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UNG launches online Doctor of Education degree this fall

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Tricia Bunker, director of donor relations and stewardship in the UNG University Advancement office, introduces herself to other Ed.D students during the group's orientation session Aug. 18.

Beginning this fall, the University of North Georgia (UNG) will launch a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Higher Education Leadership and Practice degree program.

The completely online program includes a research, higher education and leadership core of 45 credit hours, with an additional 15 credit hours of dissertation research.

The program took two years to develop, with the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents approval coming in spring 2017 and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges accreditation in July.

"The degree has morphed several different times. We were trying to figure where to take it," said Sheri Hardee, associate dean of the College of Education. "One of the issues with the Board of Regents was how was this degree program going to be unique and different from other leadership programs in the state. Our focus on teaching and high-impact practices makes this program unique."

Along with a strong research core, the program focuses on "teaching how to teach" in higher education, Hardee said. With other doctoral programs, a graduate is a subject expert, but isn't given the guidance to impart that knowledge to students at the undergraduate level.

Susan Ayres, dean of the College of Education, said students in the program will be connected to experts in their discipline as well as professors accomplished in qualitative and quantitative research.

"The program is structured to engage students in their research interests from the first term," Ayres said. "The sequence of the program will support continuous development and review of the dissertation work so that it is completed by the end of the three-year program."

The program’s first cohort, a group of 17 students, include UNG staff and other aspiring students who have spent a lifetime pursuing a doctorate.

Tricia Bunker has taken a different path — a longer one — than most students on her quest for a doctoral degree. She has worked at UNG in the University Advancement office for 14 years and currently serves as the director of donor relations and stewardship.

She graduated from high school in 1967 and slowly, over the next 40 years, took college classes whenever she could. She graduated from UNG in 2007 with a Bachelor of Business Administration.

Bunker received her Master of Business Administration from the University of Georgia (UGA) in 2011 and began working toward a doctoral degree. She had completed most of the coursework when she experienced a medical emergency that required brain surgery and left her incapacitated for nearly a year.

Bunker said the Ed.D. program is a good fit for her. She is planning to retire soon and the online program saves her from having to travel back and forth to campus.

She also remembers what her mother told her as she was going for her master's at UGA.

"My mom told me the reason she lived as long as she had was she learned from me, that education kept her alive," Bunker said. "I'll be in my 70s when I get my Ed.D. People are living longer these days. Who knows — maybe I'll teach after I graduate."

Visit the Doctor of Education with a major in Higher Education Leadership and Practice webpage for more information on the program.

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