Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development

Degree Program

Educational Leadership and Organizational Development, PhD

Committee Chair

Pifer, Meghan J.

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Immekus, Jason C.

Committee Member

Immekus, Jason C.

Committee Member

Hirschy, Amy S.

Committee Member

Buckley, Jessica B.

Author's Keywords

doctoral education; nontraditional students; part-time; motivation; satisfaction


Doctoral attrition rates are consistently documented at approximately 50% in the United States, and attrition rates are typically higher for all students who pursue degrees on a part-time basis, regardless of degree level. Yet an increasing number of students are deciding to pursue research doctorates on a part-time basis. This growth in the part-time PhD student population requires an understanding of the factors that affect their persistence. I investigated part-time PhD student persistence through an explanatory sequential mixed methods approach to understanding the relationship between motivation and satisfaction through the lens of Self-Determination Theory. Findings suggest that part-time PhD students are motivated by knowledge advancement and relationships with others, yet they may be lacking in access to community in ways that contribute to negative outcomes physically, psychologically, and intellectually. Like many doctoral students, they are demotivated when they feel isolated, exhausted, and overwhelmed; part-time enrollment exacerbates these feelings. Motivation to enroll part-time is largely dictated by family circumstances (e.g., financial need, caregiving responsibilities) and a desire for career advancement. Like motivation, satisfaction is primarily derived through relationships with others, feeling supported, and personal and professional growth. However, a lack of community access inhibits part-time student socialization, and may lead to untested assumptions regarding faculty roles and the purpose of research doctoral education. Additionally, part-time students appear reticent to report feelings of overall dissatisfaction, despite indicating feeling dissatisfied with many components of the doctoral experience. Implications for research and practice are discussed.