See, I knew way back when I was going back to finish my Bachelor’s that I was starting a long road that would culminate with a PhD. I know that may make it seem like I’m a glutton for punishment, or that I’m taking going back to school to an unreasonable extreme, but my goal is to be able to start my own institution, or at least to be able to consult on distance learning, and that pretty much means a PhD is a requirement.
The next question was where. Doing my Master’s through George Washington University was an easy choice, as it had an unbeatable combination of ideal subject matter, high prestige, and low cost. There was no obvious doctoral program, though. At some point in the last two years I’ve considered all of the following:
- The insanely expensive Executive Doctor of Education in Higher Ed Management at the University of Pennsylvania. Sure there’s a $100,000 price tag, but it’s an Ivy League school and it’s ranked seventh among U.S. graduate schools of education. Moreover, the entire program can be completed start to finish in two years — including dissertation. Ultimately I succumbed to sticker shock. Some people may have their employers helping them pay for that program. I would not.
- Staying on and getting an EdD through George Washington. The thing is that the tuition rate for that program would be a lot higher than what I’m paying for my Master’s there, and my total would ultimately be something like fifty grand. That’s still a lot of debt to incur, especially with four kids who themselves will be starting college in just eight years.
- The local state school, George Mason University, has a PhD in International Education. Total debt incurred on this one would be about twenty to twenty-five grand, still a lot, but less obscene than some other options.
One major problem with all of these is that they’d require me to darken the door of a classroom again. Sure, I’m burned out for now, but I’m mostly tired of coursework that desn’t pertain to my interests. Besides, I like distance learning and don’t really want to go back to the hassle of parking in remote lots and running through the rain to try not to be late for class. Unfortunately, in the U.S. that doesn’t leave a lot of good options. All of the American institutions I could find that had PhD programs in Education by distance learning were (1) the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, which is inexpensive and well regarded, but has little track record with my particular research interests; (2) Fielding Graduate University, which is expensive and also has little track record with my particular research interests; (3) evangelical schools like Liberty University (Jerry Falwell is not my cup of tea); or (4) poorly regarded for-profit institutions that I wouldn’t want my CV to touch with a bargepole.
Fortunately, unlike many Americans, I’m aware that the world doesn’t stop at the border. Because of my inclination toward seeing what foreign systems have to offer, I found that there are a number of universities in South Africa that are ridiculously inexpensive because of the rand being so devalued even compared with the U.S. dollar, yet are well regarded internationally. Better yet, having come from the European model, doctoral programs consist of the dissertation only, and do not involve all the coursework that is attendant with American programs. Given that my research interest involves developing world issues, I also appreciated the potential usefulness of studying through a university that, while having developed world standards and resources, is itself in a developing country. I also found that there were more people interesting in Open Educational Resources internationally than were in the U.S.
I kept South Africa options in the back of my mind as I went through all the local options, but when nothing American seemed right, I started shaking my tree to see if any good contacts in South African academia would fall out. And as of recently, I’ve been corresponding with an interesting Education faculty member at the University of Pretoria, and so far I feel strongly that this is the right path for me. It’s not the lower cost, although I’ll admit that’s not exactly a drawback. It just seems like a better process, and a way of moving forward that’s more in tune with my long-term interests.
Anyway, I may be meeting him in late February or early March, the next time he’ll be in the U.S. I suppose we’ll see.