Interview with Trace Hebert, Ph.D. - Director of the Doctor of Education Program and Associate Dean of the College of Education at Lipscomb University

About Trace S. Hebert, Ph.D.: Trace Hebert is the Director of the Doctor of Education Program and Associate Dean of the College of Education at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. He is in his 10th year as the Director of the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program at Lipscomb University, and was Founding Director of the program when it began in fall of 2010. He works with six full-time Ed.D. faculty who are dedicated to the doctoral program as well as a number of adjunct instructors from the education sector. Dr. Hebert teaches numerous courses within the program including Leadership Theory and Practice, Organizational Theory and Practice, Qualitative Research, Leading Learning, and Contemporary Issues in Education. His research focus is primarily on enrollment trends in Church of Christ affiliated colleges and universities in the U.S. and he reports his research annually to the presidents of these institutions.

Dr. Hebert has held numerous leadership positions including chief academic officer, vice president, dean, and director level positions over a 35-year career. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from Abilene Christian University, a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from the University of Alabama Birmingham, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Oakland University.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Lipscomb University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change?

[Dr. Hebert] This is an educational leadership program designed to prepare leaders for most any kind of educational organization and academic setting. Our students come from the k-12 and higher ed sectors as well as educational support organizations or organizations that have substantive educational components to them. Our students come from public, private, non-profit, and for-profit arenas. The program focuses upon educational leadership, theory, and research, global perspectives in education, and ethics as part of Christian faith. The goal of the program is to produce effective educational leaders and improve the practice of educational leadership at all levels.

[] What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students optimally for a wide variety of roles in educational and organizational leadership?

[Dr. Hebert] The objective of the program is to prepare students to be effective educational leaders who are ready to face the very real challenges that they encounter on a day-to-day basis within complex educational organizations. I encourage prospective doctoral students to ‘lift the hood’ on doctoral programs that they are considering in order to understand the conceptual framework that the coursework is built around. Literally every aspect of Lipscomb’s program is tied to the Conceptual Framework that is represented by the LEADERS acronym, with each letter representing a category within the framework.

Specific courses can be linked directly to each part of the framework. For example, Leadership Theory and Practice and Organizational Theory and Practice tie directly to the “L” which stands for Leadership Craft and Relationships. Research shows that leadership is second only to classroom instruction in influencing student outcomes and we also know that integral to the craft is the interaction and relationship between leaders and followers.

The first “E” in the acronym stands for Educational Theory, Practice, and Learning. We know that ‘accidental leaders’ sometimes arrive into their roles due to timing, convenience, or circumstances, rather than real preparation for the challenges of effective leadership. Our program is designed to intentionally prepare leaders for the challenges that they will face. Specific courses targeted at this part of the framework are Brain Based Research and Contemporary Issues in Education.

The “A” stands for Attitudes and Values in Educational Leadership. This is critically important for a Christian university and who we are as a faith community. This is about the need for authentic and genuine leaders of the highest integrity, who possess strong character, dispositions, attitudes, and core values of highly effective leaders. Specific coursework includes Legal and Political Issues and Ethical Behavior in Education.

The “D” stands for Diversity and Global Perspectives. Educators know that they must meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations and communities. In addition to one’s self being prepared to be effective in such environments, educational leaders must also be prepared to help colleagues that they work with navigate and be effective in such environments. This part of the framework seeks to understand how to address both diversity and achievement gaps at all levels. Additionally, it is important at the doctoral level to break out of one’s local context and develop understanding of global perspectives and initiatives when it comes to education. The curriculum targeted at this part of the framework includes Leading Learning and Comparative and International Education, including a 10-day international trip.

The second “E” of the framework stands for Essential Knowledge. This cuts across the entire curriculum and is most specifically concerned with helping students develop a holistic view of leadership and seeing educational organizations as the complex structures and cultures that they are. We dispel any notion that theory and practice born out of industry can be overlaid onto our educational organizations with the thought that students can be considered commensurate with ‘widgets’ or ‘products’ or that educational problems can be solved with simple solutions. Effective educational leadership requires much more realistic thinking.

