A terminal degree in education, as in many other disciplines, is a doctoral degree, usually called a Ph.D. In order to be called a terminal degree, it must be the highest level of instruction offered in a given field. In America, a doctorate in education is usually known as an Ed.D, and is a graduate degree that prepares students to work in many different capacities related to education within academia.
There are many different degrees in education, and the Ed.D, sometimes known a a Ph.D in education is the highest and most specialized. It generally takes about four years to complete an Ed.D, but it can take longer if the student does not yet have a master's degree. In addition to the coursework and candidacy exams, education doctoral students are required to write a book-length manuscript called a dissertation that outlines original research and thinking on a specialized topic. An Ed.D qualifies someone to work in all capacities of education, from teaching to administration to clinical research.
When research universities began, they only offered doctoral degrees in the sciences, and then the arts; it was not until more recently that colleges began offering a terminal degree in education. Teacher's colleges were the first to offer such certifications, but they are now recognized and offered not just in the United States but around the world. Though both Ed.D's and Ph.D's in education exist, Ed.D's have become more standardized, because they provide more experience with data analysis and other skills important to those interested in administrative postions; traditionally, however, the Ph.D was thought to focus more on individual research.
Those who have completed an Ed.D are considered experts in their field, as well as in one or two particular specialties. For example, one person may be working with technology in special education classrooms, while another may be interested in effective recruitment and retention techniques for teachers. The level of research required for any specialty helps ensure that students are not only familiar with the field of education in general, but have original contributions to offer within their areas of focus.
The main features of any doctoral degree are general course requirements and individual research. In the Ed.D, these areas are combined so that students are required to have not only a solid foundation in the general critical conversation surrounding the field of education, but also personal insight and expertise in one particular specialty. Course requirements are varied so that one must learn about all the different areas of education, but the dissertation and the research required for it are specialized to an extreme degree, forcing each student to become an expert in something.
There are many benefits to earning an Ed.D, many of which are the same for any doctoral degree. Those with terminal and professional degrees on average make more than those with simply a college diploma. They are also more respected within academia, and are more likely to find satisfying positions. Some graduate work is required to hold any kind of administrative position, such as principal, so those wishing to move up within the field of education will find an Ed.D very useful.