Demand vs. Hiring Attitudes for Online Doctoral Technical Education. Jim Flowers Professor & Director of Online Education Ball State University

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1 Demand vs. Hiring Attitudes for Online Doctoral Technical Education Jim Flowers Professor & Director of Online Education Ball State University Introduction Prior to going online with two master s degrees in 2002 at a Midwest state university, a nationwide survey had been conducted to determine reported demand by prospective students (Flowers, 2001). The data from that study were used at this institution not only to inform the decision to go online, but to craft the design of these online degree programs in light of data from prospective students. Surprising, however, was the extent to which these data led to approval for these online programs by the various levels of administration at this institution and within this state. It became a model suggested to others at this institution. Since the time these master s went online, there have been requests from prospective and current students for a doctoral program offered wholly or partly through distance education in the same field, technical education. Technical education, herein, is used to refer to two fields: technology education, which evolved out of industrial arts; and career and technical education, formerly called vocational education. Technical education programs at the university level, therefore, primarily prepare teachers, teacher educators, trainers, and administrators for these programs, both at the secondary and higher education levels. However, requests from a few potential students provide a poor basis for assessing the potential demand for a new program, especially if that would be an institution s first online doctoral program. In addition to unknown demand, there were other unanswered questions that would help inform this institution s, or any institution s, decision to offer such an online or hybrid doctoral program. Foremost among these is the need for and acceptance of graduates by prospective employers. A survey of existing doctoral programs in the field would supply a third piece in the puzzle. Beyond this, a characterization of models for online and hybrid doctoral programs would allow an institution to select among options. Thus, a four-part study was envisioned to inform the field by investigating: reported demand by potential students; reported need for and acceptance of graduates; the status of existing doctoral programs in this field; and a comparison of models for online and hybrid doctoral program delivery. A small grant was received from the Council of Technology Teacher Education to support the first two phases of this project. If results indicated, this would likely lead to a fifth study at this institution to determine institutional readiness and then to the development of such a degree program. Today s report is on the methods and findings from the first two phases: a survey of perceived demand by prospective students; and a survey of demand for and acceptance of graduates by higher education employers in the field. Articles have appeared on each of these phases (Flowers & Baltzer, 2006b, 2006a), but these were intended for those in the field of industrial teacher education. The emphasis of this presentation is instead on a model for determining perceived demand and need, and then on the reconciliation of the findings, intended for those from any field who are considering gathering information on need and demand for a proposed online program. 1

2 Method Demand by Potential Students In order for a program to be viable, regardless of how much a field might need program graduates, there must also be people who would be willing to enroll in the program. Dealings with university administrators in distance education have shown their common interest to be in projected enrollment. Others at this university have used methods that included posting queries to listservs in the field or talking about the idea with colleagues at a conference. But estimating enrollment for a new, online program can be sketchy without gaining information from potential students. Some have remarked that they have had requests from a few potential students, though this is not a systematized gathering of information, and the conclusions that can be drawn from having received a few requests are still sketchy. In order to inform the field of technical education about the demand reported from potential students, an online survey was developed, pilot tested, and revised. Online surveying was deemed the fastest and most economical method to reach a large number of potential respondents who are assumed to have basic computer and online skills and access. The population of potential doctoral students for this particular degree program is larger than some might consider. Discussions with university distance education marketing personnel led to a need to expand their typically state-wide approach, considering a much larger market. However, reaching potential students by can be a problematic undertaking, especially where the population is widely distributed. Here, it was decided to request lists of the members of the field s primary professional organizations in the US, in this case, the International Technology Education Association (ITEA), the American Technical Education Association (ATEA) and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), though ACTE declined participation. Drawbacks of this approach are twofold. First, it excludes potential students who are not members of the specified association, and association members likely have different characteristics that cannot be generalized to a broader population. Second, the data in this case did not include information about the highest degree of the recipient, which is a factor in establishing potential for doctoral study. Still, the size of national or international professional organizations can result in numbers that can speak to reported demand even without generalization to a larger audience. Following human subjects protocol approval and approval from the associations, an was sent in February 2006 to all 2737 professional members, all 398 student members of ITEA, and to all 700 ATEA members. This directed those who chose to participate to a Webpage that separated them into two groups, those who had already earned a doctorate (Docs), and those who have not yet earned a doctorate (NonDocs), with a separate version of the survey instrument for each. Even though the Doc group was not assumed to include potential students, there was an added advantage of surveying those with doctoral degrees as their data can be used to place the NonDoc data into perspective. Furthermore, since the decision to offer an online doctoral program is generally made by professionals in the field who themselves have doctorates, their attitudes toward online doctoral education were especially informative when compared to attitudes of potential online doctoral students. Need for and Acceptance of Graduates A second survey was developed for a phase of this study that attempted to uncover the need for graduates from a doctoral program in technical education and hiring attitudes regarding the acceptability of an online doctorate earned by potential faculty hires. Here, the survey sample included chairs and program directors indicated in several directories of programs in the field of technical education. (Since a later 2

