Approximately 50% of doctoral students in social science, humanities, and educational doctoral programs fail to earn their Ph.D. This number is 10% to 15% higher for students enrolled in online or limited-residency programs. Using in-depth interviews and qualitative data analysis techniques, this grounded-theory study examined participants’ recollections of their experience as students in a limited-residency doctoral program and their reasons for withdrawal while working on their dissertation. The study was guided by the central question “What is the nature of the participants’ experiences of doctoral attrition in a limited-residency doctoral program?” The resultant theory clarified relationships between attrition and a support issues (i.e., advisor support, dissertation process support and program office support). The theoretical model helps identify steps faculty and administration may take in order to reduce high levels of attrition. Recommendations for effective doctoral education practices from existing literature are supported in the findings of this study.


Doctoral Study, Dissertation, Attrition, Limited-Residency, Qualitative Research, Grounded Theory, Persistence

Author Bio(s)

Donna H. Kennedy, Ph.D. is the Teacher Education and General Studies Program Coordinator at St. Lawrence University. Her teaching focuses on constructivism and digital technology in higher education as a means off retention. Her research interests include attrition, motivation and achievement in undergraduate and graduate education programs. She has published articles in the Journal for the Practical Application of Constructivist Theory in Education (JPACTE).

Steven R. Terrell, Ph.D. is a professor in the Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences at Nova Southeastern University. His research interests include attrition, motivation and achievement in non-traditional programs. Dr. Terrell serves on the editorial boards of The Qualitative Report, The Internet in Higher Education, and the Journal of Research on Technology in Education. His text, Statistics Translated: A Step-By-Step Guide to Analyzing and Interpreting Data, was published in May, 2012.

Dr. Mike Lohle holds a Ph.D. in Information Systems from Nova Southeastern University and is a PMP with twenty-five years of project, program and portfolio management experience in the financial services, insurance, reinsurance, IT services, pharmaceuticals and consumer products industries. Dr. Lohle serves on dissertation committees for Nova Southeastern University’s Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences and the University of Bridgeport’s School of Business Industry Advisory Board. He has published articles in the International Journal of Case Method and Application and the Southwest Decision Sciences Institute’s annual conference proceedings.

Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Donna H. Kennedy at dkennedy@stlawu.edu.

Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: Steven R. Terrell at terrell@nova.edu.

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