Quality Management Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Course Info

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Master's and PhD programs in quality management can lead to careers in private business or academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Study Quality Management: Degrees at a Glance

Quality managers work in a variety of industries to ensure that certain standards are being maintained. As a quality manager, you will often specialize in a certain area, such as customer service or product development. To work as a quality manager, employers typically require that you have experience in the area you wish to manage. While a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for these positions, a master's degree may help. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs will prepare you to conduct research or teach at the university level.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment projections vary depending on the job sector. The BLS predicted that employment opportunities for industrial production managers would increase just nine percent from 2010-2020. Some growth will be hampered by the decline of U.S. manufacturing. Over that same time period, the BLS reported that job opportunities for management analysts would increase 22%, which is due to many organizations seeking ways to run more efficiently. The BLS also reported that employment opportunities for post-secondary professors would increase 17% from 2010-2020.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Experienced individuals seeking management positions Individuals who want to teach or research at the university-level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Industrial production manager ($88,000 - experience typically required)*
- Management analyst ($78,000 - experience typically required)*
Post-secondary business professor ($75,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full-time 3-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Coursework only or research project - Qualifying examination
- Doctoral thesis and dissertation
- Student teaching
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
-GRE or GMAT scores
-Bachelor's or master's degree
-GRE or GMAT scores
Online Availability Yes Some low residency requirements

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree Programs

You can find a variety of programs at this level, such as the Master of Science (M.S.) in Quality Management and M.S. in Quality Systems Management. These programs usually require around 30 credit hours for completion. Your studies will help further prepare you for leadership roles and interacting effectively with other professionals in your field. If your undergraduate background is in an area outside of business, you may need to complete prerequisite courses.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Online programs are available
  • You can find programs that won't require you to complete research for a thesis
  • Programs may prepare you for professional certification

Cons

  • Programs that focus specifically on quality management are rare
  • You may be competing for jobs against applicants with a bachelor's degree and experience
  • M.S. programs may not offer significant training in business-related topics

Coursework and Requirements

Your coursework may vary based on your concentration area. Generally, your studies will cover areas in costs, management and measurement. A practicum, thesis or project may be required as well. Some potential course topics include:

  • Production and operations management
  • Costs and economic analysis
  • Productivity measurement and improvement
  • Quality planning
  • Design of experiments

Online Programs

Some online quality management programs are available. These programs typically include the same coursework as traditional programs and cover topics like quality assurance and project management. Similar to on-campus programs, you will complete a graduation requirement such as a thesis or independent project. You may want to ensure that an online program is accredited.

How to Stand Out with This Degree

You may consider becoming certified through Six Sigma, which offers a variety of certifications designated by belt colors that require you to pass a certain number of exams. If you have the required professional experience, then you may also consider certifications through the American Society for Quality. These certifications are specific to careers and include credentials like quality auditor and quality engineer. You may also gain familiarity with popular auditing or quality software that may be used on the job.

Doctoral Degree Programs

Doctoral programs, such as the PhD in Operations Management or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Quality Systems Management, can provide you with opportunities to gain teaching experience and perform advanced research. Some programs may offer you concentration areas like health systems and environmental management systems. Programs typically require a bachelor's or master's degree from a variety of related fields, including business or quality assurance, as a prerequisite for admission.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Most academic positions in this field require a doctoral degree
  • You may be able to focus your studies on a specific quality management topic through a concentration or independent research
  • Programs typically allow you to complete a dissertation that can be published

Cons

  • May not give you an advantage for positions in the business world compared to master's programs
  • Programs that are completely online are not available
  • Must pass written and oral qualifying exams

Coursework and Requirements

You will complete most of your coursework in the first several years of a program. Following the completion of coursework, you will begin to work on your dissertation. As a capstone requirement, you will defend your thesis in front of the graduation committee. Some of the courses you could take include:

  • Systems design
  • Cost of quality and financial principles
  • Statistical principles
  • Operations strategy
  • Operations resource planning

Online Programs

While programs that are completely online may not be available, some hybrid programs are offered. These programs include online courses and in-class sessions on the weekends. Online programs in related areas, such as project management, are available, but will also require an academic residency You may also complete independent research in a campus-based program, which will allow you to complete your studies off-campus.

How to Stand Out with This Degree

In addition to the certifications that individuals in a master's program may pursue, you may also consider focusing your research on an area of quality management that impacts many areas of business. Some of these areas may include supply-chain management and management of technology. You may attend seminars and workshops that are offered to make contacts and develop yourself professionally. You may also take advantage of graduate teaching opportunities, which the BLS notes can help you develop the experience required by many employers.

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