Transformation of the Dissertation: From an End-of-Program Destination to a Program-Embedded Process

Transformation of the Dissertation: From an End-of-Program Destination to a Program-Embedded Process

Tiffany J. Cresswell-Yeager (Gwynedd Mercy University, USA) and Raymond J. Bandlow (Gwynedd Mercy University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9707-0.ch003


To increase success and graduation rates, research shows that doctoral programs must adapt to changes in how instruction is managed and delivered, and must include options that recognize and facilitate discipline mastery without compromising their integrity or the quality of their degrees. This chapter explains a new path to doctoral degree completion, one that minimizes arbitrary time-frames and emphasizes discipline mastery through rigorous coursework and graduate-level research. The authors recommend a new model for successful completion of the dissertation within the Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) through evidence-based practice. This model implements structured mentoring and the transformation of dissertation research from an end-of-program destination to a program-embedded process. This chapter will provide a discussion of four evidence-based strategies for improved success for doctoral students following this type of pathway to dissertation completion.
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Before exploring the new model of dissertation completion, the authors will examine the research related to doctoral attrition.

The low completion rate impacts students, institutions, and society as a whole (Grasso, Berry, & Valentine, 2009). To the students, failure to complete creates social, emotional, financial, and academic hardships. For the institution, low completion impacts time and resources which are not being utilized efficiently (Grasso et al., 2009). The investment of human capital and resources in the student is very expensive for the institution. When students fail to graduate, this investment is lost. Pauley, Cunningham and Toth (1999) explain there are costs the institution can never recover in admissions, recruiting, and advising. This low completion rate can put offering the doctoral program and the faculty at risk (Grasso et al. (2009). In addition to these individual and institution losses, society loses the possibility of solutions to community problems and the potential future research the doctoral graduate would have contributed (Grasso et al. 2009).

Research has found many reasons students fail to complete their doctoral studies, but overwhelmingly the dissertation is cited as a major obstacle (Spaulding & Rockinso-Szapkiw, 2012). Students fail to complete their dissertations for many reasons including lack of support, isolation, full-time work obligations, and family circumstances (Lovitts, 2001; Spaulding & Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2012). Spaulding and Rockinson-Szapkiw (2012) found students struggle with balancing responsibilities between family and work, as well managing stress. They found the dissertation can be overwhelming because of the autonomous nature of the research, the challenges associated with academic writing, and the research and statistical analysis needed to complete the study.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Dissertation Advisor: The faculty member assigned to chair the dissertation committee and support the student in developing academic writing and research methodology.

Research Methodology: The procedures and techniques used to select, identify, collect, and analyze about a research topic. Methodology includes the justification for the decisions about the techniques.

Attrition: The failure of a student to be retained.

Dissertation Committee: Three faculty members or professional experts who serve as readers for the written dissertation. In addition, they advocate, support, and challenge by providing critical feedback and guidance through the process. They typically decide when the doctoral student has demonstrated competency in their dissertation, is ready to defend, and has completed their work.

Institutional Review Board (IRB): An independent body charged with ensuring research protections at each institution. Typically, the IRB reviews research protocols to ensure adequate protections related to risk, privacy, confidentiality, informed consent, autonomy, and data storage.

Data Collection: The process and techniques for collecting the information for a research project.

Dissertation: The five-chapter research paper a result in which the doctoral candidate completes the degree.

Scholarly Practitioner: An individual with great professional expertise used to solve problems in the community, shared in academia.

Data Analysis: The process and techniques for transforming and evaluating information using qualitative or quantitative tools to discover findings or inform conclusions.

Persistence: The successful completion of a doctoral program including dissertation and coursework, leading to graduation.

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