PhD Programs for Executives Gain Traction

Aug 17th, 2010 | By businessnews | Category: Business

New doctoral programs in business geared to working executives help many develop on-the-job research skills or a shift into teaching

Alison Damast

Business schools are seeking to take executive education to the next level, with a growing number offering niche doctoral programs aimed at senior-level managers either looking to shift to academia or to bring high-level research skills into the workplace.

Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business in Atlanta introduced a new Executive Doctorate in Business program in 2009 aimed at chief executives and other high-ranking corporate managers, while neighboring Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business in Kennesaw, Ga., created a Doctorate of Business Administration program in 2008. Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business in Stillwater is planning to launch a management doctoral program in the next 12 months, the school said.

Less than a dozen accredited business schools offer these types of business professional doctorates in the U.S., according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), one of the leading accreditation agencies for business schools, which tracks doctoral degrees programs. In the past few years, interest in programs like these has grown as high-level managers seek a more rigorous academic experience than the typical executive education classes or executive roundtables offered at business schools, says Andy Policano, chairman of AACSB’s board and dean of the University of California-Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.

“The main reason these programs are springing up in the U.S. is there seems to be a market,” Policano says. “There are more and more executives willing to pay a fairly high tuition to take this kind of program on, so now it becomes a legitimate business model for schools to offer.”

For Experienced Senior Execs

Most of these professional doctoral programs differ from traditional PhD programs in that they are part-time, can usually be completed in three years, and are aimed at working senior executives with advanced degrees and at least 15 years of work experience, Policano says. Typically, he adds, they encourage research that executives can apply directly back to the business world.

At Georgia State, students in the school’s new executive doctoral program, which costs about $100,000 for three years, are required to come to the school’s Atlanta campus for a three-day residency at the school, says Maury Kalnitz, the program’s director. He reports that so far the school has been able to attract executives from IBM (IBM), Google (GOOG), and Citigroup (C) who are, on average, 45 years old and have 16 years of management experience. The program has about 38 students enrolled so far, Kalnitz says.

Students take classes that teach them how to conduct formal academic research, and later the school pairs them with a faculty adviser who works with students on their 100-page dissertation, which they are expected to submit to an academic journal for publication. Unlike typical doctoral programs, where students look for jobs in academia after graduating, almost all of the participants in the Robinson program plan to go back into the business world, says Lars Mathiassen, the program’s academic director.

“The primary purpose of the program is to develop better executives,” Mathiassen says. “It hits the sweet spot between business schools and the business world.”

As a Kind of “Personal Quest”

The program has attracted such students as Jeanette Miller, 43, of Marietta, Ga., an executive with 17 years’ experience who is a consultant with 360°td, an international consulting firm that works in emerging markets in Central Asia and Southeast Europe. She started the program last fall and now spends 30 to 40 hours a week reviewing academic papers, working on research projects with classmates, and planning her dissertation, which she says will examine sustainability and corporate social responsibility at multinational companies. She says she hopes eventually to translate her research findings to her job and implement change in her field.

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