Monday, July 16, 2012


Ask the Administrator: The Doctor of Arts Degree

A new correspondent writes:

I've been teaching college English as an adjunct for a few years (in addition to my full-time gig at a high school).  I love teaching college and want to move into it full time.  I have a BA and an MA in English right now.  My question for you is, from a community college hiring perspective, is there more value in a PhD than a DA (doctor of arts)?  I might get a DA in English, with a focus on composition, rhetoric, and writing pedagogy.  I'm not looking to get a job at a big research institution.  I'd love to work in a community college environment that values good teaching.  So is this DA worth pursuing if I have that kind of end goal in mind?

I’ll open by clarifying that I’m writing as a hiring manager at a community college; my perspective may be entirely inapplicable to other sectors of higher ed.  (Folks with knowledge of how this would play at research universities or striving four-year colleges are welcome to share in the comments.)

At this level, a degree in rhet/comp is more employable than a degree in literature.  The field makes more difference than the level.  In other words, a Master’s in rhet/comp could easily beat a doctorate in literature.  A doctorate in rhet/comp might help, but probably not as much as years of teaching experience at the community college level.

In my neck of the woods -- the Northeast -- doctorates are common enough that they don’t particularly stand out.  If you picked up knowledge or skills in the program that set you apart, that’s great, but that’s separate from the credential itself.  

It’s hardly news that English is a particularly difficult field, even with its ubiquity at the community college level.  Even a late-posted, fairly pedestrian position gets applications well into three figures, of which dozens or more meet every stated requirement.  A doctor of arts may be a point of distinction, but what might really set you apart would be -- for example -- special training in how to teach developmental classes.  That may be dispiriting, depending on your angle to the universe, but it makes perfect sense when you consider the needs of the institution.  Institutions hire to solve their own problems.  If student success at the developmental level is an issue -- and it is at most community colleges -- then a hire who could help with that is attractive.  Whether that means a doctorate or not is another question.

Given that doctoral programs worthy of the name are long, draining, and expensive, I’d suggest looking first at Master’s programs in rhet/comp that would allow you to specialize in developmental areas, especially reading.  That would probably get you most of the marketability of the longer program, but without giving up five to ten years of your life.  And it would signal to prospective employers that you know what they’re dealing with, and that you would be handy to have around.  That matters.

One admin’s opinion, anyway.  I’d love to hear from any community college English folk out there on this one.  Does this sound about right, or do things look different from where you are?

Good luck!  I hope your eventual decision lands you where you want to be.

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

I'm not in an English department, but sat on a hiring committee for a tenure-track English position. From that experience, I would say Dean Dad's advice is right on the money. (This was also in the Northeast, so regional differences are a possibility.)
While I'm not at a CC, I am in English. What I'd say is that a DA will not add anything to your marketability at most institutions. At a CC that is happy with an MA for a t-t hire, they care about experience. At a CC with a bunch of PhDs, even if a PhD isn't required for the job, they will see the DA as a "lesser" degree. At the end of the day, the market in English is TOUGH, even with a rhet/comp specialization. So either get an MA that demonstrates skill in developmental (as DD suggests), or get a PhD. I feel like a DA would be a colossal waste of time and money.
I feel like a few classes as an adjunct while having a full-time gig at a HS is probably the best possible career result. Why give it up for lower pay, the need to move for a national search, and less stability?
And what Punditus Maximus said.
Neither of the two degrees is probably worth much of anything in the current job market. There is a vast oversupply of applicants for teaching jobs in English, and a shortage of available positions. You will be competing with literally hundreds or even thousands of super-qualified applicants for the few jobs that actually exist.

Even a PhD might not be worth all that much in the current environment. As I often quip--my PhD and a buck seventy five will get me a ride on public transportation here in Big City.

Higher ed is a sinking ship. Try something else.
All of you folks who teach both high school and CC (and there sure are a lot of you!) have the dual perspective that should help us figure out why so many CC student (and 4-year college students for that matter) are not effective readers and can't write. Hate to admit it, but my son earned a lot of money in college reading other people's assignments and summarizing them verbally, and even writing other students' papers. When I asked him why so many students needed this help, he said "They didn't pay attention in high school and they never read. They knew they could still go to college if they wanted to."

