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EdD vs. PhD in Education: Requirements, Career Outlook, and Salary

An education leader meets with school staff.

With new technology that can help teachers construct more effective and innovative lesson plans; growing awareness of important sociopolitical issues impacting teachers, students, and students’ families; and a state of constant change as to what today’s students need to succeed in tomorrow’s world, education is changing, and it needs strong leaders to guide it toward new horizons.

To become a leader in education, someone who has the ability to create meaningful, long-lasting change for students, teachers, and administrators, a professional needs to possess diligence, vision, and an advanced education. But aspiring education leaders who do possess a passion for education and yearn to improve students’ lives for the better may wonder which advanced degree is right for them: a Doctor of Education (EdD) or a PhD.

Both degrees prepare graduates for rewarding careers and leadership roles in the education field, but vary in the specific types of positions and knowledge that degree holders can attain. Future education leaders should understand the differences between an EdD and a PhD before they choose to pursue one of these valuable degrees.

What Is a Doctor of Education (EdD) Degree?

An EdD is an advanced degree in the education field that prepares graduates to succeed in leadership roles in higher education. An individual with an EdD degree may work as a school superintendent, in a senior leadership role in a university or a college, as a high-ranking member of a school district or a larger educational system, and more. The length of an EdD program can vary by institution, but it often takes one and a half to two years to complete and requires students to hold a master’s degree before participating.

Curriculums for EdD programs can differ from PhD programs in that EdD programs incorporate heavy coursework in education policy, research methods, current social and political issues impacting students and teachers, developing teams and procedures, collaborating with internal and external partners, and managing and planning budgets. EdD students are not only provided with a firm understanding of how the modern education system operates, but also given extensive tools to create strategies and implement solutions to help schools and educational organizations succeed. Someone who has an EdD degree would still have the opportunity to teach or serve as an educator, but the degree program is more focused on helping graduates become leaders of educational organizations. EdD programs may also be focused on a specialized area of education, such as organizational leadership.

According to September 2019 data from PayScale, the average annual salary for an EdD degree holder is $78,000. Salaries vary by role. For example, PayScale notes that the average annual salary of an associate professor of postsecondary/higher education is $73,000, while EdD professionals serving in an executive director role earn $95,000.

What Is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree?

A PhD is an advanced degree that individuals and professionals can earn typically after attaining a master’s degree. A PhD can be attained in several academic subjects, including education, and often prepares students for careers in more research-oriented positions, as well as university and college instructor roles.

A person who holds a PhD in education can serve as a professor at a university, a consultant, or a researcher in a government education agency or organization, as well as in larger leadership roles in schools and university administration. PhD programs can be very time intensive and take several years to complete. Based on data gathered from the Survey of Earned Doctorates, U.S. News & World Report reports that “the median amount of time it took individuals who received their doctorates in 2017 to complete their program was 5.8 years.”

The curriculum for a PhD in education can vary by school, but it often includes coursework in educational research and evaluation, teaching methods, and a larger dissertation on topics or subjects in the education field. According to September 2019 data from PayScale, the average annual salary for a professional with a PhD in education is $77,000. The salaries vary by company and position. For example, PayScale notes that a research director with a PhD in education earns an average annual salary of $105,000, while an assistant professor of postsecondary/higher education earns $69,000.

What’s also important to remember about EdD vs. PhD programs is that some PhD programs at universities offer students a stipend, meaning that they receive financial resources from the school to complete the program. Other programs, though, may not provide similar financial benefits to PhD participants.

Differences Between EdD and PhD

Both degrees are valuable to professionals seeking to become leaders in education. But one’s personal career goals may determine whether an EdD or a PhD may be a better fit.

An EdD primarily prepares graduates to become leaders and strategists in the education field—for example, as superintendents, deans, provosts, and school district officials—while a PhD is more tailored to preparing graduates for instructional and research roles in education and higher education, for example, as professors and researchers. This doesn’t mean that an EdD degree holder can’t serve as a professor or an instructor in a university environment or that a PhD in education degree holder can’t succeed as a superintendent or a dean. It’s more that EdD degree holders are focused on the larger scope and strategy of an educational organization or institution, while a PhD degree holder may more often serve as a professor, an instructor, or a researcher.

The curriculums for the degrees themselves prepare students for different career paths after they graduate. Writing for Inside Higher Ed, DeWitt Scott notes that there are generally many more options and specialties for PhD programs than there are for EdD programs. And as noted earlier, PhD programs often provide students funding or a stipend to participate, but also are generally longer than EdD programs and more time intensive.

Still, both degrees are associated with professionals who’ve earned leadership roles in education, and both degrees enable degree holders to make a positive impact on students’ lives and on educational communities.

Become an Education Leader

Because more PhD programs are available than EdD programs, this can make it difficult for those who are seeking to become education leaders to find a program tailored to their unique professional goals. Additionally, because EdD programs may not provide as many funding opportunities as PhD programs, professionals may be reluctant to participate in them.

American University’s Online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership offers students a flexible option to participate in an innovative EdD program from one of the nation’s leading universities. Because the program is online, professionals have the ability to pursue their educational leadership goals and connect with established thought leaders and decision-makers, all while still being able to balance their other responsibilities.

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