Perceptions After Completing the Degree: A Qualitative Case Study of Select Higher Education Doctoral Graduates

Meredith L Conrey, Gene Roberts, Jr., Melissa R Fadler, Matias M Garza, Clifford V Johnson, Jr., Misty Rasmussen
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 305-327

Limited research exists on the perceived value that a doctoral degree has on higher education administrators’ goals; therefore, this collective case study had two purposes. The first was to assess qualitatively the perceptions of four doctorate-holding higher education administrators to explore the potential value associated with their degrees, and the second was to determine whether they perceived that their degree attainments influenced the achievement of their professional goals, if at all.

Understanding goal attainment and the value associated with obtaining a doctoral degree is important to recognize the needs of doctoral students and to inform how to support degree-seeking professionals in achieving their professional goals. Building upon the conceptual model of doctoral value, as defined by Bryan and Guccione (2018), the researchers also utilized Becker’s (1964) human capital theory as the framework for understanding the perceptions of select administrative professionals who have completed their doctoral degrees in higher education.

Because this was a collective case study, four doctorate-holding higher education administrators were selected, through convenience sampling, to engage in a formal semi-structured face-to-face interview. Interview responses were evaluated using ethnographic analysis (i.e., domain analysis, taxonomic analysis, and componential analysis).

Findings from this research can be used to better understand the perceptions of graduates who earned a doctoral degree in education, particularly with an increase in the number of doctoral degrees in that field. The results from this study align with findings from previous studies.

The ethnographic analysis of the data indicated that the administrators perceived their doctoral degree as a way to advance professionally (e.g., career opportunities and research publication) and as a way to improve personally (e.g., increased confidence and becoming a role model). Two domains emerged: attainment of goals and perceptions of doctoral degree value. The taxonomic analysis revealed that the attainment of goals included personal and professional goals. Lastly, the componential analysis led to the discovery of nine attributes associated with obtaining a doctoral degree.

Administrators in higher education degree programs should understand the needs of their students while they are participating in doctoral studies. By knowing what doctoral students expect to gain after obtaining a doctoral degree, doctoral-program administrators might consider tailoring courses and support programs to meet doctoral student needs.

Additional longitudinal studies should be undertaken to understand better how doctoral graduates view the value of their degree many years later. Do their perceptions change over time, or are they solidified?

With an increasing number of individuals obtaining doctoral degrees in higher education, departments, colleges, and universities need to understand whether graduates find that their degree has been useful. Because there is a demand for agencies to emphasize skills and work-related training, the perceived value of the degree can inform policymakers on changes in curriculum and programming to increase the perceived value of the doctoral degree.

Future research should expand upon the number of students who are interviewed, and students in other academic programs may be interviewed to understand similarities and differences. Longitudinal studies should be conducted to understand if the perception of degree value changes over time.

doctoral degree, perception of value, human capital theory, qualitative re-search methods, higher education administration, professional goals
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