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.