Tom Sechrest, Director of Online Master of Science in Organizational Leadership

The Doctorate of Education of Leadership and Higher Education prepares the next generation of leaders for the constantly evolving field of postsecondary education. Program director Tom Sechrest explains how this St. Edward’s University program uniquely prepares graduates for future success and impact. 

What makes the Doctorate of Education of Leadership and Higher Education valuable?

Higher education is in constant flux. It is affected by changes in the economy, K-12 education, technology, public policy, and generational culture – and that’s not counting black swan events like the pandemic. Professionals in this field need to understand the changing landscape and know how to continually add to their skills. The EdD degree at St. Edward’s provides a practical and practice-based perspective on issues in higher education. The doctoral degree qualifies graduates for leadership roles in higher education, but this degree also offers the flexibility to apply those skills in another context, such as training and development; talent management; nonprofit leadership; consultancy or governance.

Why are there so many opportunities in the field of higher education leadership?

The current population of education leaders is aging, and there will be a large demographic shift as baby boomers exit their roles in higher ed. At the same time, the world has changed dramatically since the current leaders stepped into those positions, which is creating new and exciting opportunities for the next generation of leaders.


EdD Student on computer

One of our foundational ideas of the program is that leaders should act through a social justice perspective, which requires them to be open to the ideas that people bring with them to their careers from their unique experiences, cultures and ways of seeing the world.

How does the St. Edward’s University mission influence the program?

One of our foundational ideas of the program is that leaders should act through a social justice perspective. Social justice is about being open to the ideas that people bring with them to their careers from their unique experiences, cultures and ways of seeing the world.

An increasing number of minority students is coming to higher education, but higher education’s infrastructure hasn't always been welcoming to them. Part of our curriculum is meant to open students’ eyes to the necessity of building a postsecondary education infrastructure that welcomes people of different perspectives, just like St. Edward's welcomes people from all backgrounds.

Our students take courses in ethical decision making, socially conscious leadership, and leadership and social justice. They learn about gender, race and other characteristics that historically have influenced people’s access to, and experience of, postsecondary education. We talk about the importance of leaders understanding that background and the fact that leaders make decisions that can foster equity or reduce it. 

Another idea connected to our mission is keeping a conscious connection between the mind and the heart in decision making and in relating to other people.

What role does data analytics play in a doctoral program in higher education?

Administrators need to understand the types of data available to them in postsecondary education. They don’t need to know how to run the analytics themselves, but they need to be able to have intelligent conversations with their data officer, and they need to make evidence-based decisions.

For example, we are approaching what's called the “demographic cliff,” when the lag in births during the financial crisis around 2008 will affect college enrollment. Leaders need to know how to harness their institution’s data to prepare for the expected downturn in freshman applications.

What is the benefit of a practice-based dissertation?

Rather than building a new theory, our students do practice-based research: they identify an issue in the professional world they inhabit now, or the field they propose to enter, and they examine that issue. For instance, students might do research on the steps a university should take to prepare for the demographic cliff, focusing on recommendations for the institution where they work. Our students enjoy this type of research because it’s about what they are doing in their real lives.

One unique element of this program is that we allow our students to do their dissertation research while they’re taking coursework. In fact, writing drafts of the dissertation is integrated into some of the research courses. 

What expertise do the faculty bring to this program?

Our professors either have a significant background and expertise in the area they teach, or they are currently working in the field. Our data analytics professor works in higher education data analytics. The CFO from a major public university teaches the class in managing resources. The instructor in conflict analysis and resolution is an attorney who does mediation and conflict management and resolution work. A president emeritus of St. Edward’s teaches a doctoral seminar called Perspectives on Leadership. These people all bring contemporary knowledge that benefits our students.

How do you build community in an online program?

The EdD is a cohort program, which means that you move through your coursework with the same group of people. People get to know one another pretty well. The discussions in class are very forthright and vulnerable because people are talking about real issues in their lives and in their work.

Building community is part of the Holy Cross way of doing education. Our students are doing this in their classrooms, and they are learning how to do so in their organizations once they graduate.

What kind of student is a good fit for the program?

Some of our students already hold leadership positions at universities and are earning the degree to advance in their careers. Other students work outside higher ed — in nonprofit or government leadership; in training and development; or in human resources — and are building leadership skills for those educational contexts. We do have students who work in K-12 education who are looking to move into the postsecondary space, but our program does not include K-12 training. 

One thing all good candidates have in common is the understanding that the needs of college students are changing — and leaders should be aware of those needs. There are greater demands on higher education today for support for mental health, physical health, food security and community building. Our responsibility at St. Edward’s is to train a new generation of higher education leaders who bring a contemporary mindset and a social justice orientation to the field.

A student is a good fit, if they want to be in a mission-driven program with a vibrant sense of community. Our students want to learn in a diverse environment where we are not afraid to have hard conversations about equity and inclusivity, and where we support one another.

Take the Next Step

Are you interested in learning more about the online Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Leadership and Higher Education program? Fill out this form or call 512-326-7501 to take the next step.

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