Does a CTL Career Require a Ph.D.?

Arguments for and against.

October 10, 2018

Does a building an academic career in a Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) require a Ph.D.?

Scan the job ads for leadership positions (associate director and above), and most include language around an "earned doctorate" under qualifications.

Why is this so?

As CTLs have grown in numbers and headcount over the past few years, so has the diversity of CTL staffs. As the portfolio of CTL responsibilities at many institutions expands, staffs have grown to encompass professionals with diverse educational backgrounds.

Rather than coming to the CTL world via a traditional disciplinary Ph.D. (or Ed.D.) program, many have backgrounds in instructional design, media, project management, design, communications, and other specializations.

For these newly minted Center for Teaching and Learning Professionals, the prospects of building a long-term career in the field are challenging. Promotion to leadership roles seems to require the acquisition of a terminal degree, even if the day-to-day CTL work does not.

It is ironic that most in the educational developer profession would identify with a strong commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion. And yet, when it comes to selecting those with the ability to enjoy career mobility in the profession, CTL's exclude all those outside of the narrowest of educational credentials.

There are three arguments that I can think of as to why CTL leadership roles should require a Ph.D. These three arguments boil down to the work, faculty perceptions, and institutional status.

Argument #1 - The Work:

The argument here is that a  Ph.D. is necessary to rise in the CTL world as the work done at a CTL requires a  Ph.D. The claim that Center for Teaching and Learning work requires an earned doctorate is odd, given that almost none of the training in a traditional PhD matches the work of an educational developer.

Some CTL professionals have  Ph.D.s in disciplines related to faculty development, instructional design, higher educational leadership, or other roles that Center for Teaching and Learning Centers play. Most do not.

The majority of CTL professionals, as far as I can tell, have Ph.D.s in traditional disciplines (sociology, biology, political science, math, etc.). The argument that a PhD is required to do CTL work seems pretty thin given how few educational developers have terminal degrees in education-related fields.

Argument #2 - Faculty Perceptions:

Faculty perceptions are the most common reason that I hear voiced as to why educational developers should have a PhD. The idea is that professors will better relate to CTL colleagues with similar educational credentials as their own.

A variant of this argument is that professors will connect with CTL colleagues who have teaching experience, as this shared professional background creates empathy.

There are a few problems with the argument for the necessity of a  Ph.D. based on faculty perceptions.

I've never seen any actual data that faculty actually feel this way. And if professors do feel this way, I've never seen data to indicate any impact on outcomes related to educator development.

There is also the assumption that every professor has a Ph.D.. Many do not. Or they have other terminal degrees, such as an MFA.

Nor is a Ph.D. a necessity for teaching experience. Many CTL professionals have postsecondary teaching experience without an earned doctorate.

Any number of factors can drive faculty perceptions of their colleagues in CTLs. The quality of the workshops and consulting. The social and emotional intelligence of the CTL professional. The expertise, organization, and skills that a CTL professional demonstrates.

Why having or not having a  Ph.D. should swamp all these other determinants of faculty attitudes towards CTL professionals is not clear.

Argument #3 - Institutional Status:

The third argument is about status. This status is the argument voiced more in private than in public.

The status argument goes that CTLs must fight for institutional influence and budget. The coin of the realm in the zero-sum game for influence and dollars is status. A CTL that consists of terminally credentialled professionals will be higher on the academic status hierarchy.

Traditional academic careers mostly require an earned doctorate. Most professors may spend most of their time on teaching and service obligations, but they will not be initially hired without demonstrating their ability to create original scholarship.

The fact that CTL recruitment demonstrates a strong preference for  Ph.D.s is an indication of the prevailing practices in the academic labor market.

This institutional status argument is a tough one to refute, primarily because it is an argument that is mostly unarticulated.

There is not an open discussion about status and hierarchy within academic culture.

We might find that status anxiety is a silly reason to push talented people to leave the CTL profession.

This seems like a discussion that we should be having.


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top