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J. McAtavey, P. Fischweicher

Barry University (UNITED STATES)
Background: Much attention has been focused on improving completion rates of doctoral students in traditional PhD programs. Lately, there has been a growing trend to offer scholarly practitioner doctoral programs that are more experiential than the traditional EdDs and PhDs. The growing need for these types of doctoral degrees stem from the need of working professionals who seek additional knowledge and skills beyond the master’s level. As a result, more practitioner oriented EdD programs have been implemented to help educational leaders utilize scholarship and skills to impact practice. These programs allow students to start their dissertation near the beginning of the program. Completion rates for the scholarly practitioner EdD programs tend to be higher than the traditional PhD and EdD programs. Theoretical Framework: Using Locus of Control as a theoretical framework allowed the researchers to explore external and internal factors that aided or hindered the dissertation process vis-à-vis the perceptions of recent graduates of scholarly practitioner programs. According to Rotter (1966) individuals exhibit an internal or external locus of control. “Internals” believe their behavior is mainly controlled by factors under their control that are internally controlled. “Externals” believe outside forces, including luck, control their behavior. Methods: Using a phenomenological approach, we interviewed 12 individuals who had recently completed a scholarly practitioner type educational doctoral program, asking them to describe their perceptions of their dissertation journey. The researchers sought to understand how the experiences of these recent graduates may have enhanced completion of their dissertations. The participants in this study responded to an open-ended questionnaire through a link to SurveyMonkey. Results: One emergent theme in this study indicated that the coursework adequately prepared students for the dissertation process. Participants indicated that this enabled them to feel confident in their abilities to complete their dissertation. This was largely due to their being able to work on their dissertations throughout the program, gaining support and direction from faculty and classmates as they advanced. In addition, they felt comfortable asking for help with the writing process. This aligns with internal locus of control. A second emergent theme indicated that at times, personal issues impeded their progress. The locus of control at those points in time were externally focused. Conclusions: These recent graduates were able to draw upon their own resources, their internal locus of control, as well as gain support from their faculty and classmates to succeed in writing their dissertation. It appears that students who are able to start the dissertation process early, gaining support from peers and faculty, have a better success rate in completing their dissertations.