Do honorary doctorate degrees devalue doctoral degrees?

Dafny Flores, Staff Writer

Do honorary doctorate degrees devalue earned doctoral degrees? 

The class of 2022 graduated with their degrees and pursued their dreams. Four years of growth, triumph and strain honored with their name on a piece of paper. The special moments are shared with friends, families and classmates. If lucky, their moment is shared with celebrities and public figures. Earlier this year, New York University’s (NYU) class of 2022 graduated with Taylor Swift, who received an honorary doctorate degree. 

Universities across the nation have granted celebrities and notable figures an exemption of a college degree called an honorary doctorate. An honorary doctorate is recognized by a distinctive achievement in a particular field and/or contributing to the community with their talent and awareness. Long college hours accumulating for a degree is not required for the honorary doctorate, only a force of change in a community. For years, public figures and celebrities have been awarded their honorary doctorate through commencement where they participate in the ceremony with a speech. 

This year, Grammy Award-winning artist Taylor Swift caused an uproar with a debate on honorary doctorate degrees. NYU awarded Taylor Swift an honorary doctorate of fine arts for her contribution to the music industry and community during their spring commencement. Swift delivered a speech for the graduating class during the ceremony as well. In her speech, Swift highlighted the lack of higher education she pursued since she began her music career fairly early in her life, “I never got to have a normal college experience per se. I went to public high school until 10th grade and then finished my education doing home school work on the floor of airport terminals.” 

Swift has — and continues — to dedicate her life to music with notable awards such as the Grammys, Songwriter Hall of Fame and Billboard’s Women in Music to name a few. Though with her new status, people begin to wonder if an honorary doctorate is an insult to students pursuing a legitimate doctorate degree. 

Recipients of the honorary doctorate degree do not have to complete a college degree or an exam to be nominated. Their service justifies the rollercoaster that is the college student experience. Some may not know the feeling of stress and tension during finals week, as well as forming, curating and publishing multiple peer-reviewed academic articles. It is an insult for scholars who obtain extensive information on a subject that has been studied for years, if not decades. Scholars who devoted their time and money for a title before their name.

A sense of privilege undermines and divides the title of an honorary doctorate and a doctoral degree. Students may not have the opportunity to begin their doctoral degree because of the cost of tuition and cost of living. The average amount of student debt for a doctoral degree is $159,625. It is a massive number for first-generation students, students who study in an out-of-state university or any student for that matter. 

To present honorary doctorate degrees to public figures is essentially a PR move to gain traffic for the university. While some call it inspiration, because celebrities influence the choice of people’s educational future, an honorary doctorate devalues the work ethic students dedicate themselves to.