Why Should I Get a PhD in Education? An Interview with Dr. Rebecca Wardlow

Why Should I Get a PhD in Education? An Interview with Dr. Rebecca Wardlow

Is a PhD in Education* worth it? It’s a question Dr. Rebecca Wardlow has been asked many times before, and it’s one the chair of Ashford University’s Doctor of Philosophy in Education program is happy to answer. 

“There’s a sense of accomplishment in achieving something very few people do,” she says when someone questions the value of a PhD.

Dr. Wardlow has been asked to lend her expertise on the subject on numerous occasions, a fact that speaks to the drawing power of a doctoral degree. Long hailed as the academic apex for the most dedicated learners, PhD holders belong to a very exclusive club, as evidenced by a 2017 Census Bureau report. According to the data, although the number of American college graduates was on the rise, fewer than 2 percent of those grads held doctoral degrees. 

Recently, Dr. Wardlow sat down with Forward Thinking to discuss, among other things, how to get a PhD in Education, the opportunities (and challenges) doctoral students face, and how the online experience differs from a traditional college classroom. Read on to learn more about her thoughts on a PhD and if pursuing one might be worth it to you.

Ashford: What can you do with a PhD in Education?
Dr. Wardlow: Traditionally, students are looking for an opportunity to be promoted within their field. If they work in academics, perhaps they want to be an administrator. Doctoral students are passionate about research and policy. It’s an opportunity to build expertise and advanced knowledge around your area of research. You’re really making a contribution to the field of education through your dissertation and research. 

Ashford: What are the PhD in Education requirements for incoming students?
Dr. Wardlow: At Ashford University, students are required to have a master’s degree before entering the PhD program. They can earn a master’s degree at Ashford, and a handful come from outside. They may be organizational leaders or in the business field with an interest in education, or have some type of leadership background. 

Ashford: What are the top three reasons for a student to pursue their doctoral education online?
Dr. Wardlow: No. 1: Flexibility and the ability to study anywhere. No. 2: It allows you to build strong personal relationships through one-on-one mentoring with your program chair. I’m also seeing more students develop relationships with each other, which is advantageous. No. 3: We have a requirement that students come together face-to-face three times during their program, so approximately once a year we are all together. You can see the change happen. The first session a student may have that deer-in-headlights look of “What have I signed up for?” The next year, they know what their passion is and what they want to research. By the third year, they’re excited and fully committed.

Ashford: What are some of the critical things doctoral students learn?
Dr. Wardlow: You really learn to think like a researcher and problem solve in new and different ways. You’re going to learn the latest about your chosen field, the upper level of policy and leadership in education, and how the field is evolving and changing with the impact of new research. That’s part of what it instills in you. Conducting research reminds you that you’re always eager to solve problems and learn more. You need research skills to discover new information and build a foundation of knowledge.

Ashford: What do you tell a student who might be wondering ‘Is a doctorate in education worth it?’
Dr. Wardlow: The biggest advice I give them is to stick with it, think about why they’re doing it, and work on bettering themselves in some small way every day. You can follow your passion, find a topic you want to live with in school, and learn everything about it. You can do it, and you will finish.

Wardlow’s bottom line: a PhD in Education offers a “broad view of educational leadership from many different perspectives. While career opportunities often are a main motivating factor for many students, they also discover there is a greater purpose in achieving what so few others have. 

“It’s an opportunity to become an expert in your area of interest,” Wardlow concludes. 

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Written by Ashford University staff

*An online degree from Ashford University does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state. If you want to become a classroom teacher, contact your state's education authorities prior to enrolling at Ashford to determine what state-specific requirements you must complete before obtaining your teacher's license. Ashford graduates will be subject to additional requirements on a state-by-state basis that will include one or more of the following: student teaching or practicum experience, additional coursework, additional testing, or, if the state requires a specific type of degree to seek alternative certification, earning an additional degree. None of Ashford's online education programs are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), which is a requirement for certification in some states. Other factors, such as a student’s criminal history, may prevent an applicant from obtaining licensure or employment in this field of study. All prospective students are advised to visit the Education Resource Organizations Directory (EROD) and to contact the licensing body of the state where they are licensed or intend to obtain licensure to verify that these courses qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits in that state prior to enrolling. Prospective students are also advised to regularly review the state’s policies and procedures relating to licensure as those policies are subject to change.

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