The Ed.D., doctor of education, degree and the Ph.D., doctor of philosophy, are both terminal degrees in higher education. An institution will offer an Ed.D., however, only in fields related to education, while a Ph.D. can be a terminal degree in education-related fields, as well as other disciplines.
Doctoral degrees have existed in universities since the Middle Ages, with the doctor of philosophy degree being the standard for research-based, non-medical doctorates. Yale awarded the first U.S. Ph.D. in 1861. While the Ph.D. originated in Europe, the Ed.D. originated in the United States. Harvard University established the first Ed.D. degree program in the United States in 1920 as a response to the need for a more practitioner-based degree in education.
Both the doctor of education and doctor of philosophy degrees require a rigorous course of study beyond the master's degree, although the number of courses will vary by program and institution. Each degree requires a student to pass a comprehensive examination and write a dissertation that the student will have to defend before a committee before she receives the degree. Those who have successfully completed the requirements for either the Ph.D. or the Ed.D. may use the title "doctor."
The Ed.D. is the terminal degree in fields specifically related to education, such as educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, higher education, and educational administration. Institutions also may offer a Ph.D. in education along with an Ed.D. or may only offer one degree or the other. In addition to being a terminal degree in education-related fields, the Ph.D. is considered the terminal degree in most academic disciplines. For example, a student could earn a Ph.D. in English or chemistry, but universities do not offer the Ed.D. in those fields.
Because the Ed.D. is a relatively new degree in the long history of the university and because schools/colleges of education have been traditionally marginalized, some in academia have viewed the Ed.D. as a lesser degree when compared with the Ph.D. Both degrees, however, require that students complete a rigorous program of study and research, and both the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation recognize the degrees as equivalent.
Both degrees offer a range of professional opportunities both inside and outside of higher education. Those who hold either the Ph.D. or the Ed.D. would qualify for instructor or professor positions at colleges and universities. Depending upon the field, a Ph.D. in a field other than education would make the holder eligible for a range of professional positions outside academia (particularly for research positions in the sciences). Those who have earned an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. in education would be eligible for administrative positions in education, such as school/district superintendent, school principal or higher education administrator).