Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Cohort-Based Doctoral Programs: What We Have Learned over the Last 18 Years

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Cohort-Based Doctoral Programs: What We Have Learned over the Last 18 Years

Article excerpt


Over four decades the cohort-based model in higher educational programs has been increasingly popular in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and elsewhere. The rationale for the development of this model is associated with higher student retention rates as well as the optimal shared educational experience of the cohort members (Lei, Gorelick, Short, Smallwood, & Wright-Porter, 2011; Maher, 2005). According to Seifert and Mandzuk (2006), the cohort-based education model develops mutual and intellectual stimulation, forms social ties, and enables the institutions to organize the programs in effective ways. Nimer (2009) mentions that the cohort-based doctoral program offers its members an integral part of personal and professional support for academic interaction and degree completion. In such shared learning communities, educators have agreed that development of a strong social and professional network among the professors and students will positively impact student performance (Hyatt & Williams, 2011; Nimer, 2009; Williams & Simpson, 2010).

Doctoral programs in Educational Leadership (EdD) at institutions of higher education in the United States are mostly built on a cohort-based model in order to develop leadership skills, advanced research skills, critical thinking skills, and problem solving skills for various administrative and leadership positions. Loyola University at Chicago (2011) defines a cohort as a group of students who works through a program sequence together to achieve the same academic degree.

According to Hyatt and Williams (2011, p. 54), EdD programs commonly "integrate interdisciplinary theories from other fields including education, psychology, philosophy, and organizational studies." Such programs allow leadership students and practitioners to think radically new thoughts in their workplaces--non-profit organizations, K-12 schools, higher education, and government (Rost, 1991). Bentley, Zhao, Reames and Reed (2004) have defined the cohort features as "frames" and "metaphors" for group learning and sharing knowledge, experience and support which capture the essence of their experience at Auburn University's EdD program. Based on Bolman and Deal's (2013) reframing organization's model, Bentley et al. (2004) identified the underlying structures of the program according to four interpretative frames: 1) a political frame (people coming together to interact in the class through a group philosophy), 2) the structural frame (roles and formal relationships), 3) a human resources frame (cohort members as a family, support and resources for collaboration and professional growth), and 4) a symbolic frame (learning, culture, traditions, beliefs and emotions).

However, these earlier studies were descriptive in nature (Bentley et al., 2004; Lei et al., 2011; Nimer, 2009; Seifert & Mandzuk, 2006). This paper evaluates the success of the cohort-based model educational leadership program through the eyes of the doctoral students. To reduce extraneous variability, the paper focuses on students in a doctoral program in Educational Leadership at XYZ University in the United States as a case study of a single cohort model. The paper starts with an extensive literature review in cohort model EdD programs. The paper also explores the strengths and drawbacks of the cohort-based model. The following research questions guided this study:

a) What were the perceptions of graduates about the cohort-based model EdD program? and

b) What were their overall experiences while earning the EdD degree?

Overview of Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership (EdD)

There is a well-established tradition of doctoral programs in Educational Leadership across the United States. The first Doctor of Education (EdD) was granted at Harvard University in 1921, then at Teachers College in 1934 (Toma, 2002). In England, the first EdD degree was awarded at the University of Bristol in 1992. …

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