What is the Cost of PhD-level Intellect These Days?

20 Oct

Apparently my idea of an Open PhD has garnered a little attention as I’ve been seeing reader referrals from some interesting and diverse sites. Occasionally, for fun, I follow these blog stats trying to guess how my readers may have landed here. It’s my own little way of understanding the broad reach of social media and  how connected we’ve all become.

Recently, I was intrigued to find a mention about my blog from a professor at SFSU who, according to her brief post on her Ning discussion forum, she “…mentioned this [Open PhD blog] in my ITEC 800” course.  She linked to my blog and asked others, “What do you think?”  Catherine’s answer framed the issue quite well.  She responded:

To me, this the $64,000 question for advanced education in the coming years –will universities still be the only way to legitimize one’s learning or, given advancements in communication technologies, will there be some way to qualify independent intellectual attainment? And even now, is there a way to measure what a PhD means (other than the $40-60+++ thousand one has spent to gain it)?

You can read the rest of Catherine’s post here.  The other pertinent point she made was when she added a statement that I’ve come to realize as well reading through the comments on Open PhD. She wrote:

It might also help for universities to better define what constitutes a PhD-level intellect in this information-rich world.

In the short time this blog has been up and running, we’ve already seen that debate begin to play out as doctoral readers from different parts of the world compare the various gauntlets they’ve had to run to earn their credentials.  I think it may surprise more than a few people to find out that not all degrees are created equal world-wide…or even nationwide.

Catherine asks the question: Is it the dollars spent that determines the legitimacy of the degree?

If the answer is a quietly whispered “yes” that no one willingly admits out loud, then I am guessing the PhD earners from a school in my state like Old Dominion University can’t hold their own to our doctoral neighbors a little to the north at George Washington University . Anybody want to take that bet? I didn’t think so, yet the Tuition and Fee Rankings for all US institutions of higher education listed at the Chronicle of Higher Education let me set up this intellectual monetary showdown for any number of states and their PhD’s all day long.

If the answer is “no” – that the amount of money spent on a graduate education does not define how we separate the intellectually rigorous advanced degree seekers from the dog with the MBA, than how do we do it? Plenty of people are looking into that right now.

And why can’t we  legitimately allow the attainment of advanced degrees by alternate routes devoid of the almighty dollar?

The answer is we can…if we want to.


Posted by on October 20, 2009 in The Plan


Tags: , , ,

8 responses to “What is the Cost of PhD-level Intellect These Days?

  1. Stian Haklev

    December 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    I think it would be useful to widen the discussion a bit to look at other countries as well. For example, I come from Norway, where all higher education is completely free. (So, although I wish U of the People all the best, it always grates me a bit when they say they’re “the first world’s first tuitionless university” or whatever – we’ve been doing that in Europe for centuries). Our PhD degrees are actually “jobs” – you apply, and you get “hired”, you get paid a very decent salary, and contribute to departmental teaching etc, while you do your coursework and research.

    In Canada, where I am currently studying, first of all tuition for all schools is regulated (apart from a few fields like MBAs) so you can’t really judge universities based on their tuition. Also, at my university, the full-time PhD is fully funded – you don’t pay any tuition and you get 15,000$ a year for at least four years. This is guaranteed for _anyone_ who is admitted (including international students like me).

    So when I was reading about my friend’s plan to hack his own PhD etc, and for a second I thought I was a luddite going the “traditional way”. But I realized – not only will I be working with a professor that is extremely inspiring and helpful, but I will get to spend four years focusing full-time on intellectual issues around open education – which I couldn’t have done if I were hacking it myself, and had to find a job etc.

    I think all forms of “hacking’ the system are awesome, and I really think we should keep pushing the boundaries, but we shouldn’t at the same time absolve the state of all its obligations… and maybe there will be ways of reconciling these in the future – maybe one could open up Pell grants to people doing self-study, or make it easier to apply for research funding for people outside institutions etc (this article about Indie Researchers from University Affairs Canada is very interesting:…

    anyway good luck!

  2. Shaomeng

    November 23, 2009 at 5:44 am

    Hi Lisa, interesting topic here. Except for being taught, I think for me the primary reason I went to grad school is because I want the credential to be recognized. I did a search on Chronicle on jobs related to higher education–which I am interested in. 90% percent of it requires a Ph.D degree.