The “R” of the framework stands for Research and this is about understanding what sound research looks like and how to make decisions based upon the best available evidence. It is also about understanding research and knowing how to responsibly move from the research context into practice without doing harm. The curriculum targeted at this part of the framework includes Qualitative and Quantitative research, Applied Research Seminar, and the Capstone Dissertation Research.

Lastly, the “S” stands for Strategic Change. We know that education is constantly experiencing change, and this is about leaders guiding strategic change and helping others navigate change rather than being run over by change occurring around them. The curriculum targeted at this part of the framework includes Entrepreneurship in Education, Strategic Planning and Assessment, and Change Management.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that Lipscomb University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Hebert] Lipscomb uses the Canvas course management system. Most of the coursework is asynchronous, although faculty frequently utilize Zoom to hold synchronous online meetings and those are often recorded so that students can view the session again at a later date if desired. Students also frequently meet with each other via Zoom or other video conferencing avenues while working on coursework or their capstone dissertation work.

The online Ed.D. cohort meets for three different ‘intensives’ during the course of the program. These are mandatory three-day sessions that are strategically placed in the course sequence and go a long way to develop community among students and faculty. The first intensive is scheduled at the beginning of the program. The second intensive is placed at the beginning of Applied Research Seminar during which the capstone dissertation experience begins. The third intensive begins prior to Quantitative Research, which is a course that seems to give many doctoral students a heightened sense of angst and they benefit greatly from the face-to-face time with their teacher at the beginning of that course.

[] Lipscomb University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change gives students the opportunity to attend an immersive experience in Europe wherein they meet educational leaders, policymakers, and practitioners. May we have more information about this international experience, what it offers, and how it enhances students’ learning outcomes?

[Dr. Hebert] Anyone seeking to complete a terminal degree in educational leadership needs to intentionally expand their worldview beyond their local context and consider the initiatives that educators are employing across the globe. So frequently we see education policy shaped by comparative studies such as the PISA results that appear to show the United States lagging behind other developed countries when it comes to academic performance of students at select levels of education. We want our doctoral students to go and see what educators in other countries are doing in education. Some of them are realizing remarkable results with disadvantaged populations and it is important for our students to consider what others are doing.

On the international trip our students will visit with schools, universities, teacher preparation programs, departments of education, and international organizations with global educational initiatives, such as the OECD and UNESCO. We also attempt to expose our students to what it is like to be in another culture, even if it’s just for a few days so that they can better empathize with English language learning students who are from a different culture than ours. Expansion of cultural knowledge and understanding is critical for educators. Our student feedback on the international trip is that it is a transformative experience and they come back home with an expanded worldview.

[] Lipscomb University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change requires the completion of a collaborative Capstone Project. What does this Project involve, what process do students take to complete it, and what kinds of faculty/peer support do they receive during their work?

[Dr. Hebert] An important and unique feature of Lipscomb’s Ed.D. is that the dissertation research that students must complete is highly collaborative in that it is completed with a real educational client that has a real research need, and students work with one or two peers in a capstone research team. Lipscomb has worked with over 70 different educational organizations throughout the state of Tennessee and in other states who have proposed real research needs to the university for the purpose of being matched to doctoral students doing dissertation research. We have a Doctoral Research Coordinator who receives the proposals and a faculty committee that reviews and selects the projects that are considered to be doctoral level.

The educational organizations sign an MOU agreement with the university and agree to support the student researchers with access to their organization and relevant data. The students go through a process of rank-ordering the available projects, and ranking each other within the cohort, by order of preference and the Director of the program matches the clients and students.

