Why I'm Leaving Capella (PhD in Education)

Discussion in 'Education, Teaching and related degrees' started by lawsonry, Sep 11, 2015.

  1. lawsonry

    lawsonry New Member

    Hi Everyone,

    In keeping with the longstanding tradition of updating the forum on our progress, I wanted to share with you why I am leaving Capella's PhD program in Education and switching to a different university. The below opinions are just that -- my opinions -- and they are the opinions of one person. Take them with a grain of salt, please.

    Why I Chose Capella: Capella is great with marketing. In fact, in a cost/revenue breakdown per student I saw that they spend upwards of 35% or something on marketing. That's not necessarily a bad thing; I'll talk more about this in the next section. At the time in my life when I was ready for doctoral studies, a colleague of mine had recently finished their DBA program and had nothing but good things to say. After a lot of research and taking a few weeks to think about the financial impact of attending Capella for a few years (they are, after all, extremely expensive), I decided to enroll. I like their colors. I like they way they present themselves. I like the verbiage they use and I like their tone.

    The enrollment process was extremely smooth. Everyone I met who worked at Capella was helpful, polite, and punctual with emails and phone calls. As soon as I got a login ID and password and was in their student portal, I could tell they invested a lot of time and money in user experience. I am the kind of nerd who reads accreditation reports and quarterly statements, and even in there I saw a consistent message: Capella really cares about student experience. (Whether this is entirely motivated by profit or by commitment to student experience -- and whether that's important or not -- is another conversation)

    My Capella Experience: I took a total of four classes at Capella. They were about what I expected. It reminded me a lot of my previous institutions -- AMU and NU -- in that we had weekly discussions and papers due either weekly or every other week. As is typical in an online environment, there are variable representations of people's abilities (seeing as how most of these people will drop out eventually and go complain on ripoffreport or something). What I did not expect was so much instructor involvement. Only one class I was in felt like the instructor was completely absent, but having been a college student by distance learning since 2008 I have ran into every type of instructor imaginable.

    The course content for each class was (if I may use a strictly academic word) "meh." I have a strong background in quantitative and qualitative research, so the introductory lessons on things like "What is a research article" are necessary for some learners but I think can be filtered out for "doctoral" learners. For a lot of the assignments I felt like the required discussions (usually 2 discussion posts per week, each requiring 2 replies) were busy work. The only real way to use discussions to your advantage is to use them as starting points for your weekly assignment/paper, but even then, the topics were generally not very exciting and the length requirements really caused some people to draw out their fluff.

    From a writing perspective, I got to write a lot and they do emphasize the APA format pretty religiously. From a research perspective, I felt like the curriculum was light on research requirements and was not adequately preparing researchers; the courses felt like they were designed around carefully packaged assignments to get you a good enough grade to pass the class. For example, the research methods class I took had me write up a qualitative data collection & analysis paper -- complete with a section where I was suppose to infer causality and relationships -- based on one poorly constructed interview that we were supposed to conduct. The entire time, each week leading up to the final week had us acknowledging that we were playing with SPSS, but didn't actually have any work with statistical analysis...

    The other classes I took were fine. I especially liked Leadership Theory for higher education because it had some really cool interactive case studies in which you watched a short video (10 mins or so) about an associate vice chancellor trying to work through problems on his campus, and then you'd all get into the discussion boards and talk about different strategies to address the problems -- all while working on weekly papers about leadership theories, contemporary issues in education, etc.

    The turning point for me was when I got into my 5th and 6th classroom. I started plotting out all my assignments for the next few months in Excel (like I always do) and then I just got this wave of exhaustion. I kept thinking, "here we go again, more two-discussion-posts-per-week classes with B.S. writing assignments." I would add up the required writing per week for two classes and just shutter. It's not that I don't mind doing research and writing, mind you, it's that I don't like wasting my time with fluff work. I am a great researcher. I enjoy writing academic papers. I enjoy researching and writing, period. What I don't enjoy is that feeling of "ugh" you get when you know you are going to have to put your nose to the grindstone and do a bunch of busy work. This is not a bachelor's program. This is not a master's program. This is a doctoral program, and I should have a little more flexibility in what I am going to spend my time researching and writing about.

    Eventually I realized that Capella's model is perfect for someone who requires a lot of structure and supervision. This is why, I think, they're so successful: they market well, they give you a great experience, and they basically have two hands on your back at all times giving you a nice backrub and ushering you along gently. For me, I wanted more freedom. I want less hand-holding. I don't want to waste my time in discussion forums talking about crap that has nothing to do with my research, but instead about how terrible someone's argument is and how they incorrectly interpreted the sources they cited. I get frustrated when we have a great textbook with tons of possibilities for assignments (sometimes embedded within the textbook!) but have to work on other, monotonous, meaningless tasks that feel like busy work. We're doctoral students; busy work harms good research!

