The DBA: Right Degree, Right Time

Aug 18, 2011 by University Communications

Over the course of the last decade or so, the world has experienced near-exponential advances in technology, communications, manufacturing, and medicine among many other fields. New business and technology superpowers are developing in China, India, and other nations, further accelerating the rate of progress and creating a hyper-competitive global economy.

With the world increasing in complexity at an historic rate, there’s an unprecedented demand for individuals capable of higher-order thinking, of surveying, analyzing, and synthesizing the latest business or technological developments, and then applying these skills to solve problems within their business or field of practice. To maintain a leadership position in this new global economy, America needs a more highly educated workforce, one that is prepared for success with applied post-graduate skills and degrees. Unfortunately, traditional institutions of higher education—those charged with the responsibility of preparing our workforce to meet these demands—have not lived up to expectations. Let me explain.

The educational establishment has continued to offer traditional PhDs for collegiate teaching when we need doctorates with a new focus: attending to the larger needs of society outside of the Ivory towers.


The PhD (an academic doctorate) prepares the student for scholarly research and publication, as well as for teaching in colleges and universities. The MD, JD, DDS, EdD, PsyD, and DBA are just a few examples of professional doctorates that differ from academic degrees like the PhD in that they focus more in the application of existing knowledge in the real world rather than the development of new theory in an academic setting. Applied degrees are practical, focused on providing services in medicine, law, dentistry, psychology, and business where a high level of professional knowledge and skills is required. Both types of degrees are extremely valuable; their emphases, however, are quite distinct and based on the individual’s career objectives.

The MBA—the Master’s of Business Administration—is an applied degree in the field of business that has been around for more than 60 years. It’s a wonderful degree, very versatile and extremely popular. In fact, more than 150,000 Americans graduate with an MBA each year. But for the vast majority of these graduates, the MBA is their terminal degree. Only a fraction of these graduates are aware of a doctorate now available to business professionals: the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).

Why is this? Many—perhaps most—MBA graduates think that their only option for a doctoral program is the PhD with its focus on research, scholarly publication, and a career in academia. For them, teaching and research is not a career option. For most MBAs, the PhD represents a dramatic shift of gears that simply doesn’t jibe with their personal or career goals. Enter the DBA, the professional doctorate for the 21st Century.


The DBA is an applied degree that gives MBA graduates the opportunity to distinguish themselves from other MBA grads by developing expertise in their areas of specialty—or perhaps in a new emerging business sector that shows outstanding potential. The DBA is an extremely focused degree, with—at least at California Southern University, the school that I founded—up to 25 percent of the program devoted toward a doctoral project of the student’s own interest, with guidance from a faculty mentor.

Unlike a PhD candidate, who often conforms his/her research to topics of interest to his/her professor, the DBA candidate is encouraged to pursue an applied doctoral project in his/her particular area of specialty or interest. And upon completing and defending the doctoral project, the student also may have distinguished him/herself as the leading expert in that particular field, whether it’s in international business, managing innovation, assembling a leadership team, implementing a fiscally sound business plan for a non-profit organization, or any of the limitless opportunities to excel in the global business marketplace.

Today’s business executives recognize the necessity of developing practical, specialized knowledge in order to compete in an increasingly complex world. And, in a competitive and challenging economic climate, aspiring business leaders are looking for ways to distinguish themselves from the pack of MBA grads flooding the marketplace at a rate of 150,000 per year. And business decision makers are hungry for individuals with the talent and skills that are the unique hallmark of the DBA.

I urge you to take the time to research the DBA. It’s an applied degree that builds logically from your MBA. The doctoral project can be tailored to match your specific areas of expertise and interest. Earning the degree from an accredited online university can be achieved while you continue to progress in your current position, without compromising your family and personal obligations. And, in this economic climate and rapidly changing global business market with its demands for qualified professionals, it’s the right degree and the right time.

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