A new Doctor of Divinity talks: Online versus Face to Face Degrees
A long time ago a D.D. (Doctor of Divinity) was a prestigious title bestowed by Church on the basis of outstanding works of faith or by institutions of higher learning (namely Oxford) after the candidate had completed a Ph.D. and went on to become a scholarly authority on Religious Studies. It is the oldest of the “higher doctorates” (Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Laws, Doctor of Science, and Doctor of Letters).
Last night, under the influence of too much caffeine and sugar, with a wife whose divinely inspired celestial nocturnal sounds are the equivalent of a Snorlax’ sound attack, and nearly on the verge of loosing all of my power of reason, I became an Ordained Minister and got the title Doctor of Divinity.
Getting a Doctor of Laws (Legum Doctor, or Ll.D.) is REALLY hard. The only university who offers it through study is the University of Malta, and it’s amazingly hard to complete. Some other institutions might award honorary Ll.D. degrees based on publication and accomplishments, but it’s increasingly hard. Likewise, the Doctor of Science is only awarded to post-doctoral scientists whose contributions to the field are outstanding. By outstanding I mean something like “I have discovered the cure to AIDS”. The “easiest” to get (at least to a lit. and languages guy like me) is the Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) with various options available: 1. After you complete a Ph.D. and have published enough stuff and have been publishing for 10 – 15 years, you submit your portfolio for review. If you’re lucky, the examiner board at Oxford, Cambridge, or another equally impressive institution will grant it. 2. Go to Drew University’s doctoral program. Although it only requires 30 credits of coursework (9 less than in most other Ph.D. programs), a few people have said that writing a dissertation with them is horrible. 3. Find a university that offers a D.Litt et Phil doctoral program – a Dissertation-only Ph.D. The University of South Africa (a 100+ year old institution that began as an extension of Cambridge for white South Africans) offers extremely solid D.Litt. et. Phil. programs on various disciplines. You know they’re for real when people have said things like “I started with them on a thesis on X topic, but the ranking member of the university left, and the ones that are still there don’t know about my topic, so the University told me to stop my studies until they get someone who is an authority on the field”. In short, a higher doctoral degree is possibly the greatest recognition that a scholar could get outside of a Nobel Prize.
The Doctor of Divinity used to be the most senior of these. With only the Vatican and old universities having the authority to bestow these, they were an extremely coveted prize. Now, however, every “online ministry” has the “legal authority” to “bestow” these.
Last night it took me 5 minutes to “become ordained” (under the influence of caffeine and sugar-induced insomnia) and 5 more minutes to become a “Doctor of Divinity”. I chose this one because it was the cheapest one (free ordainment!!!) and nicest looking one. There are, however, a number of “religious institutions” online who will not hesitate to sell Doctors of Divinity to individuals. Sure, they require a 1 page testimony on how you became Christian / were touched by god / became spiritual / came in touch with the Goddess, etc, but that isn’t really important for them. What they care is that you pay them 10 – 50$ if you want a hard copy of it.
With this recent practice, the D.D. title, it seems to me, has lost much of its prominence. Sure, if someone shows me legit credentials from The Vatican or from Oxford (or another similar authority) that they are a Doctor of Divinity I will defer to their academic authority. However, those are exceedingly rare, and most of them likely live inside the Vatican. This recent experience, however, has gotten me thinking of something far more concerning than the downgrading of a specific “Higher Doctorate” title – and that is Online Education as a whole.
The Internet has changed the way we do a lot of things – from watching TV (youtube) to listening to music (custom radio at Pandora), and even how we do journalism / keep journals / publish ideas. [SHAMELESS PLUG] WordPress, for example, is a prime example of this. Through this platform (and other less efficient ones) we are able to share our ideas with more than just our friends and relatives [END OF PLUG]. The internet has also allowed us to change the way we study.
The series of tubes known as Teh Internetz has allowed for the growth of universities who offer degrees, often even post-graduate doctoral degrees – completely online. The fact that the student is not experiencing the content through active class participation, however, detracts a lot from the university experience. However, with some employers’ lack of care for appropriate credentials, these online schools have devalued several degrees. This is not true of all disciplines or of all cases (I’m sure a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard will trump a Doctor of Business Administration any day), but in the case of some of the better, yet less known, institutions, this seems troubling. I’d like to comment on the example of the University of Puerto Rico.
Certainly, UPR as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. Facilities could use improvement, some of the technology is sub-par, and the parking is beyond hell. Education, however, is excellent (at least in the colleges I studied). The English Department has scholars who trained in Cambridge, University of Wisconsin – Madison, University of Texas, Rutgers, and other top universities. Likewise, the School of Education has scholars who trained in some of the world’s top universities. I’ve even heard of some Harvard Law graduates teaching in its School of Law. I’ve also been told that the College of Natural Science has some sort of Nobel Prize guy working there. UPR is the top school to go to in the Caribbean. Its linguistics program is one of the best in the world, its Caribbean literature Ph.D. rivals Rutgers’ its school of medicine is top 25 in the US, and its School of Engineering is 13th in the US. However, in a lot of the US, and throughout the world, it is a relatively unknown school. This makes people perceive its degrees as less than they are worth, to the point where a few days ago someone compared the UPR Ed.D. to Walden University’s Ed.D. Really? Most online Ed.D.s take 3 years to complete, have less coursework than the UPR Ed.D., and don’t have a practicum. I’m sure that this is something that has happened to a lot of people from some of the smaller research universities. “Ah, a Pharm.D. that’s like Strayer University’s online thing” or whatever. The case becomes much worse when going into the business professional degree, the MBA, which has now become obsolete (once again, with the exception of Harvard-like universities) because of the abundance of DBAs in the market. By giving reduced coursework, easier tests, and forced time constraints, for-profit online universities have diminished the value of university degrees. When anyone can complete their MBA 5 years out of high school, the MBA looses its validity. Luckily, some (not all) of these universities at least have a pre-requisite of “have the previous degree”, but, once again, if you can finish a BA in 3 years and an MA in 2, the whole university experience is lost.
