Evaluating a Model to Increase Doctorate Program Completion Rates: A Focus on Social Connectedness and Structure

Erin Breitenbach
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 217-236

New models of curriculum and instruction are needed to help increase completion rates of doctoral programs, as only about half of all students who begin doctoral programs complete them. This paper presents preliminary results of an evaluation of a promising new model called the Ewing Model© where the culminating projects of a doctoral program is completed in a series of five sequential courses with a cohort.

The Ewing Model©, a new model for completing a doctoral research project (DRP) in an online Doctor of Education (EdD) program, was implemented and evaluated for two predictors of doctoral program completion – social connectedness and usefulness of the curriculum and instruction. Previous research has shown these are salient factors predicting doctoral student success.

This was a cross-sectional, quantitative study. An online survey of students who were in the midst of taking one of five sequential DRP courses was emailed in the middle of a term. Survey question answers were posed as 5-point Likert scale options, and means were calculated.

This paper provides evidence that the Ewing Model© for completing a culminating project in a doctoral program that facilitates social connectedness and provides structure might be effective in helping students to complete their doctoral programs.

Social connectedness and usefulness of the curriculum and instruction were generally high among students going through the DRP process. The frequency of online discussion forums was found to play a role in how connected students felt.

Institutions of higher education could consider using a similar model to achieve improved social connectedness and usefulness of the curriculum and instruction, which may help doctoral students complete their doctoral programs. They might also consider incorporating other teaching strategies into the same model that may intervene on other predictors of doctoral program completion.

Researchers should take into account that many other individual and environmental factors besides social connectedness and usefulness of the curriculum and instruction influence doctoral program completion.

The findings have implications for improving doctoral program completion rates, which also alleviates the economic, social, and emotional strain that results from unfinished doctoral degrees.

Future research could focus on evaluating variations of the Ewing Model© depending on the unique requirements of different types of culminating projects in doctoral programs, assessing other known predictors of doctoral program completion besides social connectedness and usefulness of the curriculum and instruction, and assessing student completion rates using this model.

retention, attrition, completion, Ewing Model, social connectedness, doctoral research project, applied research project, dissertation, culminating project, usefulness of curriculum and instruction
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