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Then and Now: Doctoral program turns 30

Georgia Southern University’s first doctoral degree program turns thirty this year. The Doctor of Education Degree program in Educational Leadership began its first classes in the fall of 1993, just three years after the institution transitioned from college to university. It was the first doctorate to be offered by any institution in South Georgia.

The program began with a cohort of 12 students who were happy to be able to advance their education without having to travel outside the region. This fall, the program welcomes 33, with 11 new students in its P-12 Administration concentration and 22 new students in its Higher Education Administration concentration who will be able to complete the program entirely online for the first time. It will be the University’s second doctoral program to be offered online, joining the Doctor of Nursing Practice.

Program director Elise J. Cain, PhD, was recently given a copy of the 1992 proposal for the creation of the degree program by a retiring professor. Elizabeth Downs, PhD, was cleaning out her office after 33 years at the University and thought Cain would like to have it. The pair enjoyed looking at the historical record and found that making education accessible to working professionals was as much an issue in the early nineties as it is today. One excerpt from the proposal says:

Unlike doctoral aspirants in other fields … most school administrators pursue doctoral studies after many years of teaching and instruction. Generally, they return for doctoral study … as mature adults with careers, spouses, mortgages, children in school, and other responsibilities. Thus, it is a difficult, often impossible, challenge for school administrators to juggle their career aspirations and other obligations in order to continue their studies, improve their career options and upgrade their skills.

The original proposal predicts the impact of the degree program. It states:

Southeast Georgia encounters most of the social and cultural problems that predominate in urban and rural areas in the United States. Thus, Georgia Southern University has the opportunity for significant leadership in dealing with the challenges of racial, ethnic, and family diversity, escalating drop-out rates, fiscal constraints, urban and rural differences, and other issues that will influence the conduct and success of public schooling in Georgia and the nation well into the 21st century.

In 2023, the University is “well into the 21st century,” and has conferred 515 Ed.D. degrees in Educational Leadership (or Educational Administration as it was once termed). Cain reports, “Over the years, this program has continued to adjust, adapt and improve–there’s no doubt we continue to have a positive influence in our field.” 

The Ed.D. in Doctoral Leadership boasts partnerships with schools across the region, and many distinguished graduates, including Georj Lewis, Ed.D. (’07), who currently serves as president of  Clayton State University, and Lisa Herring, Ed.D. (’07), who recently completed a term as superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. 

Those who initiated a doctoral program for “Educational Administration” in the early nineties could not have imagined online programs and the challenges of today’s educators, but their vision of Georgia Southern University as a leader has been realized.

For more information about Georgia Southern’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, visit the program website:


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