The inaugural class of West Texas A&M University's newly approved doctoral degree program will begin studies in the Spring 2019 semester.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently approved WT's proposal to add doctoral studies in educational leadership.
The program will focus on grooming students for executive roles in rural school districts, which face unique cultural, social, and economic circumstances with limited resources.
The doctoral program will be conducted mostly online and will focus heavily on research and writing instead of requiring the traditional doctoral dissertation, according to the university.
"The curriculum is interdisciplinary in nature and focuses on solving real problems in practice in rural communities through applied research and the effective dissemination of research findings back to rural schools," Eddie Henderson, dean of WT's College of Education and Social Sciences, said in a statement.
The focus of the program – the "first of its kind," university officials say – is something WT President Walter Wendler has said fulfills what should be the mission for the university, which sits at the nucleus of a vast region where the majority of schools are rural.
The Texas Panhandle alone has 60 small school districts with a combined total of thousands of students. Wendler made it a mission during his first year as WT president to visit each of them.
"It's a different kind of leadership," Wendler said this past fall in an interview with Panhandle PBS about the then-pending program. "In Channing, the superintendent told me he's been in the house of every student in the school, grades K through 12. It's almost like pastoral leadership: It's a different kind of leadership and you have to relate to people in a different way.
"Those kinds of places make up 22 or 23 percent of the United States population," Wendler added.
The Ed.D. degree will be the university's second doctoral degree plan. An agriculture Ph.D. program began in 2003.