Chair Agency, Chair Preparation, and Academic Supports in Educational Leadership Doctoral Programs in the United States

Jason A LaFrance, Diane LaFrance, Teri D Melton
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 111-133

The purpose of this exploratory qualitative case study was to understand dissertation chair agency, chair preparation, and academic supports provided by experienced Educational Leadership Ed.D. dissertation chairs in the United States.

Previous research has identified attrition rates of 50-60 percent in education doctoral programs. This research helps identify the faculty profiles and academic supports provided by Educational Leadership faculty who have served on successful dissertation committees. Understanding these findings may help to improve retention and completion in other doctoral programs.

This was an exploratory qualitative case study. Ten doctoral faculty who have successfully chaired 419 Ed.D. Educational Leadership dissertations at accredited U.S. colleges and universities were interviewed. Data were analyzed using the constant comparative method.

The findings from this study contribute to the body of knowledge on doctoral retention and dissertation completion by providing information on promising practices from the perspective of dissertation chairs.

While successful dissertation chairs exhibited expertise as researchers, seven of the ten participants reported that they had limited training for chairing dissertations. Academic supports included coursework that was organized coherently with a focus on opportunities for substantive feedback, writing support and research methodology.

Dissertation chairs should utilize their agency to ensure that the program has the proper resources to support doctoral education. This includes adequate writing support for graduate students, courses taught by faculty who are engaged in research and understand the requirements for completing a dissertation, and protecting faculty time so that they are able to provide students substantive feedback within coursework and at the dissertation phase.

Researchers should continue to explore the causes of attrition in doctoral programs and identify specific actions that can be taken to improve program completion rates.

Increasingly U.S. institutions of higher learning are being called to validate their success and improve retention rates. Understanding the faculty profiles and academic supports utilized by successful doctoral faculty has the potential to improve retention and thereby increase completion rates and consequentially alleviate the stressors that ABD students experience.

Future research could focus on expanding the findings of this study by exploring the perspectives of faculty based on institution type and examining how socio-emotional factors such as student-student and faculty-student relationships are intentionally established in programs with high graduation rates.

doctoral dissertations, dissertation chair, doctoral attrition, doctoral reten-tion, graduation rate, educational leadership programs, educational leader-ship faculty development
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