Leaving a doctoral program has significant impacts on a variety of people. Someone leaving a program is certainly affected, as well as their friends and family. Being in doctoral education takes up a lot of time, and sometimes friendships and relationships have to give to accommodate their education – at least for a time. Also, education is a chosen area for many from underrepresented populations – almost 70 percent of doctoral students in education were women. African Americans are the largest minority earning degrees in education – 40 percent of all doctorates earned by African American students since the late 1930s were in education.
The doctoral degree in education is the most commonly awarded doctorate – around 16 percent of the total doctorates. More than 7,000 doctorates are granted in education each year. While the Ed.D. and Ph.D. are theoretically meant to be different types of preparation, the line is really quite blurry between degrees – and at many institutions, Ph.D. and Ed.D. students are co-enrolled in courses, and complete similar requirements. Education students are also far more likely to attend doctoral programs part time – over 75% of students were part-time (compared to 47% of other fields).
Almost half of the students who begin a doctoral program do not finish their degree. Doctoral students also suffer with issues of mental health and well-being. Students leave for positive and negative reasons – they may leave because of a new exciting job, or because a partner received a job elsewhere. They may leave because of a poor relationship with their doctoral advisor, or because of frustration with seemingly bureaucratic institutional policies, such as residency or time limits on degree completion.
I’ve considered leaving my doctoral program. Lord…have I considered it. When I started this degree, I was sure I would work as a faculty member in a higher education graduate program, following in the footsteps of my M.S. professors (Tracy Davis and Dea Forney – go ‘Necks!). I was working full time at the University of Northern Colorado and decided to take advantage of tuition benefits since I missed the classroom after two years. Since I started my program, I moved to a different institution, was unemployed for almost a year, moved to my current institution, moved jobs within my current institution, met and fell in love, got married at my dying mother’s bedside, mourned the loss of my only parent (and only blood family), and am currently planning a wedding (we had planned our wedding for Spring 2016; we legally wed so that my mother could be present before her passing). It’s been a struggle to make it through; in fact, I did not pass my first attempt at my comprehensive exams. I actually took about 2 years “mentally” off from doctoral work. I told myself I was reading and writing, but really…I wasn’t. This past year, I retook and passed my comprehensive exams and am currently working on my dissertation proposal, which I need to complete this semester (remember those time limits on degree completion I mentioned earlier?).
I think any discussion of doctoral programs in higher education needs to also consider the likelihood of not completing the degree; with almost half of the students leaving their programs before completion, it is certainly something to ponder. I would venture a guess many in doctoral programs have considered, at least once, just walking away. It’s a marathon – and marathons aren’t easy.
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White, W., & Grinnell, J. (2011). The Ed.D. v2.0: Imagining a new doctorate in education. In D. Callejo Pérez, S. M. Fain, & J. J. Slater (Eds.), Higher education and human capital: Re/thinking the doctorate in America (pp. 91-102). Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
This post is part of our #SAdoc series, which aims to show that the journey for a doctorate in Student Affairs is about more than just a piece of paper. A variety of SA pros working towards, or who have obtained, their #SAdoc will share their stories of the hustle and struggle of the process; the ups and downs. For more information, please see Kevin Wright’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
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Podcast With Ed Cabellon on The #SAFit Community