A Degree of Difference: A Doctorate in Management

by Darrell Norman Burrell

Being an educational administrator is more complex than ever. Think of the overwhelming leadership challenges that faced the president of Virginia Tech University after the shootings on his campus. Or consider the unprecedented demands that confronted school administrators at Columbine High School in the aftermath of that massacre. Or think about how school district leaders in Greensburg, Kan., have had to handle the resurrection of an entire school system destroyed by a devastating tornado in May.

Then throw into the mix the latest leadership challenges confronting K-12 administrators almost universally — compliance with No Child Left Behind, gang violence, limited financial resources and high staff turnover. It seems imperative for school administrators today to receive advanced training that goes well beyond the M.Ed. in educational administration, the most common credential in the field.

While no formal academic training can possibly prepare a leader of any organization for fully coping with such stressful and volatile acts and human tolls, an advanced degree that exposes leaders to emerging research and sophisticated analysis can be extremely beneficial in solving today’s complexities.

Typically, the academic degree of choice for senior educational administrators is the Ed.D. or the Ph.D. in educational leadership. Critics of late have argued that these traditional doctorate programs do not offer a curriculum that meets the contemporary demands of school district leadership by failing to develop strategic leaders skilled in organizational and staff development, managerial communication, team building, professional ethics and critical thinking.

Superintendents need to be well-versed today in the areas of change management, diversity management and development of high-performance teams because leading school systems today requires leaders who can build capacity, motivate and inspire others.

Yet most educators who aspire to lead school systems continue to follow the logical progression in academia, moving from a master’s degree in educational administration or curriculum and instruction to a traditional Ed.D. or Ph.D. program, where, as a culminating experience, they will be asked to pursue an arduous research product that will have limited practical workplace application. The reality is the most employers of leaders assume a professional with a doctoral degree will naturally have the skills required to lead.

School boards are so fixated on the presence of a doctoral credential on the vitae of superintendent candidates they are considering that they overlook the relevance of the coursework to the role. The result is administrators who cannot manage a serious crisis, develop the professional skills of others in the organization or be creative problem solvers.

Management Edge
The doctor of management, or D.M., offers a viable alternative to the traditional Ph.D. and Ed.D. — degrees that are geared toward theory associated with running school operations and conducting formal research. The doctorate of management was introduced at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1995. Since then, several universities have developed their own programs.

The D.M. degree takes a progressive academic approach with a curriculum that’s focused on developing the talents, skills and abilities of management-level staff. D.M. programs offer relevant courses for leading today’s complex organizations — classes such as Critical Thinking Skills For Managers, Developing and Managing High-Performance Teams, Organizational Analysis and Design and Assessment of Management Proficiency.

Doctorates in management recognize that an organization’s top leadership may have an array of knowledge about technical operations and can devise a great mission statement, but without the aptitude to develop the capacity of staff to implement that vision, the long-term organizational success will be limited. These programs use course work to create a synergy between knowledge that is gained in the classroom and skills developed in the workplace. Cognitive learning, workplace learning and peer learning build on each other.

The D.M. degree represents a major departure from traditional doctoral study by enabling administrators to combine pure leadership theory and applied research methods to define, implement and better evaluate the decision-making strategies necessary for organizational growth.

Distinctive Delivery
Doctorate of management programs make logical sense for the full-time school administrator because classes are offered on weekends, online and during limited-residency formats. The flexibility they afford is invaluable to upwardly mobile leaders, who can complete a degree in three or four years without having to leave a full-time job.

Several respected and accredited institutions now offer the degree. These include several of the nation’s leading online higher education programs — University of Maryland University College and University of Phoenix — as well as more traditional institutions, including Case Western Reserve University, George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., Colorado Technical University in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Webster University in Webster Grove, Mo.

One of the most progressive and flexible doctorate of management programs is offered at Colorado Technical University ( It is designed to develop senior-level organizational leaders through cutting-edge course work in management, classmate collaboration and applied research projects. Students must travel to Colorado Springs three times a year on weekends to complete the three-year program. Most courses are completed through online assignments with the cost of books and a laptop included in the tuition.

What is unique about this D.M. program is that it does not have the traditional requirement of a dissertation. Colorado Tech has replaced the dissertation with four applied research projects that focus on solving real problems at the graduate student’s place of employment. In addition, students move through the program as a group. This contributes to a support system that enhances student retention and degree completion.

But Colorado Technical University is not strictly an online university. It operates a real campus where students take courses on the undergraduate and graduate levels. Having an actual campus is important because many organizations are reluctant to hire administrators who have completed their degrees at universities that operate exclusively online.

The University of Maryland University College ( has an established reputation of running nontraditional degree programs for working adult students throughout the world. Its doctor of management program focuses on the critical connection of an interdisciplinary, intercultural and international approach to leadership study. The program consists of a flexible combination of online courses with week-long residencies at the beginning of each semester during the three-year program.

Darrell Burrell is an adjunct professor in the graduate and professional studies program at Averett University in Danville, Va. E-mail: