Is an EdD Worth It? Leaders Share Insights and Experiences

By Brian Soika

July 2, 2021

Attendees of a leadership conference listen attentively to a presentation, perhaps wondering 'Is an EdD worth it?'

Attendees of the USC Rossier 2019 Leadership Conference

Those wondering if an EdD is worth it often want to make a positive impact while advancing their career. A doctoral degree in education can be an effective way to land leadership positions in K-12 schools, higher education and other industries as well.

Plus, because doctoral programs require rigorous study and professional experience, an EdD represents the highest level of preparation for many roles in education and related fields. This is valuable as organizations need credible leaders who can earn the trust of their colleagues.  

Here are some ways that an EdD bolsters professional credibility, as shared by leaders in their fields. 

The Power to Make Change

All of the leaders who commented for this article view their EdD as a platform through which they can channel their passion to make a difference. 

“Without the degree, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to pursue efforts to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion through my job,” comments Jonathan Wang, EdD ‘19, Director of the Asian Pacific American Student Services center at USC.  

Maria Martinez-Poulin, EdD ‘17, Deputy Superintendent for the Los Angeles County Office of Education adds that her doctoral degree gives her the opportunity to “demonstrate that I am a caring educational leader dedicated to improving achievement for all students.”

However, “the degree does not make one an expert or a strong leader. It is our values and how we serve others that determines the degree’s ‘worth,’” notes Michael Chung, EdD ‘18, Assistant Dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture and alum of the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program. 

By committing to a doctoral program, individuals signal that they’re dedicated to the hard but important work of improving lives through education. 

Access to Leadership Roles

“Most leadership positions prefer, if not require, a terminal degree, so [an EdD] is a necessity for anyone pursuing a senior leadership position,” says Chung.

EdD programs are comprehensive. While they are career-focused, they also provide in-depth examination of foundational topics such as racial equity in education. Employers want to ensure that their leaders have received this kind of preparation. 

It’s also worth remembering that while the degree itself is important, the work required to earn it is what strengthens one’s credentials.

Is an EdD Worth It? Salaries for Common Leadership Roles in California

Position Average Annual Salary
School Superintendent $141,066 – $284,736
School Principal (K-12) $106,389 – $147,006
Postsecondary Faculty $80,804 – $155,677
Postsecondary Administrator $134,150 (mean)

Professional Confidence

Executive roles are challenging. They often require deep knowledge, extensive experience, and increasingly, an ability to navigate the politics of an institution or school district.  

These positions can be intimidating. However, Wang notes that after earning a doctoral degree, “I found myself being able to confidently take on leadership roles that I may have shied away from in the past.”

Martinez-Poulin felt prepared to confront complex challenges as well, saying she honed her “ability to write and speak clearly in a variety of settings, and think and react quickly and thoughtfully,” even in crisis situations. 

Increased Support From Peers

In graduate school, a cohort model refers to a group of students who progress through a program’s courses together. 

When deciding if an EdD is worth it, consider that a cohort becomes a close-knit community and source of personal and professional support. It also reinforces one’s authority in their field.

“Having an EdD can provide initial credibility, but the [invaluable] relationships and networks we gain through the doctoral program… provide true credibility,” says Chung. 

Knowing people who will share contacts, provide a recommendation or be a source of moral support is a reminder of one’s own value, and can reflect positively among colleagues and employers.  

Community Impact

The credibility of an EdD can lead to impactful roles outside of work as well. 

Brian Creswick, EdD ‘19 and alum of the Global Executive EdD program shares that his doctoral degree increased his chances of being selected to participate in his city’s Use of Force Review Committee, which studied police policy and behavior in the community, and made recommendations for improvement. “I leaned on much of what I learned in the EdD program” to be successful in the role, notes Creswick.

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