Inside the CalSouthern DBA

Sep 10, 2012 by University Communications

The business world is experiencing an unprecedented demand for leaders capable of bold, creative and innovative thinking in the face of an increasingly complex, technology-driven economy. With the business community slowly emerging from the recession and beginning to gain traction, the demand will only increase.

The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is a versatile degree program that provides a well-rounded business education at the highest academic level. It's a professional doctorate, laser-focused on applying the latest concepts, principles and best practices to provide solutions to current, real-world business challenges. It's an ideal program to meet the growing and fast-evolving needs of today's business world—and an excellent choice for a wide variety of business professionals seeking to expand their skills and acumen.

To help potential students learn more about the DBA and determine whether CalSouthern's program might be a good fit for them, we sat down with CalSouthern's School of Business.

In certain respects, the Doctor of Business Administration (the DBA) is not quite as well known as some other business degrees. For those that might not be familiar, could you please describe CalSouthern's DBA program?

School of Business: CalSouthern's Doctor of Business Administration Program is a 60-credit, four-year professional doctorate with a focus on managerial and business studies. The university will accept up to nine doctoral-level credits in transfer, provided those credits were earned at an accredited institution and are directly related to the program. The program is designed for experienced business professionals, and it emphasizes advanced decision-making and leadership skills, as well as in-depth knowledge of applied research.

It is a hands-on program, and students should expect a learning environment based on research, utilizing extensive case studies and managerial theories and practices. Required courses cover subjects such as finance and accounting management, information systems, thought management, project design, marketing and supply chain management, leadership, ethics, research methods, and global management, among others.


What sort of learning outcomes can a DBA student look forward to?

School of Business: We've designed our DBA—as with all of our programs at CalSouthern—to have specific course and program outcomes. The program outcomes can be found in the University Catalog and the course outcomes can be found on the syllabi, so I won't take the time to list all those here. However, in addition to these outcomes—and because of the structure and scope of the program—there are other outcomes that are inherent to the DBA. For example, upon completion of the DBA program, students: 1) Will have developed skillsets that involve a global perspective, pertinent to effective research and analysis of business theories, practices and management case studies; 2) Will be able to apply past and current experiences with newly learned internal and external data with analytical techniques to support evidence-based decision-making; 3) Will have enhanced their advanced research methodology to investigate management and leadership solutions; 4)Will be able to integrate business and market requirements with ethical, solution-based outcomes; and 5) Will have the ability to foster and create global collaborative alliances, partnerships and lifetime networking practices.


Is now a good time to think about pursuing the DBA?

School of Business: The best time to pursue a Doctor of Business degree is primarily dependent upon you—the student. Ask yourself: Do I have the support of my family? Is my employer on board with my decision to return to school to obtain my doctorate? Am I prepared to make the requisite sacrifices that doctoral work demands? Am I prepared and able to put in 16 to 20 hours of school work in each week in addition to family and work responsibilities? If you can answer yes to these questions, the time is ideal for you.

From a broader perspective, the current business climate is improving; we're seeing glimpses of the sun shining through the clouds. The world is now facing some of the greatest intellectual challenges for business leaders we've seen in decades. The DBA—being specifically designed as a professional doctorate—generates new knowledge and understanding which will contribute to emerging policies, practices and solutions for modern business leadership.


What are a few of the unique benefits of the DBA? Or, put another way, what are some of the common reasons you see students enroll in CalSouthern's DBA program?

School of Business: In addition to the benefits of receiving a quality online education, the DBA program can help students take the important last step toward truly mastering the skills essential to the leadership positions they aspire to. The DBA is a doctorate degree with a managerial relevance. The program is designed to cultivate the leadership and the efficacy necessary to meet the challenges of senior management. One of the major benefits is derived from the completion of a doctoral research project that is both original and pertinent to business theory and practice; it's a comprehensive project tailored to the candidate's professional interests and aspirations.

One of the most common reasons students enroll in our DBA program is that it provides an opportunity for working professionals to advance their career with a doctoral degree while still working in their field. Also, it is an outstanding way to distinguish yourself from the masses who have earned a master's degree in business administration. In addition, it provides the avenue for establishing yourself as an expert in your area of study via the doctoral project and defense—especially if you continue to research and publish in your area of expertise. And we cannot forget the much-sought-after advanced leadership skills that go along with your doctoral studies.


Could you distinguish the DBA from the PhD?

School of Business: That's a question we get frequently. The DBA and PhD are really quite different – figuring out which degree is for you is dependent upon where your interests lie, what you intend to do and on how you enjoy learning. DBA programs are structured. They contain core courses that everyone takes which are related directly to business and management. Most projects, while detailed, are very practical with a clear real-world application. The research typically produces practical applications in managerial settings.