    I think the institution of higher education is not only where you get taught. It is more a place to network with old-fashioned professors, access the resources in library, finish the required curriculum and get the degree eventually. There is a lot of rituals in this system. Like get published, being influenced by the academic culture from the teachers. This is a system that could pass down information pretty adequately–so you don’t miss out specific knowledge that might be required to practice in the academic field, like statistics and measurement. It has a lot of disadvantage, like very slowly adaptive to change, expensive.

    I would abandon my current program if these needs could be meet:
    I could access academic info, including textbook and library and database, etc. online from China.
    I could be issued a degree recognizing my knowledge(but sometimes this degree is about the extent to which you can do academic work)
    I could have the opportunity to experience teach
    I could experience the american life somehow.

    I think the first need might be met 10 years later.
    The second(most important) might need a universal degree issuing committee that could assess my knowledge(hopefully a machine that could scan my brain in 1 second and give me a score:)). Which might also be setup by some government education department.
    The third might be met if we have this open teaching/learning environment that could get enough students and qualified teachers(I am not currently qualified i suppose), but all the people are captured by traditional systems currently.
    The forth might be met when virtual reality is as real as matrix. But this is just personal.
    And in the end it IS personal. You can’t ask lots of science major to set up their own labs…

    I think the society as a whole are still reconstructing itself. In an ideal world, everyone in their right place, we should do whatever we like and the product of our creative work could be accessed by others. Internet is doing just that, but I suppose I still need to wait till most people in its right place.

  3. James W

    October 20, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    If we assume that a more intellectually rigorous higher degree is obtained from a school that has professors whom are paid more because they have reached a higher status through publishing and research, then, yes money does matter. To get to sit at the feet of great minds cost more.

    • Lisa

      October 21, 2009 at 6:16 am

      That seems like a pretty broad assumption to me – as I am not sure that high cost tuition equates to high paid professors. We would have to have some of our more exclusive private 4-year schools chime in here. And where does the online school fit in with that argument? UofP, Walden, Capella…all are pretty expensive…what is the pay structure for their professors?

      • jim

        October 28, 2009 at 4:14 am

        Most if not all teaching assignments at Walden, and I would assume the same holds true for Capella and U of P, are essentially adjuncts. They are paid per class….. $·3000 to $3500 per class.

        I think the more important element to look it is the quality of instructor either at a traditional or online institution? Now when defining instructor quality you really dove-tail into several areas that need to be looked at.

        First, the experiences of an instructor come into play. For example in the field of education, if a person has little teaching experience and obtained their doctorate and tenure at a very early age, chances are their experiences are not quality. Or on the reverse….a person who has years of quality teaching experiences but lack the doctorate, in many cases those individuals are the best instructors but many universities don´t recognize their experiences since they prefer a person to have a doctorate to teach.

        Second….instructor quality is just not having the right experiences and or degree, rather it is knowing how to teach online (See Dr. Kay or Lisa on this)….

        But I take it Lisa you are more looking at going at this as a lone ranger of sorts and not having to rely on instructor input, quality etc…more course based and individual learning, right?

      • Lisa

        October 28, 2009 at 5:28 am

        Some argue about the quality of the learning experience through Open Courseware due to its “free” nature. My point in this post was really just to illustrate (as you did as well), that a quality learning experience is not dependent upon the dollars spent by the learner, but rather by the quality of the content and instructor. And as anybody who is honest in higher ed knows, quality of instruction has very little to do with the payrate of the instructor (or their tenure status).

        As for my research into studying at an Open PhD level, there are open courses where an individual can take facilitated classes (I am taking Emerging Technologies – Africa with George Siemens right now). These classes allow a learner to essentially audit the class. I will be completing as many of these types as I can find. In my other OCW choices, I have tried to locate courses created by instructional leaders in teaching/design as well as SME to lessen the impact of the lack of facilitation in those courses. I am hopeful that the use of social networking will substitute for my CoP of learners. Other ideas?

      • Parag Shah

        November 5, 2009 at 11:05 pm

        Since you are doing this all by yourself, this may not apply to you, but a study group of learners using open resources and pursuing more or less the same goal can be a very good resource.

        Such a study group may come close to a classroom, where peers help each other progress. Different people in the group will have different strengths, so people strong in certain areas can be “TA’s” to the rest of the group in that area. Well at least in some sense.

        Such a group will also help in keeping everyone focussed. Along with social media, I think this comes very close to providing a good learning experience.

      • Lisa

        November 6, 2009 at 2:23 pm

        I see no reason why a social network (PLN) can’t be that study group for open ed learners, though. Do you?


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