Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Joseph Stetar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gerard Babo, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Jack Sargent, Ph.D.


grit, goal setting, social support, doctoral completion, attrition


A problem in academia exists regarding the length of time it takes doctoral students to finish their program. More doctoral students are enrolled in a doctoral program than ever before, however, graduation rates have not been increasing at the same rate as student enrollment. Of those students who do graduate from their doctoral program, approximately 50% of students who start do not finish. Research tells us common reasons why doctoral students withdraw, but there is a critical need for research about best practices of how doctoral students persevere through to completion. Less is known about the successful practices of doctoral graduates who complete their degree in a timely manner. Even at the doctoral level, programs are not immune from the problems of student attrition and extended times for completion.

The purpose of this study was to examine the level of grit, methods of goal-setting, and the social support networks of 15 EdD graduates and 18 PhD graduates who completed their doctorate at one institution of higher education. EdD graduates completed their doctorate in a cohort program and PhD graduates completed their doctorate in a traditional program. The qualitative study utilized grounded theory methodology to answer the research questions through a semi-structured, in depth, interview.

The findings of this study suggest that grit, goal setting, and social support all play an important role in doctoral completion for both EdD and PhD students. To endure the intense educational process, a doctoral degree requires students to sustain their focus and persist in challenging situations (grit). All participants set difficult, attainable goals, tracked them, and accomplished their mission to complete their doctorate. Social support was influential for both EdD and PhD graduates, and participants experienced social support on different levels. Most EdD graduates looked towards their cohort for social support, and PhD graduates turned more to their family or friends. Participants in this study utilized goal-setting techniques and relied on social support to help get them through the transition from structured coursework to open-ended research.