The Waiting Game

One of the problems with doing a research-based program mostly by email correspondence is that one is limited by the other person’s rate of response. For example, I sent my prospective doctoral advisor an email regarding the possibility of meeting him when he comes to Atlanta next month, but have not heard back after almost a week.

I suppose emails get lost, and people are busy and respond when they can. And I realize I’m only a prospective student. But I’m reminded of a friend’s experience trying to do a PhD through South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, in which after almost a year of correspondence, suddenly there was nothing but silence from his advisor. I suppose this is a somewhat scary way of doing it.

At least in the meantime I’ve found even more to like about the University of Pretoria. It turns out that one of the two well known global rankings of universities, the one from the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, lists it among those that are 401-500 on the list. It being considered among the top 500 universities in the world is not too shabby. There are only three others in South Africa that made the top 500: Witwatersrand, Cape Town, and KwaZulu-Natal.

Anyway, back to waiting. I remind myself that it’s not like Johannes owes me a quick reply or that when I sent was particularly time sensitive. I suppose it’s just that I’m just excited to move forward.

And Then There’s Doctoral Work

I said yesterday that not everything was bad for my grad school endeavors in the last few months. The good thing that may be happening is that I’ve corresponded with a potential doctoral research advisor.

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.

The Story Thus Far: Grad School

So the last few months have been pretty tempestuous for my academic career, although not all bad.

First, some background. In 2004 I decided that since I was working in a university setting, and planned to do so for the foreseeable future, it was time for me to go back to school to finish my Bachelor’s, and then go on for graduate study. In addition, I’d long had the back burner idea of starting an online university, and realized that it would be completely impossible to move forward on something like that without academic credibility.

I had a little bit of credit from each of a pretty large number of places, as I had often taken a few courses here and there at whatever schools were convenient. I found out about a Connecticut state school called Charter Oak State College, which would allow me to transfer in all of my credit, as well as a Microsoft certification I’d picked up along the way, and would let me finish most of the rest through CLEP tests. By the middle of 2005 I had done this and had finally knocked that out of the way. I’d settled on a Master’s program by then, the Master’s in Educational Technology Leadership at George Washington University in D.C. GW is ranked in the top 25 nationwide for graduate schools of education, and the program was a steal at $12,000 total tuition.

I’d chosen early on to take an unusually fast clip, taking three courses at a time while still working full time. This was difficult, but meant I would finish in four semesters rather than six. Especially working in a university environment, I felt far behind my colleagues, and wanted to catch up as quickly as possible. I worked hard, and after three semesters I had a GPA of 3.77 and felt I was in the home stretch.

I was wrong.

In what was supposed to be my final semester, Fall 2006, I started off with a number of drawbacks I hadn’t faced before. Attrition on my team at the university where I was working meant I had a lot less time in the day to devote to studying. The demands of my family were as strong as ever. I switched to Marymount near the end of the semester when I was trying to catch up. And worst of all, when I did find time to study I was constantly enervated by a terrible feeling of burnout.

The result of all this was that I managed to flunk not just one, but two of the three courses. Worse again, one of them was a required course that is only offered annually. So much for completing the Master’s in December 2006, now I was looking at December 2007.

So that’s where I am now. There’s nothing I can take in the Spring, although I do plan to take my comprehensive exams and get those out of the way. I’ll take my last elective in the Summer, and retake that required course in the Fall. Then I’ll be done with it. Well, until doctoral work, but that’s for another post….