PhD programs tend to be less structured; it's considered a research degree. They often differ based on the student's particular interests: The focus is on developing a personal research agenda that expands and complements existing research. In other words, the research is intended to produces contributions to methodologies in academia leading to the creation of new knowledge.


You've alluded to the doctoral project, which is the culmination of the DBA program. Could you tell us more about the doctoral project and explain how it differs from a doctoral dissertation?

School of Business: The doctoral project is the capstone academic achievement of the DBA. It is directed at identifying and resolving practical management and organizational issues. The focus of the project should be on practical, professional problem-solving with an emphasis on real-world application. It demonstrates the student's knowledge of the field and his or her ability to conduct independent research: to think critically and to write effectively. It also shows the student's ability to discuss fully and coherently the meaning and applicability of the results.

As I mentioned above, doctoral projects are detailed, but very practical with a real-world application. Research produces practical applications in managerial settings. The PhD dissertation, on the other hand, focuses on developing a personal research agenda that expands and complements existing research. Research produces contributions to academia. Both are five-chapter, publishable manuscripts; the primary difference is on the relative practicality of the work.


How might a student go about choosing a topic for the doctoral project? Can you give a few examples of past doctoral project topics?

School of Business: Completing a doctoral project is one of the most challenging tasks faced by graduate students. It becomes an intensely personal quest. That's why you need to pick a topic you are passionate about, a topic whose subject matter will sustain you through months of research and writing.

The topics and scope of the doctoral projects are as varied and interesting as are our students. A few recent topics are: “Structural Treasury Reforms in Chiapas, Mexico: Long-term Financial Viability,” “Deploying Major Engineering Projects to Enhance Organizational Development,” “Examining the Relationship Between Management and Determinants of Job Satisfaction in a Specific Department of a Large Organization,” and “Developing a Strong Business Plan and Leadership Team for a Charter School Application in Colorado.”

What all these diverse projects have in common is the practicality related to business and the managerial emphasis of the projects—as well as the passion that the individual student has for the topic.


What can you tell us about the DBA program's faculty? I understand that they are called “faculty mentors” rather than professors.

School of Business: One of the keys to meeting CalSouthern's mission as well as the objectives of the school of business is the faculty mentors' dedication to excellence in teaching. The mentoring style of teaching employed at CalSouthern is ideal for the graduate student-professor relationship. The mentor not only passes on the expertise he or she has acquired in the field, but he or she also guides the student through the intricacies of the university's learning system, as well as lends moral support and provides sage advice. I am extremely proud of our graduate faculty. All possess a doctorate degree in their field along with practical experience, in addition to a desire to pass on a bit of themselves to their students.


Can you give us an example or two of courses that you think are particular valuable or timely, or that prove to be extremely popular among your students?

School of Business: This is a difficult question. There are many excellent courses in the DBA program. The first two courses that doctoral students usually take are Organizational Development and Design and Leadership, Ethics and Corporate Governance. These are both terrific courses in that they give a comprehensive overview of management, leadership and ethics from the doctoral-level perspective.

From then on, it all depends on the student's background and interests. I am partial to Financial Statement Analysis and Management Finance and Control. It is difficult to make an educated decision in business without knowing where the dollars are coming from or where they're going. There are people who prefer the technology-related courses, while others enjoy statistics (which I personally can't imagine). I think my favorite course in the program might be the Ethnography of Corporate Culture. This course examines how ethnographic methods can be used to analyze information-based work practices. The outcome of this course is a completed ethnography. This gives students who have not yet written a research paper a bit of experience, too.


Can you identify for us any common characteristics of your most successful DBA students?

School of Business: From a faculty member's point of view, I would say that some of the characteristics of a successful doctoral student include a passion for scholarship, originality and the ability to make creative decisions. A successful DBA student also should possess self-motivation and a driving curiosity. The person should have a critical mind and feel a personal responsibility for learning. They should have the ability to work independently and a willingness to see both the fine detail and the big picture.

From the student's point of view, the graduate student should be well focused and ready to actively participate in all areas of learning—and to continue to do so through four years of intense work. They should be goal-oriented, self-motivated, and have an ability to organize their goals. To summarize, I would say the first word that comes to my mind is “commitment” and the second is “support”—a solid support team, whether it be family, friends or work associates.


What's your vision for the future of the DBA program here at CalSouthern?

School of Business: Our vision for CalSouthern's DBA program is quite simple—and I believe attainable. I want CalSouthern's DBA to be the highest-quality online professional doctorate in business administration. And I want to reach this goal while remaining student-friendly, accessible and responsive.

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