What is meant by a "terminal degree"

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by nosborne48, Mar 21, 2005.

  1. lifelonglearner

    lifelonglearner New Member

    Is this Masters degree not referred to as a "terminal degree" or "terminal Masters degree?"

    I would say no, because it is not the final (terminal) degree that can be obtained in the academic area. Just because you have terminated your efforts, does not mean it's a terminal degree.

    The answer to this question may belong to the hiring institution or agency. If they say it is terminal then, by their definition, it is. So look to the perspective of the instituion or agency, no the view of the learner.

  2. DesElms

    DesElms New Member

    You mean...?

    I always thought it was a degree that damned-near killed ya' to earn it. You mean it doesn't have anything to do with Nietzsche?

  3. CoachTurner

    CoachTurner Member

    First Professional is the name for the degree which is the minimum required credential in a professional occupation. JD and MD are examples of a first professional degree. These are not terminal and often an MA/MSc is considered a higher academic credential -- such as an MD who also holds an Master of Public Health or the JD who also holds a Master of Taxation. Other First Professionals include the MDiv, DO, DVM, DDS, B. Pharm, and DC to name a few.

    Some people like to consider that a BEd or MEd are "first professional" but this isn't exactly a generally accepted example. ACE publishes a list of what they consider to be first professional

    Terminal Degree generally refers to the highest degree that is considered appropriate for academic/faculty professional appointments. This may or may not be the highest possible degree in a broad academic area. It often is.

    In almost all cases, the PhD is a terminal degree. The DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) is also a terminal degree. Though it is possible (and not all that uncommon) to get a PhD in music, most people don't expect the holder of a DMA to pursue any further degree -- his DMA is terminal.

    Of masters I'm aware of in which the doctorate is not commonly considered terminal are the MFA degrees in both theater arts and creative writing. I believe that the MFA in Art Studio is also considered teminal. Many universities have faculty holding an MFA in these fields as their terminal degree.

    I'm not sure that I buy that an MBA is a terminal degree. At least not for academic purposes. The DBA and PhD in most business specialties is too readily available.

    Indiana University gives a definition of Terminal Degree as "the highest degree in a field" and gives the M Arch. and MFA as examples.

    What confuses some is that, while it is possible to get a PhD in Art History or an EdD in Art Education -- the highest application degree in the field of Studio Art is generally the MFA.

    The same idea applies in music -- where it is possible to get a PhD or EdD in some specializations in music -- the DMA is generally the highest degree in the performance of music.

    In the English and communications departments, an MFA in creative writing is generally accepted as terminal. A PhD in Creative Writing is a very uncommon offering.

    To confuse matters a bit more -- an Associate of Applied Science in Cosmetology would generally be considered the terminal degree for a hair stylist.

    We have to consider the specialty within the broader academic area when we consider what the highest degree in that field is.

    Just a few thoughts...
  4. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member

    Interesting discussion. I always appreciate the good knowledge possessed by members of this forum. Blewo are a few clarifications:

    Lifelonglearner: It is generally accepted that a person with a Ph.D. is a) and expert in their subject area, b) fully capable of undertaking research, and c) has classroom teaching experience.

    Tony: a) and b) are correct, c) is not. Earning a Ph.D. degree generally does not mean that the person has any classroom teaching experience at all.

    MarilynD : I have always understood "terminal degree" to mean the specific degree or level of degree generally required for the highest level of employment in a particular field. There are some fields--computer animation, for instance--in which the bachelor's degree is usually considered terminal. Perhaps this is not the precise way of stating it, but it is how I have always conceived it.

    Tony: This is a correct understanding of the term. In air conditioning & refrigeration, for example, an associate of science degree is considered a terminal degree for the profession.

    William H. Walters: I've always understood "terminal degree" to mean a research doctorate, except in (1) law, (2) medicine, and (3) those fields in which no research doctorate is offered.

    Tony: In most cases this is true. However, the J.D., a terminal degree, is not a research doctorate, but the S.J.D. is. I am not sure whether the doctor of social work (DSW) is a research degree, but the master of social work (MSW) is considered a terminal degree.

    Lifelonglearner: Others tell me their common language is to talk about "terminal professional degrees" (meaning the M.Ed, Ed.D, M.Div., J.D. ...) and the "terminal degree" (meaning the Ph.D or equivalent).

    Tony: The M.Div and J.D. are professional degrees. The M.Ed. is not typically considered a terminal degree at all and the Ed.D. is a research doctorate, not a professional degree.

    Tony Pina
    Administrator, Northeastern Illinois University
  5. For example, a Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) degree may be considered a terminal degree in law.

    Penk v. Oregon State Bd. of Higher Educ. 1985 WL 25631 Feb 13, 1985
  6. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    Aha, Dr. Latin Juris! At last, someone found a case! I can't wait to read it!


    My question was a bit obscure. What I meant was, you say that the J.D. is not a "terminal degree" and point to the J.S.D. or other Ph.D. equivalent in law as being the terminal degree. That makes sense to me from a theoretical standpoint.

    However, I see that many, many professors of law, including professors at Boalt Hall and UCLA, possess the J.D. as their highest degree.

