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Arkansas State University

Matthew Balcom Closes in on Completing Doctorate of Education Online Program

ASTATE EdD Ed Leadership student Matthew Balcom

After changing career paths and becoming an educator, Matthew Balcom is putting the finishing touches on his personal higher education journey.

“As an undergrad, I was a pre-med major before I changed to education,” he said. “I have been all over the place in terms of what I wanted to do. This is the way the path has taken me.”

Balcom is on track to graduate from the online Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership program at Arkansas State University (A-State) in May 2023.

“I did a lot of searching for programs,” he said. “There are lots of options for doctorates in Arkansas. A-State stood out because it was an all-online program. I didn’t always know if I would get a Ph.D. or an Ed.D.

“A-State accepted nine hours of my Ed.S. toward the Ed.D., which is beneficial. I have always wanted to pursue the highest degree.”

An assistant principal at Lakeside Junior High School in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Balcom enjoys how A-State approaches online learning.

“It is very accommodating,” he said. “The staff is super supportive. They constantly reach out to work with us — especially at this level. We have phone calls, one-on-one Zooms and video calls.

“Any time I have ever needed something or had questions, it has not been like, ‘Please schedule an appointment with me,’ or, ‘These are my office hours.’ It’s, ‘Hey, can you Zoom really quick?’ It’s been really nice.”

The flexibility of the online format is also working out well for Balcom, who is in his ninth year at the same school district.

“Learning online is very much going well,” he said. “It’s been a long haul, but the coursework is purposeful. I use it in my everyday profession versus just textbook work.”

Meant to Be

Balcom is from Jessieville, a rural town in central Arkansas. He initially planned to become a teacher in his hometown.

“The school system was the center of the community,” he said. “With the impact that the school had on me, it was my goal to go off to college and return to better the community.

“I ended up at a school district 45 minutes away. It supported me through my education and empowered me to move up the ladder. Now, I am in administration. That’s how all of the cards fell.”

Once he changed over from medicine, Balcom graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education, math and sciences (2014), a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration (2016) and an educational specialist degree in educational leadership and administration (2019) — all from Henderson State University.

“The more educated one becomes, the more doors and opportunities open up,” he said. “Both my master’s degree and Ed.S. were also online.”

So far, Advanced Educational Statistics is Balcom’s favorite course in the online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program curriculum.

“We studied different types of leaders,” he said. “We learned about … how to grow as a professional. I also liked the Qualitative Research and Evaluation course.

“They do a good job in this program of teaching qualitative and quantitative studies, no matter what your dissertation is. Even though I am doing a quantitative research study, they have taught me a lot about how to approach it qualitatively.

“As a former physics teacher, I enjoyed being able to relate my previous studies and work to my actual dissertation and apply those skills that I use every day, and how they embedded that into what we were doing with the classwork.”

Climbing the Ladder

Balcom plans to walk the graduation stage at the commencement ceremony to celebrate his major accomplishment. He is the only person in his immediate family to earn a degree beyond a bachelor’s.

“My family and friends always ask me, ‘What’s next?'” he said. “This is the apex of this pathway. I have lots of support.”

Once he graduates from the online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program, Balcom hopes to take his career to the next level.

“I would like to move to the college level and do various things to climb the ladder at a university,” he said. “I am very happy doing what I am right now. A change in degree is going to help me even more in the current position that I am in and working up the ladder in public schools.”

Balcom, who enjoys kayaking and being outdoors in his free time, believes that earning an Ed.D. degree is a decision that will continue to pay off.

“Lots of my colleagues ask me if it’s worth it,” he said. “One of the biggest barriers is financial, but time commitment is another. If it’s something that you aspire to achieve, it’s always going to be attainable, no matter what. There are grant opportunities and funding to help offset the cost.

“Time management is a big deal, but this program is so hyper-focused on being applicable. I don’t have to set a lot of extra time aside to work on the coursework because it’s stuff that I am doing here and there throughout my daily routine. It’s been a great experience.”

Learn more about A-State’s online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program.

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