Low graduation rates and longer time necessary for completion of doctoral degrees is an area of concern for higher education institutions. According to Bowen and Rudenstine (1992), 50% of students who entered a doctoral program from 1958 to 1988 actually completed their program. These statistics have been supported more recently by the “Ph. D. Completion Project” conducted from 2004-2010 by the Council of Graduate Schools which looked at the completion rate at 27 universities. Those who don’t complete their dissertation are known as, “All But Dissertation” (ABD’s) (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992) and many reaching this stage feel a sense of frustration, anxiety, self-doubt and loneliness.
Studies pointing to the components of not completing the dissertation have three common threads: external/environmental (family/advisor support, financial concerns), preparedness/commitment/quality (individual and university program) and confidence. Unfortunately, environmental barriers such as unexpected life events, family support are not often controllable. Martinsuo & Turkulainen (2011) found that peer support has a positive effect on progress in completing coursework, while supervisor and employer support has little effect on completion. The later part of the findings is extremely interesting since supervisor support has been viewed previously as a strong component of dissertation success by Seagram, Gould, & Pyke (1998) and Harsch (2008).
Degree success has also often been associated with the personal characteristics, expectations and goals of students. Martinsuo & Turkulainen (2011) found that personal plan commitment had a positive effect on dissertation progress while goal commitment and time commitment had no effect on progress. In addition, they report that students’ own skills (access to relevant knowledge, solving problems) are the single most important factor explaining research progress. Since we are discussing the progress of completion (or lack there of), we must discuss procrastination. Procrastination in this context, isn’t related to task difficulties, but instead procrastination due to personal reasons (Green, 1997, Johnson, Green and Kluever, 2000). Procrastination can also be due to a lack of understanding as to the role of the university during the time the student is completing their dissertation. Some students take a dominant role in completing the dissertation requirements, while others assume the university/advisor will provide the intiative for completing each task. Kluever & Green (1998), found higher levels of individual procrastination and stronger perceptions of barriers to dissertation completion were associated with stronger perceptions of university responsibilty for dissertation tasks.
Three decades ago, Albert Bandura introduced the concept of self-efficacy. Formally, self-efficacy is defined as the “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997) and earlier by Bandura and Wood (1989) as the ability to “mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to exercise control over events.” Individuals high in self-efficacy often undertake more challenging tasks, exert more effort in completing the tasks, and are more persistent when faced with challenges (Bandura 1977, 1989). Throughout the years, self-efficacy has been examined in a variety of areas, for example, career decision making (Paulsen & Betz, 2004), race and gender differences (Buchanan & Selmon, 2008), and student learning (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2008).
Varney (2010) found that doctoral students who highly valued their doctoral program experience and had high Dissertation Self-Efficacy (DSE) showed the greatest amount of dissertation progress. He also found that those with who had negative perceptions of their program experiences had lower DSE and showed the least amount of progress on their dissertations. In...