delores-m-smiley_web.jpgDelores Smiley could have earned her doctoral degree in education in a more traditional setting, lumbering through each semester one course at a time while juggling job and family. 

But she didn’t have to.

Determined to get her degree in a shorter period of time, Smiley took online courses and drove from southeastern Michigan to Chicago once a month for a whole year to take two days of classes in a hotel conference room.

It is this same alternative approach, Smiley said, that has repeatedly placed Nova Southeastern University as the No. 1 producer of black doctoral degree holders, according to the Virginia-based trade magazine, Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Last year, the university conferred doctoral degrees upon 207 black students, the most of any school in the nation. The number was 27 percent of the total group at NSU that received doctorates.

That same year, Howard University conferred 86 doctoral degrees, which was 74 percent of its total doctoral candidate group. Howard topped all other schools in the country except
NSU in the number of doctoral degrees it awarded to black people, and was number one among historically black colleges and universities.

Diverse Issues in Higher Education, a Virginia-based trade magazine that is respected by statistics hounds in higher education, is expected to place NSU in the top spot again in its 2008 edition. The latest edition is due out on July 10.

NSU is known for its “distance education delivery systems,” which offer online courses and traditional classes in cluster sites outside of South Florida.

“Economically, it’s just a known fact that black professionals have been below in terms of earning power,” said Smiley, 63, who now works in North Miami as NSU’s dean of diversity education and community affairs. “We cannot just stop and say, ‘I’m going to go to school and get a degree.’ The support is key.”

For the past 10 years, NSU’s Fischler School of Education has held the title of producing the highest number of black doctoral degree holders, garnering attention from black radio talk show hosts and senior academicians in colleges and universities across the country.

NSU has held the same title among all disciplines for several years, according to Diverse Issues editor Hilary Hurd Anyaso.

The ranking is the result of statistical research conducted by Indiana University associate vice president Victor Borden.

NSU is not a historically black college like Florida A & M University. FAMU awarded the highest number of undergraduate degrees to black people from any single school in the U.S. last year, at 1,256, according to Diverse Issues.

Several online colleges and universities such as Kaplan, DeVry, and the University of Phoenix have built successful programs on a brand of convenience. Last year, the University of
Phoenix produced the most African-American masters’ degree holders, according to Diverse Issues.

But NSU, a traditional bricks-and-mortar university, has achieved a formula that mixes convenience and word-of-mouth among black professionals.

The average age of NSU grads at the doctoral level is in the 50s or 60s, said Smiley, who received her NSU doctorate in 1995.

“If you have people coming in at this age, they’re coming in a little bit leery,” said Smiley. “If their peers do it and say they’re very successful, that is your biggest marketing piece.”

Trust in the strength of the program and convenience are key more so among black doctoral candidates than those of other ethnicities because they are typically further along in the complexities of life by the time they have an opportunity to go for the highest degree.

Borden, who conducts the research for the Diverse Issues’ report said, “According to the National Opinion Research Center's Survey of Earned Doctorates, blacks have the second-highest median age with American Indians having the highest, as a group.”

The median age of black doctoral recipients is 36.7, according to NORC data.

Asian doctoral recipients hold the youngest median age of 31.1, while whites and Hispanics are at 33.3 and 34.2, respectively.

NSU’s appeal among multiple-degreed black professionals is so striking that Diverse Issues editor Anyaso said she would like to “look into” what is happening at NSU.

“Oftentimes, especially if they’re not a historically black college, if they’re doing a really good job, there is usually something going on in the curriculum and programmatic side,” Anyaso said. “They might have mentors serving on staff or they might be proactive in terms of support.”

Smiley said she hopes NSU maintains its title. She said she also hopes that the university’s direction toward diversity education will continue to draw scholars from all racial backgrounds to a new master’s degree program she constructed, titled “Instructional Design and Diversity Education.”

The program will be offered for the first time this fall.

“It’s about being able to reach the new demographic,” Smiley said. “The profile of minorities has changed that will impact our society to a significant degree. If we don’t know how to address that, we are going to be at a loss.”