Increasing the Value of a University’s Research Center for Doctoral Education Programs

Increasing the Value of a University’s Research Center for Doctoral Education Programs

Today’s blog focuses on the topic of how research centers might serve to support best practices in doctoral education programs at universities today. With the retention and graduation rates of doctoral students significantly below other post-baccalaureate programs, overall, roughly 40% of doctoral students complete their degree within seven years, while 57% complete within ten years (Ampaw & Jaeger, 2011). Higher education institutions offering doctoral programs may wish to strive to increase this graduation rate in order to attract interested potential students, as well as strive to call back those students who dropped out prior to doctoral degree completion—many of the All But Dissertation (ABD) students who completed doctoral coursework but dropped out before or during the final dissertation phase.

At a university level, actual graduation rate for doctoral students is difficult to accurately track due to a number of variables. For example, some students may experience periods of leave due to pressing or other important life events, or interruptions between doctoral coursework and dissertation completion.

For adults pursuing a terminal degree, doctoral programs may prove more than difficult even for those students who are highly motivated and disciplined. Given the nature of many doctoral programs based on a distance learning approach, the student may find herself derailed due to the isolated nature of working independently, without specific support and encouragement from those who have successfully completed the degree. In the case of minority doctoral students, a lack of available minority faculty members to guide the students’ development to become emerging scholars or complete doctoral programs is especially problematic (Brill, et al., 2014; Felder, 2010).

Doctoral granting institutions may wish to strive to understand its current practices and conduct research directly with those students who have fallen out of programs to understand underlying causes or the reasons that contribute to dropping out. If the institution can track its graduation rates, over specific time periods, it may be able to establish goals and monitor progress against these goals. In parallel, the institution may begin to design and implement best practices that help to address the problems uncovered in its initial research to understand why its students have dropped out. With limited published information available from other universities, it is worthwhile for a university’s research center to study what other universities have established relative to best practices to reduce doctoral student attrition.

One university, for example, to reduce doctoral student attrition, provides a comprehensive graduate research center offering complex support programs from educating the doctoral student on the technical components of the dissertation, publication support, to their psychosocial development and well being during the final phases of the doctoral dissertation journey (Di Pierro, 2007).

Which leads to the purpose again for today’s blog: How may a doctoral degree institution provide value to overall doctoral programs it offers through its research centers? As created, a university’s research center may have a singular or dual focus. An example of a singular focus is that of one exclusively created for faculty scholarship (faculty research, publication, etc.). If the focus is specific to faculty scholarship, the institution is missing an opportunity to improve doctoral student graduation rates.

Conversely, a research center may provide exclusive support to doctoral students in order to assist students in the confusing, oftentimes overwhelming, aspects of doctoral dissertation research. If the research center’s focus for the doctoral student is in the technical research space, the institution may be missing opportunities to offset attrition rates if not providing assistance offered through broader areas such as mentorship programs (Felder, 2010; Brill et al., 2014; Di Pierro, 2007), academic writing skills development (Aitchison, 2009; Caffarella & Barnett, 2000), or applying critical thinking skills when examining existent knowledge. A study of mentoring support offered to students in doctoral programs identified effective mentoring programs as a best practice in offsetting the significant doctoral student attrition rates (Brill, et al., 2014).

If this singular focus in striving to help students utilize research center offerings, the institution may miss the opportunity to provide for the development of critical mentoring skills that faculty members may lack, in the focus on faculty development has been exclusively in the areas of the more technical research, design, and methodological skills that are required to lead doctoral students’ dissertation efforts. Research showed that faculty members are not trained training to effectively mentor or coach doctoral students (Brill, et al., 2014).

Developing a robust research center that addresses the needs for the development of two important groups of stakeholders: doctoral faculty members (mentorship training, etc.) and doctoral students (mentorship provision if desired, for example) may be viewed as a best practice for the university, as well as an improved social practice in doctoral education (Lee & Doud, 2009). Doctoral student development is defined at the transformative process where students emerge as scholars, being heavily influenced by supportive faculty members (Felder, 2010). By buttressing the support offered to equally important stakeholders—both students and faculty—the institution’s research center will serve as a potential draw—to both new, incoming students, as well as a recall to those who doctoral students who abandoned efforts in the past. By further developing educators’ skills to effectively mentor, guide, and coach future scholars, institutions will effectively increase doctoral student graduation rates.

References

Aitchison, C. (2009). Writing groups for doctoral education. Studies in Higher Education. 34(8), 905-916. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070902785580

Ampaw, F.D. & Jaeger, A. J. (2012). Completing the three stages of doctoral education: An event history analysis, Research in Higher Education, 53(6). 640-660. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11162-011-9250-3

Brill, J. L., Balcanoff, K. K., Land, D., Gogarty, M. M., & Turner, F. (2014). Best practices in doctoral retention: Mentoring. Higher Learning Research Communications, 4(2), 26-37. http://dx.doi.org/10.18870/hlrc.v2i2.66

Caffarella, R. S., & Barnett, B. G. (2000). Teaching doctoral students to become scholarly writers: The importance of giving and receiving critiques. Studies in Higher Education. 25(1), 39-52.

Di Pierro, M. (2007). Excellence in doctoral education: Defining best practices. College Student Journal, 41(2), 368-375.

Felder, P. (2010). On Doctoral student development: Exploring faculty mentoring in the shaping of African American doctoral student success. The Qualitative Report, 15(2), 455-474.

Lee, A. & Boud, D. (2009). Chapter 2: Framing doctoral education as practice. In D. Boud & A. Lee (Eds.) Changing Practices of Doctoral Education, (pp. 10-25). London, Routledge.

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