Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

Obstacles to Completion of the Doctoral Degree in Colleges of Education: The Professors' Perspective

Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

Obstacles to Completion of the Doctoral Degree in Colleges of Education: The Professors' Perspective

Article excerpt

Opinions concerning which obstacles prevent doctoral students in colleges of education from completing their degree were gathered from 215 professors, representing colleges of education in 42 states. Respondents were asked to rate to what degree they felt a given obstacle was a barrier for their students. Respondents also answered questions related to details of how they structure the dissertation process for their students. Results point to difficulty with planning and writing, working independently, and financial and personal-relationship pressures as being the major obstacles for doctoral students in education. Suggestions for increasing completion rates by anticipating the obstacles are discussed in light of the findings.

Many concerned citizens and political leaders, including the president of the United States, have been critical of the educational system, claiming that primary schools have failed to meet the educational needs of a significant number of our children. There are demands for changing the system, for measuring both student and teacher performance, and for holding accountable those responsible for the education of our children. Teachers and administrators have been identified, by critics, as those primarily responsible for the failing school system. The criticism raises a question: If school teachers and administrators have failed to adequately educate a significant number of children, does it follow that the faculties and administrators of colleges of education have failed to adequately educate teachers and administrators?

The highest level of education in our system is the doctoral program. It is at this level that Education produces its leaders. In theory, the graduates of doctoral programs are responsible for the thinking and research that underlie the philosophies and theories of education, the foundations for the policies, structures, and programs of education. In practice, the graduates of doctoral programs, the Ph. D.s and Ed. D.s, are the primary educators of the teachers and administrators who staff the primary schools. There is a link between primary and higher education. If primary education is failing, does it mean that higher education is also failing?

A conservative estimate of the attrition-rate, across all disciplines, suggests that approximately 50% of all entering doctoral students fail to obtain their degree (Bowen & Rudenstein, 1992; Dom & Papalewis, 1997; Marcus, 1997). A higher estimate, based on cohort entrance and exit after a fixed period of time (where it is assumed that the ratio between doctoral degrees conferred and graduate enrollment is constant) suggests that as many as 85% of enrolled students may fail to obtain their degree (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1995). A related statistic, specific to Education, is that students who did finish in 1996 had the second longest time to degree, 8.2 years, of any field studied (Henderson, Clarke, & Woods, 1998).

Funding always being a problem for colleges of education, the cost of doctoral dropouts, in terms of dollars spent, is one area of concern. Small class sizes, intense one-on-one help from professors, and specialized equipment needs are only some of the features that make graduate education the most expensive area of higher education (Baird, 1993). Another concern is that graduate research assistants and teaching assistants facilitate faculty research and support undergraduate education in colleges of education, and therefore, a high attrition-rate implies a significant loss of a vital resource for colleges of education (Gumport & Jennings, 1998).

Research further suggests that high attrition-rates and increased time-- to-degree are having a negative impact on the supply of qualified individuals from teacher preparation programs (Ploskona, 1993), school counselor-educator programs (Finn-Maples & Macari, 1997), educational psychology programs, and school administrator preparation programs (Lipschutz, 1993). …

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