The Spears School cohort is made up of executives in their mid-50s and above, who hold master's degrees and have achieved "substantial success" in their careers, according to Crosby, which puts the program out of reach for business students at the beginning of their careers. But that doesn't mean the program doesn't create opportunities for younger students, too.
Cohort member Richard Guthrie, president of the Denver-based GPB Management Consultants, says undergraduate and M.B.A. students can benefit from interactions with executives who are studying in a Ph.D. program, if their school offers such a program. "We can be a sounding board about some of our practical business experience and how we apply that," he says. "It probably would have impacted my decision about where to get my M.B.A."
Andrew Forte, president of Forte, Inc., which operates the Stroudsmoor Country Inn in Stroudsburg, Pa., similarly recommends a doctorate to aspiring executives. Forte says that whereas M.B.A. programs teach students the tools and methods of how to do things, doctoral programs train students to understand why situations arise in organizations.
"When I finished my M.B.A., I wanted to know more [and get] more perspective," he says. Forte has also been able to leverage his doctorate to land positions on boards of local nonprofits and corporations—something that he says he wouldn't have been able to do with just an M.B.A.
Students who are considering a doctorate can prepare by getting used to heavy academic reading and demanding schedules, and by laying some groundwork in statistics, says Forte, who holds a doctor of professional studies from the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.
[Read about how proliferating online M.B.A.'s remain controversial.]
When William Schulz III, associate dean of the Walden University School of Management, explains why students should consider a D.B.A., he shares a personal anecdote. Schulz took a break from his D.B.A. studies at Indiana University—Bloomington's Kelley School of Business in the early '80s to get more work experience. When he tried to return four years later, Indiana had dropped the program and replaced it with a Ph.D., which wasn't a degree he wanted to pursue, because he didn't want to teach.
"I was stuck, because at that point the D.B.A. disappeared," he says. "Until relatively recently, the D.B.A. existed only sort of as a legacy program, or because of tradition at some schools, but clearly all the money was put behind the Ph.D. programs."
Today, that has changed, and a D.B.A. can help an employee stand out "in a way that perhaps the M.B.A. just doesn't go deeply enough," he says. "If I was in the business world looking at hiring someone at an executive level to help me move the business forward, I think I would look at a D.B.A. and most likely hire that person at a higher level than an M.B.A."
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