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DBA or MBA, what stands out in corporate America?

When it comes to a masters of business administration (MBA) versus a doctor of business administration (DBA) degree, think of it as a chicken-and-egg-style argument: both have merit.

But this article isn’t so much about which terminal degree is right for you as it is about how a DBA can help you stand out from your MBA-credentialed peers.

As an expert in academic research with consulting interests in leadership development, Wendell Seaborne, Ph.D., MBA, Lead Faculty and Professor of Management at Franklin University talks about the MBA and the DBA.

How many MBA graduates are there each year versus DBA graduates?

WS: Since metrics vary widely, we really don’t have a number to attach to it – either nationally or internationally. Here at Franklin University, however, we graduate approximately 400 MBAs each year. The DBA is most certainly an in-demand degree, however, it likely will not overtake the MBA in terms of number of graduates. That being said, the DBA is a very well respected degree and, in combination with your own talents and experiences, can help you stand out among your MBA-credentialed peers.

The average salary increase for an MBA grad has been listed by The Economist magazine as 74 percent. What can be said for the DBA grad?

WS: Such high-percentage salary increases are common, but not guaranteed, of course with any doctoral-level degree advancement. What the DBA is designed to do is make you more well suited to perform at a higher level – and that can certainly mean a higher salary. It’s important to note that there are other ways to measure success besides the paycheck. For me personally, I enjoy so much more what I do now, after earning my terminal degree and transitioning to my current role.

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The base salary for MBAs is six-figures – but so is the average annual salary for DBAs. So if salary isn’t a differentiator, what is?

WS: As I said, achieving a higher, six-figure salary more often than not is a result of performing at a level commensurate with it. The DBA informs and prepares you with a specialized and critically needed skill set, including the ability to strategically frame a question, research existing theories as they relate to an issue, apply findings in a practical way to solve a problem, and present the problem and solution in a clear and concise fashion. That in itself is the distinction between a general management overview degree like the MBA versus the practically applied doctorate like the DBA.

The MBA was (and still is) considered the “gold standard” for employability. Does the DBA offer a similar advantage?

WS: Of course. The DBA can open up great opportunities. In fact, many MBAs find that pursuing the DBA opens up the opportunity to brush up on, refine their skills and take a fresh step in a new direction with a specialized and applied degree like the DBA.

What do you see as the top three differentiators between the MBA and DBA?

WS: Research. Writing. Presentation. The MBA is a common and highly accessible degree, but it’s also a very general degree. The DBA is a more specific degree that enables both subject mastery and real-world application. With DBA-honed research, writing and presentation skills, you can set yourself apart from other high-performers, strengthen your professional capabilities, master research-based problem solving, and be prepared to set industry-leading best practice standards.

How can the DBA enhance problem-solving skills – and why is this a major point of distinction between the DBA and an MBA?

WS: Although you can find MBA programs in a particular area such as marketing, the fact is, an MBA is intentionally a very generic degree. It is purposefully designed to give a managerial overview so MBA graduates can talk the proverbial language of the CFO. The DBA, on the other hand, drills down into a single area of interest. The research you do is very focused on your discipline, with the intention of making you the expert in your field.

One of the many outcomes of an online doctor of business administration degree program is enhanced leadership skills. How does acquiring these skills impact career enhancement, advancement or change for the DBA grad?

WS: Leadership is not a “one-size-fits-all” thing. The DBA program should help you better lead in the way you feel most comfortable with, and, more importantly, to do it very well. It also exposes you to other leadership styles, of course. For example, in our program, we help DBA students identify their leadership style and understand that the effective use of their own leadership style is what leads to organizational effectiveness. It’s also empowering to have a grasp of other styles, too, which our program also provides.

What about networking? What’s the difference in how the MBA and the DBA affect professional networking opportunities?

WS: While I can’t speak for other programs, I can tell you that at Franklin, we’ve intentionally designed our program to including a professional community of practice. Our DBA students and graduates are put in touch with each other, with faculty, and with working professionals in the field, giving them a very wide network opportunity. Our professional network goes beyond, “Hey, let’s be friends and find each other jobs.” Instead, our network is designed to be more like, “I have this issue in the workplace and you studied it, let’s talk about your research findings and how they can practically apply to this situation.”

When, in your opinion, should someone choose an MBA and when should they choose a DBA?

WS: The MBA is a good and typical degree to pursue if you want to be recognized for your management skills. If you want to be considered THE expert in some facet of your business, however, that’s when the DBA works best. If you’re a person that really wants to develop all of the skill sets we’ve talked about – research, writing and presentation – choose the DBA. If you like being the generalist, then an MBA works very well for that.

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