University polishes its doctoral program

Arkansas Tech to roll it out in 2015

Posted: August 3, 2014 at 3:33 a.m.

RUSSELLVILLE -- Arkansas Tech University will spend the new academic year on the final step of a major initiative: its first doctoral degree program.

Starting next summer, it will admit the first group -- approximately 15 students each year -- to the Doctor of Education in school leadership program, which will prepare educators to become district- or school-level leaders.

The program builds off the school's current educational specialist degree, said Mary Gunter, dean of Arkansas Tech's Graduate College and director of its Center for Leadership and Learning.

"It's a need that students expressed to us -- that they would like to see us offer the doctorate so they could continue from the specialist on and have a seamless program," she said.

"People who have been involved in our EDS," she said, referring to the educational specialist degree, "want the continuation of the philosophy that we have at this center."

The doctoral program will include the 30 hours of courses that make up the educational specialist degree and an additional 33 hours.

The educational specialist courses are delivered mostly online with some face-to-face seminars, Gunter said.

The remaining 33 hours of coursework that will make up the doctoral degree program will be delivered in a face-to-face weekend college format.

Gunter said the weekend college accommodates the schedules of the students in the program.

The program targets practicing school and district leaders such as principals, curriculum leaders and district-level officials.

"We're not here to prepare people to necessarily go into higher ed to teach or to become researchers," Gunter said. "We're here to prepare, through this Ed.D, those individuals that are really going to return to our public schools and ... help us look at some of the key issues that our public schools are facing."

Three other Arkansas universities offer doctorates in educational leadership -- the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, according to the state Department of Higher Education.

A fourth school, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, offers similar training for educators as part of its doctorate in leadership studies program.

John Watson, Arkansas Tech's vice president for academic affairs, said the new program is targeted at different students than are existing programs.

"The other programs, as I understand, are much more broadly defined," he said. "Our graduates are going to be school administrators. That allows us to focus the coursework on precisely what they need to be good school administrators."

Cynthia Moten, associate director for academic affairs at the state Higher Education Department, said her agency doesn't expect the new program to take students away from the existing ones.

Few Arkansas Tech graduates pursue doctorates at Arkansas colleges, she said. Most Arkansas Tech graduates interested in pursuing doctorates in educational leadership go to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, which has a partnership with the school.

"Those are the individuals who are expected, at least initially, to pursue the program," she said. "The fact that their students were not enrolling in existing programs, there would not be an adverse impact in the existing programs."

The Arkansas Tech program is also expected to draw different students because it will follow a more rigid structure. The nine-semester program, which includes summers, follows a guide of classes that should be taken each semester.

"They know if they enter here, this is their program and that's what they're expected to follow, and we expect them to commit to this," Gunter said.

Students will be admitted to the school as part of a cohort, a group that will follow the program together. Moten said the other institutions don't have formal cohorts.

"Any student who is wanting to pursue a degree on their own at their own pace will go to one of the other institutions," Moten said.

Gunter said the school wants to admit a new cohort of students each year, which will provide flexibility to those who aren't able to keep up with the rigorous program.

"If something does happen and a person has to drop out, then they can enter with another cohort and pick up where they left off," she said.

Gunter and her colleagues have been working to get this doctoral program since 2009.

Because this will be the first doctoral program for the university, it also had to undergo the process of changing its role and scope.

Proposals for the change in role and scope and the doctorate of educational leadership had to be approved by leaders at the school and state levels.

An external review committee made up of leaders of peer institutions in other states also reviewed Arkansas Tech's proposal and provided feedback.

The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board gave final approval to both changes on July 25.

Gunter said she has already been getting calls from prospective students.

"It's an exciting time for Arkansas Tech," she said. "I know the students are very excited about the potential of being able to apply."

Metro on 08/03/2014