Online Ph.D. programs have made it possible for students to pursue their degrees while continuing to manage their other responsibilities, such as work and family. One person who has taken advantage of this opportunity is Regent University graduate Dr. Jason Garrett. Garrett is not alone, as a Sloan Consortium survey showed that approximately 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in the 2009 fall semester. Let's take a look at Garrett's path to his degree, and where his Ph.D. has taken him.
Garrett made the decision to pursue a Ph.D. after spending time in the corporate world. From that experience, he had decided “the academic environment was a better fit for me.” At the time, Garrett was 26 years old and newly married. He figured it would be wise to pursue a Ph.D. before he and his wife had children. Garrett chose to quickly work toward his Ph.D. because otherwise he would have had to retake the GRE. The test scores are valid for only five years, which meant that Garrett's were due to expire soon.
After a satisfying experience of earning his master's degree on the physical campus of Regent University, Garrett again selected the school after learning about its online Ph.D. program. He determined that he would study communication with an emphasis on cinema studies. Garrett says he was attracted to Regent because he liked the feeling of comfort that its professors and overall academic environment offered him.
Apart from spending three summers taking a class on the school's campus in Virginia Beach, Va., his program took place completely online. Taking full advantage of Regent's flexibility, Garrett was able to complete his degree in five years, including one semester that was taken off due to surgery. While he was in the program, Garrett held a full-time job as a newly hired college professor. He was able to immediately implement some of the new information he was learning, improving his skills as an educator. Garrett says his degree helped him in terms of “promotions, the tenure process and salary.”
Throughout his Ph.D. program, Garrett was able to make useful connections with other working professionals. “I even went on to hire previous classmates and others sought to hire me at their school,” Garrett said. Something he dismisses, though, is the idea that an online degree holds any form of stigma. He has not noticed any disregard for online Ph.D.s in his personal experiences of searching for jobs or networking, he said. He believes the route he took “was more valuable, since I was able to gain so much full-time teaching experience while completing the degree online.” Garrett's smooth transition from school to the workforce should offer some assurance to prospective Ph.D. students who are concerned about how their degrees will be perceived by employers.
In terms of paying for his education, Garrett was able to fund his online Ph.D. through scholarships and loans. This is a popular option for many online students, as few have the ability to cover their entire tuition out of their own pockets. In a weak economy, everyone needs all the help they can get. Through the different types of financial aid, students are able to ease the burden of tuition. The Federal Direct Stafford Loan, Federal Perkins Loan and campus-based aid are some of the offerings. The Federal Direct Stafford Loan, for example, offers graduate students low interest rates with a maximum borrower amount of $20,500 per academic year.
Garrett is continuing to pay back his loans and anticipates doing so for another 25 to 30 years. Today, he is an associate professor of mass communication at Campbellsville University in Kentucky. He has branched out from academia and directed an original movie called “To Fly.” His wife, Starr, also works at the university as the director of its theater program. They welcomed their son, August, after Garrett completed his Ph.D. program.
Garrett advised students to not even “think about beginning [an online doctoral degree] unless you're under 30.” This is because of the amount of time an online Ph.D. program consumes, which is why he chose to wait to have children until after he finished. Pursuing a Ph.D. when you are older with more responsibilities could prove fundamentally more challenging, he said. Furthermore, Garrett warns people not to earn a doctoral degree for the sole purpose of making more money. Instead, he argues that one should “do it for the lifestyle,” or, in other words, for the simple joy of learning. “Unless you want to be a full-time faculty member, I don't see how a Ph.D. will benefit you,” Garrett said. “It offers a bit more money, but most of the reward comes with the academic freedom and respect it brings.”