Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

A Mixed Research Investigation of Factors Related to Time to the Doctorate in Education

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

A Mixed Research Investigation of Factors Related to Time to the Doctorate in Education

Article excerpt


Although the attainment of the doctorate is considered to be the pinnacle of education, in the United States, the time taken to attain the doctorate (TTD) has been increasing over the years (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992; Hoffer, Hess, Welch, & Williams, 2007). Indeed, less than one half of all students admitted into doctoral programs attain the doctorate even after pursuing it from 6 to 12 years, with a more pronounced increase in total TTD being witnessed in Education than in any other fields (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992). According to the Survey of Earned Doctorates 2006 Report, between 1980 and 2006 the median duration between starting and completing graduate school increased from 10.7 to 12.7 years in Education compared to 7.7 to 7.9 years in all fields including Education (Hoffer et al., 2007). Given the increase in cost incurred in preparing students and the delay in entry into the workforce (Tuckman, Coyle, & Bae, 1990), students, faculty, employers, and other stakeholders in higher education are concerned when the doctorate is not attained in a timely manner. In response to the concern about the lengthening trend in TTD, several studies have been conducted that examine factors influencing TTD (Bair, 1999; Ferrer de Valero, 2001; Maher, Ford, & Thompson, 2004; Nerad & Cerny, 1993; Stolzenberg, 2006).

Although prior studies, including Bair's (1999) meta-synthesis, have emphasized the need to conduct qualitative studies that capture students' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors regarding TTD, to date, only in a few studies have qualitative approaches been employed to examine factors associated with TTD (e.g., Nerad & Cerny, 1993). Most of these studies have been included as part of quantitative studies, for instance, as a means to facilitate instrument development (e.g., preceding a survey with a focus groups, Maher et al., 2004), as a complement to the quantitative component (e.g., Ferrer de Valero, 2001), or in the form of open-ended items included in a survey (e.g., Stolzenberg, 2006). Extrapolation of qualitative findings, however, has been limited, partly because of the tendency to focus on either student or faculty perspectives but seldom incorporating both views.

In this study, we sought to use mixed research techniques to identify the factors that influence the time that students take to attain the doctorate. Educators would like to know whether the factors are institution-related and are thus out of control of students. Similarly, students would like to know their roles in ensuring timely completion. Student interviews and faculty focus groups allow for investigating opinions and experiences of these constituents regarding factors perceived to influence TTD. Because TTD "varies more systematically with discipline of study than any other variable" (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992, p. 123), we chose Education, a field that has continued to experience the longest TTD, to control for the effect of the field.

In Girves and Wemmerus' (1988) model, departmental characteristics, such as the percentage of female students and the percentage of White students, the extent to which students perceive that faculty treat them as colleagues, and the availability of financial support, are related to degree progress. Rather than focusing on characteristics of admitted students, the model emphasizes creating an environment conducive for doctorate attainment. It is consistent with Lovitts's (2001) findings in which institutional factors were observed as exerting more influence on persistence than did student characteristics.

Tinto's (1993) model emphasizes the concept of graduate communities into which students are integrated to become members. He illustrates doctoral persistence as occurring in three stages. In the first stage, students transition and adjust to the social and academic systems of the graduate community. In the second stage, students acquire knowledge and develop competencies necessary for conducting doctoral research. …

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