School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Kevin White


attrition, online education, persistence, retention


Educational Leadership | Higher Education


The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to understand doctoral students’ experiences participating in an online doctoral program at a university. The study was conducted to answer the central research question: What are the experiences of online doctoral students who attended a program requiring a dissertation? Sub-questions included: (1) Among doctoral candidates in online degree programs, what are the perceived barriers to completing the dissertation? (2) In what ways do online doctoral candidates think the barriers to the dissertation component could be eliminated? The theories guiding this study are Tinto’s (1994), theory of student departure and Bandura’s (1997) theory of self-efficacy as they can help to explain student persistence and retention regarding their involvement in an online program. Data were obtained through reflective essays, individual interviews, and a focus group. 10 participants were interviewed after they completed a simple questionnaire to ensure compliance with the study. Of these 10 participants, five of them have completed all their doctoral coursework without completing their dissertation and the other five were successful in completing their dissertation and obtaining their doctoral degree. Data were analyzed using Moustakas modified Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method. Coding and analysis resulted in three major themes: personal factors, institutional factors, and the dissertation process. The findings of this study indicate that doctoral students experience difficulties while in the dissertation phase of the program and that while there are several personal factors involved with their ability to persist there are also several institutional factors to be considered.