This process contrasts with the Ph.D. research model, which is typically conceived and conducted by one individual student who hopes to find willing partners and participants to conduct research with. So many students end up finding themselves feeling like they are on an island in the middle of a large research ocean. This is a stage of doctoral work that many doctoral students fall short with and end up in a status known as “ABD” or all-but-dissertation. This is part of the explanation for why only half of doctoral students who begin a doctoral program actually finish it. However, this doesn’t match how educational research is done in the real world where it is most frequently done in collaboration with other researchers and organizations. Our program philosophy is that we want our dissertation experience to more closely match what happens in the real world.

Lipscomb’s completion rates are 90% or greater for its doctoral students and we believe this highly collaborative real-world approach is part of the formula for success. Having said that, it’s important for students to recognize that this highly collaborative approach contains added complexities and requires development of knowledge and skills to intentionally work with others at a high level, which students are required to demonstrate their ability to do before they graduate. The program curriculum includes training on developing and leading high performance teams and students complete many smaller group projects before being assigned to capstone research.

All of our students and research teams are supported throughout the dissertation process by a team of full-time Ed.D. faculty and each capstone team is assigned and supported by a dissertation advisor and committee.

There are too many examples of capstone research that has been completed to list here but a few examples include a recent study conducted for Metro Nashville Public Schools (86,000 students) that examined attrition of teachers from the district and what the primary factors were for why teachers chose to go elsewhere. This team was invited to present their findings to a team of HR professionals who had vested interest in retaining their faculty. Another team of students conducted research on the challenges involved with educating migrant students. This was a very complex study to conduct; however, the team was able to add very important research to the limited available research on the topic and their results were so welcomed by the education community that following graduation, the team has been invited to speak to broader organizations and conferences, which is not uncommon for our graduates.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Lipscomb University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while they are enrolled?

[Dr. Hebert] Each student has a dissertation advisor who naturally becomes the primary mentor, although students engage in informal mentoring experiences with each of the team of full-time Ed.D. faculty who they take classes from. The students in the online program are mentored most closely by the associate director of the Ed.D. program who is assigned to shepherding the students from the online cohorts.

[] For students interested in Lipscomb University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Hebert] Each part of the applicant’s file receives a ‘score’ and therefore it is important that prospective students pay attention to the quality of what they are submitting. This is particularly important because Lipscomb has a competitive review process, meaning that each year there are generally more applications than seats available. Applicants want to pay close attention to the quality of each part of their file and also understand that the admissions committee seeks to fill the program with students who are the best fit for a highly collaborative educational leadership program. It is important to explain in detail in the required statements why you want a doctor of education degree and how you intend to use it to advance educational leadership through your career.

It is important for educational leaders to be prepared to work in diverse settings and therefore, Lipscomb seeks to seat a diverse cohort with diverse backgrounds from both the k-12 and higher education arena, as well as from ethnically diverse backgrounds. The program has been successful in enrolling 27% of its students from minority populations, which is a very strong number in comparison to other private, faith-based universities in Tennessee. We are also very proud of the completion rate of our minority students with over 83% graduating from the program, which compares very favorably to national statistics of minority student in doctoral education.

[] What makes Lipscomb University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in strategic organizational leadership, change management, and the optimization of learning outcomes across different learning institutions and communities?

[Dr. Hebert] Lipscomb’s doctoral program design is a bit unique when considering the accelerated, highly collaborative approach, which includes dissertation research with a real client that has a real research need. It is a rigorous program, but our objective is to make it manageable and doable. The evidence of this is our track record. When one considers that nationally about 50% of all doctoral students who begin a doctoral program actually complete it, and compare that to Lipscomb’s program outcomes, it is clear to see that we are doing something right. The following statistics detail our track record since the beginning of the program in the fall of 2010:

Two-year On-campus Program

  • FA10 – FA17 Cohorts = 92% graduation rate
  • FA18 – FA19 Cohorts = 96% retention

Three-year Online Program

  • FA15 – FA16 Cohorts = 86% graduation rate
  • FA17 – FA19 Cohorts = 93% retention

Minority Students

  • Overall Enrollment = 27%
  • Graduation Rate = 83%

Thank you, Dr. Trace Hebert, for your excellent insight into Lipscomb University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change!