Doctoral student persistence and progression:A program assessment
The completion rates for students in academic and practitioner doctoral programs have generated increased attention among university administrators, faculty members, public and private funding agencies and doctoral students. Despite international attention on doctoral completion rates, Cochran et al. (2014) found that 40–60% of all doctoral students do not graduate. Doctoral noncompletion is expensive not only for students pursuing doctoral degrees but also for education institutions. Providing doctoral coursework is expensive due to lower student–faculty ratios required for faculty to provide extensive hours of one-on-one content course and research supervision. Every doctoral student represents a significant institutional investment of time, intellectual resources and financial resources. When doctoral students graduate, they enter professional practice as representatives of their institution and their success improves the reputation of the university. When students do not graduate, there is little or no return on institutional investment.
Globally, traditional and online doctoral programs face difficulties with student persistence and progression. An online doctoral school implemented a first-year program sequence taught by a cadre of 20 specialized faculty members who engage in best practices to assist students in persisting and progressing toward program completion.
This qualitative program assessment using content analysis examined the program effectiveness of one online doctoral program's first-year program sequence. Two research questions guided this program assessment, they were: RQ1. Based on online doctoral students' perspectives, what motivators contribute to online doctoral student persistence and progression in an online doctoral program? RQ2. How do online faculty contribute to online doctoral student persistence and progression? Data collection included myriad of program metrics: content area meetings (CAMs); closing the loop assessment data; faculty and student end of course survey data; and faculty and student semistructured interviews.
The resultant themes indicated that students are motivated by support from family, friends and religious beliefs; and students persist based on support from fellow doctoral students and faculty members. Additional themes revealed that faculty members motivate students through building faculty–student relationships, individual coaching, providing university resources and through clarification of program requirements; and faculty members perceive that face-to-face doctoral residencies greatly contribute to student persistence and progression through interpersonal interaction and through improved clarity.
Implications of this program assessment have far-reaching impact on how doctoral granting institutions can structure small cadres of faculty to develop interpersonal relationships with doctoral students with focus on support and development.