    From this came my question: Is a terminal degree routinely necessary to receive tenure?
  7. Mike Albrecht

    Mike Albrecht New Member

  8. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    Dr. Latin Juris' case should be of professional interest to lifelonglearner.

    Not only does it say exactly what Dr. Latin Juris says it says, but it says it in the context of a class action equal protection federal suit.

    Apparently the salary and promotion model used by the State discriminated against holders of terminal degrees other than the Ph.D. That in itself probably wouldn't trigger an equal protection Title VII claim but the effect of the discrimination fell disproportionately on women employees. (If I got it right; I just glanced at the opinion.)

    It's worth reading carefully.
  9. lifelonglearner

    lifelonglearner New Member

    From this came my question: Is a terminal degree routinely necessary to receive tenure?

    This question can only be answered by the institution granting tenure.

    Tony: a) and b) are correct, c) is not. Earning a Ph.D. degree generally does not mean that the person has any classroom teaching experience at all.

    I have yet to meet a Ph.D who didn't work as a TA, teach undergrads, or engage in some form of classroom teaching. Then again I only routinely deal with folks in the humanities. Note that I am not saying they are adequately trained as teachers. Unfortunately, there is a general assumption that if one has a Ph.D one can teach. Just as there is a assumption that if one has a Ph.D one can write, even though most have not taken a writing course beyond English Comp 101.

  10. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member

    Both you and I (and most people on this forum) know the fallacy of the idea that having a PhD means that one can teach. Many PhD programs (especially those with high enrollment) lack opportunities for teaching assistantships. I know quite a few doctoral students who never taught courses, yet filled research assistantships during their doctoral studies. Some of us worked as faculty for other institutions while we pursued our doctorates.

  11. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member


    I wonder if you could point me to an American Ph.D. program in business law. I became curious about what such a degree might consist of but have been unable to locate one.

  12. lifelonglearner

    lifelonglearner New Member

    I wonder if you could point me to an American Ph.D. program in business law. I became curious about what such a degree might consist of but have been unable to locate one.

    hmmmm .... I recall doing a google search and seeing several ... that is my best lead

  13. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    So did I and found none.

    There are some Australian schools, I think, that offer it. I also found Ph.D. programs in international law and relations but none in business law.

    Perhaps my search was poorly constructed.

    Thanks, anyway.
  14. Ted Heiks

    Ted Heiks Moderator and Distinguished Senior Member Staff Member

    It means that your degree is very sick and it is going to die soon.
  15. soupbone

    soupbone Active Member

    My undertanding of the term "terminal" as it applies to associates degrees is that most AAS degrees are considered terminal because: 1) They are very specialized and apply directly to a specific job path. and 2) They lack enough general education requirements to be used toward a more advanced degree hence being "terminal". Feel free to correct me as this is just how I understand it.
  16. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member

    #1 You are correct. Most associate of applied science (A.A.S.) degrees tend to be in specialized fields leading directly to career paths. They are "terminal" in that it is not usually expected that they will pursue a higher degree in the same topic. However, some fields (e.g. nursing) have a higher percentage of those who do seek additional degrees (e.g. BSN, MSN).

    #2 Although it is most common for A.A.S. degrees to be light on the general education side, many people with an A.A.S. will go on to bachelors degree programs, where they must make up for the lack of general ed by taking more courses.
  17. Vinipink

    Vinipink Accounting Monster


    Thanks for the laugh!
  18. Vinipink

    Vinipink Accounting Monster

    So far what I know that Nosborne participates at DD and change program from UOL to William Howard Taft University LLM, but I wonder why he stop posting here? He was a vivid poster. Oh Well.
  19. sallyh

    sallyh New Member

    Terminal degrees

    It varies by field, in my experience.
    For a tenure track academic position in a field like math, english, business, and engineering/computers, you generally need the PhD to be hired or get tenure. This applies for institutions accredited by the national accrediting bodies.
    (AACSB for business and so on).
    This is because having a given % of their permanent faculty with terminal degrees is part of the accreditation requirements.

    Whether or not you have much teaching experience coming out of grad school varies by program and school. It is not usually important to the 'research institutions' but is much more important in the vast number of schools out there teaching most college students.

    Adjunct, part-time or temporary faculty may or may not have the terminal degree, and these are obviously not tenure track positions.

    Some fields, as noted, don't use the PhD as a terminal degree. J.D., M.D., Vet MD., MFA and so on.

    In a lighter vein....I decided long ago that a terminal degree was one that, once you finished it, any future education would probably kill you...

    PhD., MBA, blah blah blah
  20. cust0s

    cust0s New Member

    Wow, this is old..... many people are confused about terminal degrees. Just to remind folks, the plaintiffs lost in Penk v. Oregon State Bd. of Higher Educ. Also again on appeal. The only ruling we get is that each "discipline" may set their own standard.

    To put it another way, ask yourself where do you want to work? If you want to work in a law school then your "JD" is terminal. Meaning, the governing authority that accredits your program is the ABA and they say that JDs are considered "terminal." All other schools are accredited by other governing bodies such as regional or professional accrediting bodies and those entities set a completely different standard. This is why most of academia require other credentials to "teach" or be employed there. Hence, a Ph.D. is often the terminal degree and other various programs have their own standards. Don't expect to be considered "terminal" in any other field with a JD if the program is not 100% law.


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