This does not mean, however, that all online schools are bad. I would rather hire an online Ed.D. to teach than someone with an Ed.D. from… one of the less selective fact-to-face universities that I know of… and I’m sure I’ll be caught dead before I say that the online degrees offered by the University of Florida, Penn State, or UC Berkley are worthless… but I also know that a face-to-face Penn State degree is worth more than the online one, just as I’m sure that a face-t-face from a state university of less ranking, say University of Nebraska, is worth more than the online Penn State one. The same can be said for the online degrees from the UNISA or other institutions of the same level. UNISA was founded over 100 years ago as an extension of Cambridge / Oxford and is now recognized as offering the best distance education in the world. It ranks among the top 600 universities in the world, which is not bad considering that there are over 10,000 institutions of higher learning. Given that UNISA outranks Drew by over 1,000 spots, I would argue that their D.Litt. et. Phil is worth more than the Drew D.Litt.
Yet I’m sure it would be better if it were face-to-face.
So, with a diminished value of doctoral degrees, especially professional ones (Ed.D., J.D., Pharm.D.etc) where does that leave us? With “Brick and Mortar University Snobbery”. I read in a forum last night (a few hours before I became a Doctor of Divinity) a guy who ranted that “brick and mortar Ph.D.s were snobs who looked down on him but he was better even though his degree was online because he had experience” and so on. Experience is indeed an important thing. However, so are credentials. Experience can be questioned. Online degrees can be questioned. Real PhDs. cannot be. In academia it will never be the same to say “I am John Smith, Ed.D. from AIUOnline” (A university whose name sounds more like a game) than to say “I am John Smith, a contemporary Ph.D. from the University of Texas / Wisconsin / California.” Likewise, it’s not the same to say “I am a UTA Ph.D.” (something which I am very much looking forward to saying) than to say “I am an Ivy League Ph.D.” Even though Ivy League is famous for producing wealthy dropouts like Bill Gates and the Facebook guy, it must be granted that academics who finish there are as intellectually amazing as the best from UT or Univ. of Wisconsin. (In my opinion, the only scholar as impressive as my mentor Michael Sharp, a Univ. of Wisconsin Ph.D., is Tim Morris, my current graduate advisor and a Princeton Ph.D.) That being said, yes, I am an academic snob. I believe, like my mentor in linguistics Nick Faraclas, that universities are like gatekeepers. They give everyone the opportunity to try their best and learn a certain set of skills. If they can’t master these skills, then they are shut out. This, I think, should be true of all universities. Everyone should have the opportunity to try and give it their all, but I don’t think someone who, for example, has a bad grasp of numbers and logic and abstract thinking should be able to complete their degree in physics, just as I don’t think someone with little powers of reasoning or analytic faculty should have a literature degree. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t gone through a practicum or extensive teaching experience should be an Ed.D. Online universities (or at least many of them) have turned studying into some sort of non-study thing where you pay for a course, do some take home tests, and get a degree.
That being said, I don’t think distance learning is a bad thing. When done properly it can be a powerful thing, no doubt equal in quality as face-to-face degrees. However, doing things “at your own pace” is not the way to go.
I won’t even comment on buying degrees for actual use. I am a Doctor of Divinity. I got it online for free. It is NOT a real credential and not one I will be putting in my CV, but it’s fun to put it up on Facebook and seeing how people react to it.
I guess that in the end what I’m saying in this:
Real Higher Doctorate > Real Ph.D. > Real Research Only Doctorate > Real Professional Doctorate > Real Master’s Degree / Online Doctoral Degree > Real Bachelor’s Degree / Online Master’s Degree > Online Bachelor’s Degree.
Excellent Online Universities which rank with their real counterparts.
Really horrible face-to-face degrees which rank below their online counterparts.
That being said, I don’t know if the Universal Life Chrch Monestary where I “was ordained” is really trying to come off as legit thing or not. They say they are not accredited, are not a university, and that their degrees are not academic, but they say that they really ordain you and you can perform wedding ceremonies in the name of whatever god you see fit… even if it’s the medichlorean god, I guess, since they also “grant titles” such as “monk”, “prince”, “high priest”, “jedi knight”, “vicar”, “bish…”… wait, Jedi Knight? That’s right. For 6$ + S&H you can become a “real” Jedi Knight. At least as real a Jedi Knight as I am a Doctor of Divinity.
At any rate, now that I’m ranting, I’m out. Ya’ll have a good one.
Posted on August 23, 2010, in Education Commentary and tagged accreditation, diploma mills, distance learning, doctor of divinity, education, online degrees, online education, university degrees. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.