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NCU Dissertation
Completion Pathway Offers New Hope for Former Doctoral Candidates

Written by Judy Tierney

Imagine that you've just spent the last five to ten years back in school. You've given up your nights and weekends to take classes, complete assignments and conduct research. Your relationships with family and friends have suffered, and so has the balance in your bank account thanks to the tuition dollars you've spent.

Dr. Patricia Henry Dr. Patricia Henry

Now imagine that the doctoral degree you've worked so hard to attain is just out of reach. You've achieved doctoral candidacy, but despite your best efforts you've been unable to finish your dissertation, the final project required to earn your doctoral degree.

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. In fact, more than 50 percent of doctoral candidates never complete their education and do not earn the ‘doctor' title they've invested so much to achieve. And until now, these students – commonly referred to as "all but dissertation" or ABD – had limited options for finishing the final phase of their academic studies. NCU's Dissertation Completion Pathway (DCP), which was launched in late 2017, is giving these underserved students a second chance.

Higher Degrees spoke to NCU's Graduate School Dean, Dr. Patricia Henry, along with faculty members Dr. David Benders and Dr. David Ison, who oversee this innovative new pathway. They believe that as one of the first universities to design and offer this type of unique pathway, NCU is delivering on a critical need and changing the trajectory of higher education.

Dr. David Benders Dr. David Benders

The DCP enables ABD students to transfer credits for their coursework from their previous institution, with the goal of completing their dissertation and graduating with a doctoral degree from NCU.

Students transition to the University's one-to-one learning model through three bridge courses – one focused on scholarly writing, one covering research methods and a third six-week long dissertation intensive that includes a three-day face-to-face component. From there, they move to their school-based prospectus course, where they're assigned a chair for their dissertation.

"Some of these students have been out of school for years, so our goal is to jump-start them academically," explains Henry. "The bridge courses prepare them to be successful by reminding them of the skill sets they need, building their confidence and teaching them the NCU way."

Dr. David Ison Dr. David Ison

"To help students who need a little more assistance in certain areas of the dissertation process, NCU also created eight-week supplemental courses focused on specific topics such as getting through the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process or how to design your research," adds Benders. "These offerings allow students to fill in areas where there are gaps and make sure everything is in order as they begin the process."

Students enrolled in the DCP are required to start a dissertation on a new topic as opposed to continuing or revising work from their original institution. "We have students who have been out of the education process for up to 10 years, so what they were working on before may no longer be relevant," explains Ison. "We like to see students carry over the skills they've brought from their other universities and then start with a subject that's fresh and timely."

To be eligible for the DCP, prospective students must meet the standard basis requirements for admission and have been enrolled in a program and specialization at their former institution that directly matches one offered by NCU. Currently the only exceptions are Marriage and Family Therapy, Doctor of Health Administration, and Doctor of Nursing Practice (launching December 2018), as these programs have a components that cannot be met through the DCP bridge courses. Additionally, students are required to go through a rigorous interview process with faculty to ensure there is a good fit for the pathway.

"The range of challenges ABD students have faced include everything from personal issues such as the death of a loved one to academic obstacles to lack of support at their previous university," explains Benders. "During the interviews, it's really enlightening to hear the passion in their voices when students begin to talk about the opportunities the DCP provides."

"To be able to give [students] renewed hope and see their dream come true is an amazing feeling."

—Dr. Patricia Henry

With such a high percentage of students who go through life as ABD, Ison feels confident that the DCP is going to be disruptive to doctoral education. "No other pathway addresses this critical need of assisting students that are almost there, and for whatever reason couldn't finish," he says.

Henry, Ison and Benders agree that while the DCP is an exciting opportunity for students, it's also extremely rewarding for the NCU team, seeing the spark in a student's eye during the face-to-face and knowing graduation is within their grasp once again.

"I think most of these students have lived with a hole in their heart because they worked so hard to achieve a goal and until now believed they would never complete it," says Henry. "To be able to give them renewed hope and see their dream come true is an amazing feeling."


Please visit the NCU website for more information on NCU's Dissertation Completion Pathway (DCP).