Most everyone is likely familiar with the acronym PhD in a general sense as a distinguishing mark given out to those persons who complete advanced degrees. While that is certainly the case, there is another acronym handed out by colleges for those who complete educational programmes which are of the same level of merit: the lesser-known Doctor of Business Administration or DBA.
For anyone considering an advanced degree of study in business, both of these should be considered, because both have differentiating benefits. In order to better understand those differences, and the varying points, some history of the two terms is warranted.
In the business world, there is a reemerging popularity the world over for a DBA degree. While the majority of that notoriety can be found in many other countries, in America, the degree is far less known and understood. As such, the number of PhD degree programmes consistently overshadows DBA programmes. Ironically, this was not always the case.
PhD programs in business have been available to students in the United States since the 1920’s, while the DBA was not offered until 1953 at Harvard Business School. Interestingly, the DBA, due much to the weight of the name behind Harvard’s Business School, eventually made it the more popular of the two degrees. By the mid 1960’s a DBA was the more typical pathway for a student of advanced business. This trend continued in the 1990’s, and international popularity grew.
While that momentum carried on for a while, the PhD programmes eventually won out over DBA’s. Many business institutions dropped DBA programmes, both to avoid confusion and to use the elegance of the title “PhD” as a way to promote their programmes. As is with most things in human culture though, history is repeating itself: DBA’s are rising in popularity again.
Similarities and Differences
Being that both the PhD and DBA degrees essentially accomplish the same goal, it is wise to consider the similarities and differences inherent so as to better determine a path of education.
Both degrees fall under the terminal degree category of business, meaning that they both hold the highest level of academic achievement possible. Secondarily, each program involves an intensive curriculum whose aim is to increase the students’ understanding of the more advanced concepts inherent in business.
The aim of this is to train the learner in the ability to understand, study, and communicate research findings to those in the wider business world. That is where the similarities begin to waver.
As a generality, people who choose to study PhD programmes have the eventual aim or goal of becoming full time professors at business schools. When not teaching, such a person would be involved in academic research. More often than not, those who take a PhD route come straight from university and start their graduate work, tending to skip over the hands-on experience that is gleaned from working out in the business world.
On the other hand, those people who typically pursue a DBA degree have years, even decades, worth of experience in business and are looking to increase their knowledge base and stature amongst their peers. These people are also typically interested in the research of management techniques, economics, and production strategies. Sometimes, the dissertation that is required for graduation is drawn from and informed by a real-world scenario that the student has interacted with before beginning the programme.
As a point of consideration, the most important distinguishing characteristics that can easily be made out in the following two points:
First, PhD students tend to carry the primary goal of extending the existing fields knowledge base by elaborating on current theories, or by presenting new hypothesis; DBA students are less concerned with theory and, instead, seek to apply their research into immediately applicable business scenarios to the benefit of business managers, owners as well as the scholarly community.
Secondly, while there are some business schools that offer PhD programmes in part-time formats, the majority are full-time. DBA’s on the other hand are much more flexible and allow those students to not have to give up their careers in the process of pursuing the degree.
The world has undergone much change recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of that is now seen in the steadily rising, modern classroom demands for greater flexibility across personal, professional, and academic settings. As such, the potential student should consider the differences above to best set their course of learning.