Southern Arkansas University is now approved to begin offering its first doctoral- level degree according to a recent decision by its regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission. SAU’s first cohort of doctoral students will be admitted in Fall 2021 to pursue the title of Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Rural and Diverse Educational Leadership. The program will be offered fully online and requirements can be completed in as little as three and a half years.
Establishing SAU’s first doctoral program was a key vision set forth during Dr. Trey Berry’s first year as SAU President. Reacting to final approval of the degree program, Dr. Berry remarked:
“This news marks such an important point in SAU history! To be the first university south of Little Rock to offer a doctorate through a College of Education is a responsibility we take very seriously. Over the past few years, our students have benefitted from the University establishing academic programs that are unique to south Arkansas. The creation of the Ed.D. is yet another example and natural progression of the expanding academic mission of SAU. We are excited to be providing the opportunity for an advanced, terminal degree to equip our educational and community leaders for the future.”
The launch of the Ed.D. in Rural and Diverse Educational Leadership comes at a critical time for Arkansas and for rural America. Educators and community leaders who serve rural and diverse communities face sharply changing demographics, reduced populations, and economic upheaval as industries relocate and rural manufacturing continues to decline.
These challenges affect schools and students at every educational level from preschool to graduate school, as well as the community organizations that serve them. The newly approved SAU Ed.D. program provides advanced training in research and practice for professionals holding or seeking leadership positions in rural schools, colleges and universities, and community and government agencies.
A survey of local and statewide educational leaders, conducted in 2017, affirmed strong regional demand for this program. Stakeholders, including building- and district-level K-12 administrators, college and university faculty and staff, and area non-profit and public agency personnel indicated strong support for a program that would develop regional educational leaders. The survey results gave SAU a sense of urgency to formally develop the Ed.D. program and to deliver it entirely online.
After receiving approval from the Arkansas Division (then-Department) of Higher Education, SAU applied for regional approval of the change in the University’s role and scope to the Higher Learning Commission, the Chicago-based agency that accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in a number of states, including Arkansas. The process, which began in Fall 2016, concluded with the May 8, 2020, affirmative decision by the Commission.
Dr. David Lanoue, SAU’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, said that the University “is eager to begin the process of developing the next generation of educational leaders in south Arkansas. Under the leadership of Dean Kim Bloss of the College of Education and her outstanding faculty and staff colleagues, this program will have a transformative effect on our students, our region and rural educators across the region.”