The problem of online doctorates

I was a guest at a wedding when I asked a guest at my table what his occupation was. He said that he was doing his DMA at Boston University. How fun, I was as well! How come had I never seen him around?

"I'm doing the online doctorate."

WHAT?!!! The online doctorate? ONLINE? DOCTORATE?

There I was, struggling with an insane schedule every day, having to ask permission to miss a class, and paying millions of dollars in tuition, all so I could get a pretty diploma with a particle in front of my name. While at the same time someone could get the same pretty diploma without all the hassle?

Turns out that my school (out of all the other schools in the US that could have done it), my school had launched in 2005 the first online music doctorate. The only thing I'm grateful for is that at least they offer it only in music education. I can't imagine how much angrier I would have been if they had offered it in performance. How could one possibly get to the highest level of their instrument online?

The difficulty of grad school is beyond the school work. Most students in grad school are professionals in their field. Fitting in work in order to pay for school is incredibly hard when classes are during the day and schedules change frequently. So knowing that some people get a free pass challenges the whole system.

Students have always accepted the hardships of going to grad school because of the understanding that committing to school full time was the best way to learn. But if accredited schools give the exact same diploma to online students, why would anyone ever choose to loose their job, be treated as if they had never worked professionally before, move, and take out student loans?


Picture from http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/323/university-of-panjab-%E2%80%93-anyone-2/


  1. "The only thing I'm grateful for is that at least they offer it only in music education." Really? I think it's ridiculous that they offer an online music ed degree. Period. It's difficult, if not impossible, to be a good music educator without knowing your craft. If you're taking online classes you don't get the experience you get from your studio teacher and your conductors.

    You might not have intended it, but there's a subtle jab, one that occurs often in schools of music, and in colleges and universities as a whole. Education - including music education - is placed on the bottom rung of the ladder, often viewed as a lesser degree or something not as "professional" as a performance degree or an MBA, etc. (Read David Labaree's book on the topic of schools of education for some good insight.)

    It sounds to me like you're getting a bad experience, based on the comments in your last 2 paragraphs. The professors I've known and had for the last 2 years know what grad school is like, having been through it, and are good at dealing with many different types of students, from the one who takes one course a semester while she works full-time, to the one who lives 2 hours away, to the one who is here for a year from Singapore and needs to get the degree finished before her employer cuts her funding.

    I'm not sure if that's what you intended in that statement, but it deserves to be said that an online music ed degree is a farce, too. Some degrees, or at least classes, can be taught effectively online, but singling out music ed as "ok" gives the wrong impression of what music education is and should be, and can further the impression that music educators aren't as good musicians as non-educators are ("If you can't do it, teach it" mentality).

  2. Andrei,

    When I wrote that, I was thinking of it in comparison of a performing degree. I thought that music ed might not be as hands on as playing an instrument, but after reading your comment, I thought more about it, and I can see why that's not right. I am totally against online degrees, in whatever discipline they are. I was just wondering how far schools would push the non-sense just to make more money. But obviously, the more academic the degree is, the less worse it is. So I guess a PhD in musicology might make a little bit more sense than one in music ed or performance.
    Independently from how good the teachers are or not, it is much harder to work while you're in school, and in most cases, it is really hard to pay for it without getting in a crazy amount of debt.
    I found interesting what you said about music ed being at the bottom rung of the ladder, because I actually never knew that. I started school in the US with my masters, so maybe I skipped all the judgmental comments that I may have heard if I had done my Bachelors here. In France there is no music ed degree, it's all musicology, theory or performance, and I'm always telling my friends back there how much better it is here that future teachers are taught how to be teachers. So I'm sorry if I unknowingly hurt your cause, because I definitely agree that music ed online doctorates are not ok.

  3. Personally, online degrees are a joke. The prestige of an advanced degree is declining because of 'for-profit' and traditional universities offering easy to obtain avenues. Soon, your medical doctor will hold degrees from Dell College and Google University...that's not a comforting feeling.

  4. Maybe there should be governmental requirements there. The same way I can't just make up a fake diploma, there shouldn't be fake degrees.


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