    Don't take all this venting for dissatisfaction with the program. Like I said, Capella is great for someone who needs a lot of structure. This is not a bad thing! The success of any distance learner is directly proportional to their ability to critically assess their strengths and weaknesses. My strength is in my desire for independence and self-directed learning. I love pouring over a textbook and then talking about it with a mentor. I like the process of self-discovery, not directed discovery. Your mileage may vary.

    Why I Left Capella: I ended up dropping my classes once I realized that I was about to head off to my first weekend colloquium. I was already dreading going to it because of the cost and time commitment, and from everything I read and everyone I talked to they were really geared toward people who do need that social connection and network to motivate them. I know, I know. Networking is important. The gathering of scholars and talking with colleagues and faculty is important. (Again, this is about me and my experience, so remember that.)

    For me, I already present at conferences regularly. I already work with PhD's across the state on important research problems pertaining to college students. I have a lot of connection to people who would be considered academics in this field, and I like the group of scholar-practitioners that I can rely on for lengthy, scholarly dialogue. I'm very involved with research and planning efforts across the state. I routinely consult and contract with other colleges.

    For me, I need a program that is going to let me basically do my thing and provide some outstanding research at the end of it. Some old friends of mine in Europe always tell me to move there because their doctoral research structure is very much like this, and I envy them for having such a unique and more "true to the roots" doctoral experience. I know that American PhD training components are important, but do they need to be so hand-holdy?

    I talked with some faculty about the colloquium experience, downloaded the colloquium handbooks, and basically confirmed my suspicions. Four days of feel-good busy work. Great for people who still don't know what they want to study. Great for a typical distance learner (no offense to anyone) who is looking for lots of direction and help with motivation. Not so great for someone who is looking to advance the scholarly work in his field and not spend a lot of time learning the difference between an APA citation for a book without an editor and an APA citation for a journal article.

    Some closing thoughts: This is all my opinion, and a lot of it free-written (braindumping, that is. The best kind of post!) I think Capella is going to be a great option for you to do your PhD in Education if:

    * You don't know what you want to research for your dissertation

    * You don't like to create your own lesson plans and you would rather have a defined, tried and true curriculum to follow, step-by-step

    * You wouldn't consider yourself ready to write publishable research articles

    If you're like me and are extremely independent, self-motivated, and already researching and publishing, then a program like Capella might not be very challenging for you. However, like all things, this is my opinion and your mileage will probably vary.

    I hope this post helps you in your decision to pursue doctoral studies.

    (Now if we can get a post like this for NCU and Walden we'd be all set!)
  2. novadar

    novadar Member

    Thank you for the thorough review.

    I nearly pulled the financial trigger at Capella about 5 years ago. Soooooooo glad I did not.
  3. FTFaculty

    FTFaculty Well-Known Member

    If you're a great researcher, why don't you pursue a PhD by publications or a research-only PhD through a Brit or Aussie school? Would be one heck of a lot less expensive than Capella and one heck of a lot better regarded, at least where I live in academia. Would also be mentored by academics who would most assuredly not baby you. For example, the University of Westminster in London, a uni with roots back to the 1830s, charges less than $5,000 USD a year to oversee a PhD by Publications.
  4. me again

    me again Well-Known Member

    That was a hilariously excellent read, especially the groaning part about "writing one more [crappy] busybody paper" (aka busywork that is good-for-nothing). Based on what you wrote, you should definitely consider a British university that grants a doctorate by submitting a dissertation without requiring any busybody coursework that is materially unrelated to completion of a dissertation. It can be done online.
  5. FTFaculty

    FTFaculty Well-Known Member

    Interesting choice of favorite scriptures, me again.
  6. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly

    As an aside, the words of Rev. 11:15 finish off Handel's Messiah, and are one of the most fun parts of it to sing.
  7. FTFaculty

    FTFaculty Well-Known Member

    Yep, what I really like--I mean reaally like--is the Amen Chorus that comes right after. Hard to sing, but wow, get goose bumps just thinking about it, even though it's been 15 years since I sung it in a choir.
  8. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly

    Indeed. It's better than the Hallelujah chorus, if undeservedly less well known.
  9. lawsonry

    lawsonry New Member

    Am I just not picking up the sarcasm in this thread? Or....?
  10. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly

    No, it's just that FTFaculty and I kind of hijacked this thread. Sorry.
  11. ashtonbrady45

    ashtonbrady45 member

    Yeah amazing to read and much interesting choice
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 3, 2015

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