person, face-to-face, trumps any taped offering. The work of McKinney, et al, certainly undercuts that assertion.
So we have not been able to discern what McKinney postulates as rationale for the students listening to a podcast to perform better than those students hearing the lecture in person.
But the abstract alone confirms that as education gives careful consideration as to how best to implement technology, things change when the focus is on steps to make education more affordable. Because, if lectures and the accompanying power point slides available on iTunes produce even similar academic outcomes as traditional face-to-face lecture formats, then the enormous potential cost savings from taped online versions would in fact render the current educational model obsolete.