Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Doctorate in Public Administration: Some Unresolved Questions and Recommendations

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Doctorate in Public Administration: Some Unresolved Questions and Recommendations

Article excerpt


The traditional view of doctoral education, borrowed from the social sciences, is the reproduction of the professoriate to ensure continued knowledge development through research and the dissemination of knowledge through teaching. In other words, the traditional purpose of doctoral education is the creation of a new generation of scholars who will pursue careers in academe. This is clearly not the reality of doctoral education in public administration as it has evolved. Consider the following facts based on more than ten years of research in the doctoral education field.

1. The vast majority of people obtaining the doctoral degree never publish anything that contributes to the knowledge base of the field.

2. Only a minority of doctoral graduates enters careers in academe. The majority of graduates appear to remain in professional positions.

3. The quality of dissertation research has been viewed as questionable by any standards of quantitative or qualitative research.

4. Many faculty positions are being filled by individuals trained in other fields.

The Purpose of Doctoral Education in Public Administration

What is the purpose of doctoral education in public administration? We can begin to answer this question by addressing the motives of students entering doctoral programs. Research suggests that only a handful of students are interested in pursuing traditional academic careers involving research, teaching, and service. On average, according to recent National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) surveys, at least 250 students graduate each year with a doctoral degree in public administration or public affairs.

While there certainly are not that many open faculty positions in any given year, we note that many programs are hiring faculty from other disciplines (e.g., political science, economics, policy studies, social work, business, management, etc.). These hires are not from the 250+ average number of public administration graduates.

This disparity in hiring also suggests that public administration programs are not producing enough graduates who are competitive and interested in the academic marketplace. This seems ironic in light of our suspicion that there is indeed a demand for doctoral graduates in public administration, as evidenced by regular multiple listings in the Public Administration Times and the Political Science Recruiter. Indeed, some institutions have had considerable difficulty hiring qualified new faculty members in certain core subfields.

We believe that the majority of doctoral students in public administration are pursuing the degree for nontraditional purposes. We can speculate on five of those purposes: 1) to enhance one's professional practice in administrative or policy settings; 2) to inflate one's ego; 3) to gain a promotion or be retained in a position; 4) to enhance the likelihood of getting consulting grants or contracts; 5) because it may be advantageous to say, very loosely, that one is a "candidate" for or is "pursuing" the doctoral degree, even while lacking sufficient motivation to ever complete the degree.

The first purpose is certainly justified, and we suspect that many of our colleagues would agree (see: Clayton, 1995; Sherwood, 1996; and Hambrick, 1997). The other four purposes are, in our opinion, simply not legitimate and waste scarce educational resources. Indeed, the 10:1 ratio of doctoral enrollees to graduates argues, somewhat disturbingly, for the fifth possibility.

Public administration at the doctoral level can be both an academic and a professional degree. It has served the purposes of future academicians and continuing professionals for many years. There is a rationale for serving the interests of continuing professionals, and by providing them with knowledge and skills beyond the Master's level we add some value to the practice of public administration. …

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