3 phase of this research was to look at doctoral programs, these were excluded from the present sample.) Again, an online survey instrument was developed, piloted, and administered with anonymous returns. Results Results that inform the field of technical education are published elsewhere (Flowers & Baltzer, 2006a, 2006b), while those pertaining to distance education will be noted here. Demand Survey Results The demand survey (Flowers & Baltzer, 2006b) with potential online doctoral students did indicate an unmet demand for an online doctoral program in this field, likely one that could not be met by a single program. However, the characteristics of potential online doctoral students seemed to differ from those of traditional on-campus doctoral students, as one might suspect. This suggests that for some potential students, it is not a choice between distance education and face-to-face education, but a choice between distance education and no education. This survey had a return rate of 14% (532 of 3760) with 70 having doctorates (Doc), and 462 in the NonDoc group. Of those 462, 181 expressed a desire to pursue a doctorate; only data from this subset was used so the results characterize only those who are very interested in getting a doctorate. Within that NonDoc sample of 181, 20 reported they were very likely to pursue an on-campus doctoral program, but this jumped to 114 for a hybrid program, and 150 for a doctoral program requiring no campus visits. These numbers are an example of the power of such a survey, even in light of the inability to generalize to a larger population. But while NonDocs indicated a greater-than-neutral appeal for an online doctorate, those with doctorates indicated a less-than-neutral appeal. The decision to offer a doctorate online is made by those with doctorates, and if the sentiment of the Doc group prevailed, such a decision would be unlikely even if there were sufficient demand from potential students. Another finding of interest is the primary motivation for pursuing a doctorate. The top motivations listed were eligibility for a new job and personal fulfillment, rather than for a pay raise or status, both in NonDoc and Doc groups. In particular, the 111 NonDoc respondents who indicated personal fulfillment suggests that those who see doctoral degree programs as only supplying professionals for jobs are mistakenly assuming all doctoral students to be engaged in vocational education. Flexible program designs that facilitate customization may be more attractive to potential students who pursue a doctorate for personal fulfillment. Hiring Attitudes Survey Results The survey on hiring attitudes (Flowers & Baltzer, 2006a) had a response rate of 30% (28 of 94). Twenty of these department chairs or program coordinators indicated their department offered online courses, with an average of five courses online per department, and another five planned to go online within 3 years. There was an average of one tenure track vacancy per department, with two anticipated over the next three years; the respondents indicated they were involved in hiring decisions. Of interest to those in online education are responses to the item asking Do you believe your institution would be less likely or more likely to hire an individual to a tenure track position because their doctorate was earned through an online program? On a scale from 1 = much less likely to 5 = much more likely, the mean was 2.1, which is significantly less than neutral. The accompanying comments tended to indicate either a negative attitude toward online education for reasons of quality, or for those who were neutral, a suggestion to assess the value of any degree regardless of delivery method. 3

4 These findings corroborate Adams and DeFleur (2005), who found bias against those with an online doctorate. In a later phase of the present study, interviews were conducted with those in doctoral programs in the field, and again, this bias was confirmed. Conclusions One conclusion concerns the pool of potential online doctoral students in this field, and possibly others. The characteristics of these potential students are in some respects different from potential students in a face-to-face program. First, the pool of potential online students is sizable, with more in the present sample indicating a likelihood of pursuing online or hybrid doctoral education than face-to-face doctoral education. For every 2 respondents reporting they were very likely to pursue a face-to-face program, there were 11 and 15 who said they were likely to pursue hybrid and online doctoral programs, respectively. Those who attempt to lure students to doctoral study by offering on-campus assistantships seem to aim at the 2 rather than the 15. The foremost conclusion for those interested in online education concerns the power of data that can inform a decision regarding online program implementation. Experience with a previous survey of reported demand for a master s program (Flowers, 2001) had led to a decision to offer that program online, and that data paved the way for acceptance of that proposal through the institution s and state s system. However, the current study was also approached with an open mind, rather than in an attempt to justify a pet project. A review of data from the first three phases of the present study led to an internal decision at this institution not to pursue an online doctoral offering in technical education, based in large part on negative attitudes toward online doctoral education by those in the field. This decision was made in spite of data on demand for such a program. Even though personal fulfillment was seen to be a major motivation, and one that is not as subject to negative views of employers toward online doctorates, the battle was considered too great at this time and at this institution. Conversely, data others have gathered in the field of Nurse Education at this same institution have led to a decision to offer an online doctorate in that field. There remains bias against online doctorates for new faculty hires. This is traced to a perception of relatively lower quality doctoral education from an online program when compared to a face-to-face doctoral program. But the growth in online education and the emergence of new hybrid and online program offerings may lead to a gradual change in this view. Likewise, actions taken by those administering online and hybrid programs to prove their quality, or possibly to improve their quality, may help alleviate concerns of low quality. References Adams, J., & DeFleur, M. (2005). The acceptability of a doctoral degree earned online as credential for obtaining a faculty position. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(2), Flowers, J. (2001). Online learning needs in technology education. Journal of Technology Education, 13(1), Flowers, J., & Baltzer, H. (2006a). Hiring technical education faculty: Vacancies, criteria, and attitudes toward online doctoral degrees. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 43(3), Flowers, J., & Baltzer, H. (2006b). Perceived demand for online and hybrid doctoral programs in technical education. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 43(4),

5 Notice This work was supported by the Council on Technology Teacher Education Research Incentive Grant Program. Special thanks to Ms. Holly Baltzer, co-author of the grant proposal and articles. This presentation is based on results copyrighted in the Journal of Industrial Teacher Education. Biographical Sketch Jim Flowers is a Professor and the Director of Online Education within the Department of Technology at Ball State University. He teaches online and oversees the implementation of two online Master of Arts programs in Technology Education and Career & Technical Education. Address: Department of Technology Ball State University Applied Technology 130A Muncie, IN USA URL: Phone: Fax:

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