education trends

If the master’s degree is the new bachelor’s, is the doctorate the new masters?

As working lives last longer, more Americans are seeking PhDs later in life

The US Census Bureau can tell us a thing or two about how the American and European populations are aging – the proportion of those older than 50 continues to outpace that of those younger than 50. Indeed, the number of US residents 65 and over is projected to double by 2060. AARP president JoAnn Jenkins has suggested that we need to “disrupt aging” – to rethink what getting older means and to dispel the many received ideas we have.

50-plus shades of greying…

With rising percentage of Americans living longer than previous generations, their working lives are longer as well. Their educational attainment has also risen, as they pick up a new diploma or two later in life.

Paradoxically, a number of reports on the US education sector have revealed a stagnation or even decline in the number of MBA programs, with several renowned schools discontinuing full-time two-year programs. This is in part due to a crisis of college affordability in the United States. With increased mobility, a rising number of American students, young and old, are considering countries with lower tuition rates. For those interested in obtaining an MBA, this has led to a thriving sector in other parts of the world, as well as alternatives such as the MIM (Master’s in International Management) and Professional Science Master’s.

According to the 2015 US Census, 32% of US residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree, 9% a master’s degree, and 2% a doctorate. This increase in people boosting their educational qualifications has resulted in a kind of “credential one-upsmanship”. If the master’s degree has been called the “new bachelor’s”, then a mere bachelor’s degree may be devolving into the equivalent of a high-school diploma.

Doctor who?

With the rise in the number of Americans over 60 remaining in the workforce and those holding master’s degrees, it seems safe to say that the demand for doctoral qualifications for older students will increase as well. This trend will in turn put new pressures on universities to design part-time alternatives for professionals, rather than the traditional PhD programmes that require four to six years of full-time commitment. Country case studies show the need to design professional doctorates to meet this growing demand.

A 2016 study in the United Kingdom indicated that professional doctoral programs are on the rise in fields like engineering, psychology, education, medicine and business administration. As the programme director of a Doctor’s of Business Administration in France’s Grenoble Ecole de Management, I have witnessed first-hand the growing demand from the United States, with an increasing number of highly qualified candidates from a range of backgrounds.

The Doctor’s of Business Administration is a part-time programme that trains executives and professionals in research methodology for the social and management sciences, and enables those seeking new challenges the possibility of reaching the upper echelons of learning while continuing to meet professional and familial obligations. Many of our candidates and graduates evoke an existential “quest for meaning” after years of corporate service, or the desire for an “Act 2” that would allow them to move toward a career in academia or consulting. For them, the doctorate can be the ultimate item on life’s “bucket list”, where professional identity and a personal narrative converge.

Practiced in theory vs praxis

However, many programmes can push professional doctoral candidates toward the same playing field as PhDs looking for tenure-track positions in the ever-competitive academic job market. Instead of moving the professional doctoral candidates towards topics rooted in practice and leveraging their life experience, academic supervisors and employers – alongside peer-reviewed publications, conferences, and hiring committees – push them toward making theoretical contributions.

As indicated in a recent article by Valérie Sabatier, Mark Smith and Michel Albouy, also with the Grenoble Ecole de Management, such hide-bound approaches can result in less innovative, more conservative thesis topics and subsequent publications. Yet PhD graduate programs have been critiqued for flooding the market with ill-prepared, inexperienced candidates.

Navigating the currents flowing between theory and practice while overseeing the tricky relationship between supervisors and students means that doctoral programs, whether targeted at younger or older students, have their work cut out for them.

Brain drain – from the United States to Europe?

As supply-side economics would have it, the number of doctoral candidates is growing because the number of PhD programmes is on the rise. It follows that the more doctoral candidates there are on the market, the more aspiring researchers will flock toward good programs.

While online-only Doctor’s of Business Administration programmes are promoted as being more cost- and time-effective, it seems neither possible nor desirable to train individuals 100% remotely for a career in which rhetorical skill, debate and critique and peer review are required on a daily basis. While I’m far from a neo-luddite, it seems that replacing the physical presence of the analogue with the remoteness of the digital is next to impossible when it comes to the development of high-quality, original ideas. What is required to foster innovative research proposals is good old fashioned face-to-face discussion and debate of one’s with peers and mentors.

It seems that many Americans interested in late-in-life doctoral degrees agree, judging from growing demand for professional programs such as Grenoble’s DBA, where 100% of the teaching is face-to-face and where students are trained to iteratively “socialise” their research. Add to that the fact that European programmes are dramatically more affordable than many US options, we expect that a steady stream of highly qualified Americans looking for their “Act 2” will continue to grace our hallways in the future.

Michelle Mielly, Associate Professor in People, Organizations, Society, Grenoble École de Management

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.


The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.