DED: A Brief History of the Doctorate


This brief history is an excerpt from the program proposal for the Doctor of Economic Development (DED) at New Mexico State University authored by Lowell B. Catlett, James D. Libbon, James T. Peach, and Richard V. Adkisson (2005).

The first doctoral degree was granted in Paris in the 12th century (Bourner, Bowden, and Laing, 2001). The first PhD was granted in Germany in the early 19th century. Between these times, the typical doctoral degree was a doctorate in theology, law, or medicine. The first U.S. PhD was conferred by Yale in 1861 (Bourner, Bowden, and Laing, 2000). The first English PhD was issued be the University of Oxford in 1920, the same year that Harvard conferred its first “professional doctorate,” a Doctor of Education (EdD). Variety in doctoral education has increased since. Ries and Thurgood claim that, by 1991, there were over 50 distinct doctorates offered in the U.S. Some examples are the JD (law), the MD (medicine), the EdD (education), the DBA (business administration), and the DPA (public administration).

Professional Doctorates

In recent decades, the professional doctorate has become increasingly popular, especially in the United Kingdom and Australia. The UK Council for Graduate Education (2002) summarizes the nature of the professional doctorate as follows:

A Professional Doctorate is a programme of advanced study and research which, whilst satisfying the University criteria for the award of a doctorate, is designed to meet the specific needs of a professional group external to the University, and which develops the capability of individuals to work within a professional context. (62)

Bourner, Bowden & Laing (2000) document that, in 1998, some 38 (of 70) universities in the U.K. offered some sort of professional doctorate (109 programs total). Most were in what they called ‘old’ (pre-1992) universities and many were offered in institutions with histories of 50 to 100 years or more. In 2001, Australian universities were offering some 131 professional doctorates (McWilliam & Taylor, 2001). In part because of the “taught” doctorate design of many PhD programs in the U.S., professional doctorates have not grown as quickly in U.S. universities although there is some evidence of growth. Some examples of professional doctorates are:

One recent U.S. example is provided by the new Doctor of Plant Medicine program offered by the University of Florida. The program was established in 1999, incorporates several departments (Agronomy, Entomology/Nematology, Horicultural Sciences, Plant Pathology, Soil and Water Science, etc.), and produces “Plant Doctors,” the horticultural equivalent of the medical doctor or the veterinarian. According to this program’s web page, there are now 34 students in the program. Another U.S. example is the Doctor of Audiology program at Western Michigan University. Although it is not a stand-alone doctorate, Clemson University now offers a certificate program in public policy that is similar in spirit, if not structure, to the DED. Clemson’s 1-year Certificate in Policies program is practitioner-oriented and can be taken as a supplement to any master’s or doctoral program.

The Doctorates Compared

Bourner, et al (2001), find it difficult to generalize about the differences between the PhD and professional doctorates. When they discuss the differences, they mention differences in career focus, research type and focus, and delivery methods. In regard to training and research, Bourner, O’Hara, and France (2000) emphasize the practitioner centeredness of professional doctoral training as opposed to the knowledge generation orientation of the PhD. Some of the differences can be understood by comparing the descriptions of the PhD and the EdD provided in the New Mexico State University Graduate Catalog (2004-2005).

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The degree of doctor of philosophy requires distinguished attainment in both scholarship and original research. The degree is granted chiefly in recognition of the candidate’s high attainments and ability in the special field, as shown by work on the required examinations covering both the general and the special fields, and by the preparation of a dissertation. A candidate for the PhD degree is expected to maintain a higher level of work than the grade-point average of 3.0 that has been established for the candidate for the master’s degree.
[Emphases added]

Doctor of Education (EdD)
The degree of doctor of education attests proficiency in a program of graduate study in which the emphasis is upon preparation for competent performance in professional education.

This program is intended primarily for students pursuing careers in which teaching, administration, or school services predominate, rather than those in which research predominates.
[Emphases added]

The UK Council for Graduate Education (2002) reports the perception that “the Professional Doctorate is not, in general, intended to serve as a qualification for those intending to work in the academic world” (39). Writing specifically of the differences between the DBA and the PhD, Perry and Cavaye (2004) emphasize that “the DBA is a professional doctorate for managers or management professionals” (412, emphasis in original) as opposed to a specific preparation for an academic career. Most see professional doctorates as programs designed to fill a fairly specific niche but not all agree. With reference to the existence of both a professional doctorate in public administration (DPA) and the PhD in public administration, Hambrick (1997) argues that there is a wide variation in doctoral programs of any stripe and that having two doctorates in essentially the same field distracts from issues more important to the profession. In particular Hambrick (1997) argues that both academic and practitioner pursuits are important and mutually reinforcing. Further, Hambrick argues that “for a PhD program to educate students only for academic positions is to inhibit and limit rather than liberate and expand. For a DPA to educate only for practitioner roles is to do the same” (140).


For the most part, both professional doctorates and the PhD are viewed as “research” degrees. The exact nature of the research, the expectations, and the evaluation process need to be worked out and made appropriate to the goals of the institution and student. Bourner, et al identify the difference in research starting points as follows.

“For the Doctor of Philosophy, the candidate is normally expected to undertake a preliminary literature search and review to identify a gap. For professional doctorate research, the candidates are normally expected to start with a problem in professional practice that needs investigation and resolution. Whereas the PhD candidate starts from what is known (that is the literature review), professional doctorate candidates start from what is not known (that is some perceived problem in professional practice).” (Bourner, et al 2001, 74)

As a generalization, many professional doctoral candidates are assumed to have experience or be currently working in their professional fields. For many programs, the research tends to be very problem focused. Rather than trying to create new theories or knowledge (the PhD route), professional doctoral candidates focus on the application of theory and knowledge to particular, professional problems. Lester (2002) put it this way.

“Research, in a practitioner doctorate, is undertaken with a particular aim in mind and new knowledge is generated for a purpose, even if it does subsequently become disseminated through publication or other means.”


  • Bourner, T., Bowden R. & Laing, S. “Professional Doctorates: The Development of Researching Professionals.” In New Directions in Professional Education. Bourner, Katz, and Watson, eds. Buckingham, U.K.: Open University Press (2000): 226-237.
  • Bourner, T., Bowden R. & Laing, S. “Professional Doctorates in Higher Education.” Studies in Higher Education Vol. 26 No. 1 (2001): 65-83.
  • Bourner, T., O’Hara, S. and France, L. “Practitioner-Centered Research.” In New Directions in Professional Education, Bourner, Katz and Watson, eds. Buckingham, U.K.: Open University Press (2000): 226-237.
  • Lester, S. “A Doctorate in Development, not Research: Reflections from a Practitioner-Candidate.” Presented at the Professional Doctorates 4th Biennial International Conference Research Training for the Knowledge Economy, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, December 2002.
  • Perry, C. & Cavaye, A. “Australian Universities’ Examination Criteria for DBA Dissertations.” International Journal of Organisational Behaviour Vol. 7, No. 5 (2004): 422-21.
  • Ries, P. & Thurgood, D. Summary Report 1991: Doctoral Recipients from United States Universities. Washington, DC: National Academy Press (1993).
  • UK Council for Graduate Education. Professional Doctorates. Dudley, UK: UK Council for Graduate Education (2002).