That is certainly part of it, but I can't believe that's the whole story. What is happening (or not happening) in high school that so many kids end up remedial?
I am a Composition instructor and just received a paper in which every place there should've been an "our" was written "are."

I am horrified and am also wondering what is going on in the high schools that all this remediation is necessary.

How low are we going to go?
"I am horrified and am also wondering what is going on in the high schools that all this remediation is necessary."

Social promotion.
Son of Anonymous@5:20AM said: "They didn't pay attention in high school and they never read."

Anonymous@5:20AM adds: That is certainly part of it....

No, that is all of it. If you are a middling student and only read what is offered in school, you are unlikely to develop a college-level vocabulary or the ability to process complex information. That goes double if you get by without reading the assigned material in school by using various resources. And if you don't read, you can't write.

I disagree with Edmund Dantes @6:24AM, because "social promotion" like we had when I was a kid in the 60s ended a long time ago, replaced with "high stakes" tests set at the State level. Those have not helped much, probably because the standards are fairly low and even they only apply to public schools.

The simple fact of the matter is that HS students and their parents have been lied to. The standards of a standard HS degree are not aligned (how I have come to love that buzzword) with college freshman standards.

This would be solved if there was a "college prep" degree with standards high enough to not require remediation at the level required by that athlete at Memphis who actually could not read.
I'm in the West, and work in an English department with an MA program. The community college profs I know have PhDs, MAs in English with lots of teaching experience (in writing), or MFAs (in a few instances). Having some background in literature is helpful here (since our community colleges do teach a variety of lit courses), but the bread and butter is writing, so rhet/comp would be helpful. The Doctor of Arts is a waste of time.
If you are deadset on pursuing the degree, get the PhD in rhet/comp. The last thing my department would want (we are a community college in the northeast) is another person who wants to teach literature courses. We want someone who not only knows something about teaching comp (at all levels) but who WANTS to do so. We would like to see teaching experience, too, but if you can garner that as a T.A and pick up a few courses as an adjunct teaching comp (absolutely not lit), we would take you very seriously as a candidate. Hope that helps.
What everyone else has been saying: At my cc, we're looking for good, experienced comp teachers. The degree doesn't matter. Some of our best instructors have MFAs in creative writing. The local state U really stresses rhetoric/comp in its freshman writing program, so we've got quite a few adjuncts with that background, but I don't have any sense at all that it makes a difference in teaching effectiveness. And sure, lots of folks would like to teach literature courses, but there are only a handful of offerings.
I am a little curious about whether this DA degree has funding. If you have a tuition wavier and a reasonable stipend, it could be better than a PhD program without funding. Will it necessarily help the CC job search? No way.

But it might not be completely crazy to do without debt.

With debt . . . it becomes hard to see how it could ever work out well. Even if you got the position in the end, large loans are not fun to repay.
We do not consider the DA a terminal degree in most of our programs - it has to be a PhD or an EdD. But, as others have said, the job market is not good at all.
FWIW, Illinois State University has (or used to have; I haven't looked lately) a very strong DA program in English. Its graduates have generally fared well in the job market, finding positions at smaller, less presitgious private schools, and at smaller regional campuses of state schools. The degree (and the research for the dissertation) is teaching focused...but the degree does require a significant research-based dissertation in discipline-specific pedagogy.
Three words: Get an MMS.

Why deliberately get a degree that will make you unemployable?

Do you really want to spend the rest of your adult life teaching adjunct?

The math, stats, and science courses required for a professional degree that will give you at least a shot at an interesting, reasonably stable, and decently paid job are just not that hard. Don't shoot yourself in the foot.

I speak as a retired English Lit Ph.D., amazingly well published, with 15 years of real-world experience and 20 in the academy.

MMS: Master of Medical Science.
Is it funny that when Edmund Dantes said "social promotion" I first thought, "What does Facebook have to do with this?"

It was to me, I guess.
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