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University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies program changes aid rise in student retention and satisfaction

By Sharla Hooper

Program and faculty structure changes within the College have yielded positive results

The University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies reports a rise in student retention and satisfaction following implementation of changes to further enhance the doctoral student experience and academic journey.

The College of Doctoral Studies, formerly known as School of Advanced Studies, introduced a new faculty model and structure and related dissertation process in 2019, followed by redesigned Doctoral programs in January 2020. Since the implementation of these changes, the College has seen an approximately 10% increase in retention rates. Since January 2020, student sentiment scores with dissertation experience have exceeded 55% positive and 81% positive, mixed or neutral.

“The College of Doctoral Studies saw opportunities to enhance the faculty and student experience and were able to successfully identify the necessary steps and implement changes that met those needs,” states John Woods, Ph.D., provost and chief academic officer at University of Phoenix. “We have been able to evolve our programs through evidence-based practices in order to accurately meet the needs and opportunities of students and faculty members who are practitioners in their fields.”

The College of Doctoral Studies offers practitioner doctorate degree programs in healthcare, education, and business, with the Scholar-Practitioner-LeaderSM learning model. While a Ph.D. degree program is focused on development of new primary knowledge, the College’s practitioner doctorate is focused on the practical application of that knowledge in one’s career. The Scholar-Practitioner-LeaderSM framework combines classical cognitive conceptions of doctoral scholarship – including high rigor of inquiry, academic study, and practical application – with the affective domains of learning. This learning model supports working adult students in the opportunity to develop a deeper awareness of who they are, how their learning is changing them, and to apply existing knowledge toward solving real-world problems in their field and community.

“The practitioner doctorate programs must evolve to adapt with the changes in the work environment for our practitioner scholars,” shares Hinrich Eylers, Ph.D., P.E., vice provost of  Doctoral Studies and Academic Operations at the University. “We saw an immediate impact and continue to see positive results of these changes within each of our degree programs.”

New redesigned Doctoral programs released in January 2020 aligned with faculty structure and responsibilities. They provide an enhanced dissertation pathway and faculty support. Some of the changes implemented include:

  • Reduce number of primary programs from 8 to 4 with elective track options to adapt to evolving career pathways and student interest.
  • Align post-master’s certificates with the program’s elective tracks to allow students to earn an additional credential on the way to their doctorate.
  • Improve the convenience and predictability of course schedules with measures such as a standard 8-week course length and moving previously on-campus residencies to an online format to reduce out of pocket expenses for travel and the need for time off from work .
  • Reduce minimum program length from 62 to 54 credits to better support goal of three years to completion. This is supported by changes such as waivable intro classes (aligned with accreditation requirements where applicable), reducing required research courses from 5 to 3 and aligning content with practitioner needs, reducing content courses from 8 to 7, and adding 4th required dissertation course to support writing and reduce extension course needs. Additionally, students can now transfer applicable credits from a previous doctoral program.
  • Continue teaching of degree-specific content area courses by practitioner faculty active in the field, but support students in the dissertation phase with a newly created team of over 50 staff faculty, selected from over 600 applicants.
  • Further enhance dissertation support resources including CDS Central, Dissertation Guide, Dissertation Criteria Assessment (DCA).

These changes yielded other positive results such as providing program stability and increased faculty satisfaction and focus. Additionally, the college saw an increase of graduating students as all-but-dissertation (ABD) students returned to complete their degrees.

Continuing the focus on supporting doctoral students, the College of Doctoral Studies hosted the first WE RISE Doctoral Journey Success Workshops in October 2021. The virtual event ran on a Saturday from 8 am to 4 pm MST and was designed to provide support to the University’s active students, alumni and faculty while COVID-19 cases remain at high levels in Arizona. The workshops featured five virtual sessions with up to four tracks each covering a range of critical topics based on students’ current Doctoral Journey Phase or alumni career path. Sessions were open to all attendees regardless of current doctoral journey phase. Attendance for all five sessions combined numbered 263 individuals. Through the event, University of Phoenix students and alumni networked and connected with CDS doctoral peers, faculty, and UOPX and CDS leaders. An in-person Colloquium is being scheduled for Spring 2022.    

About the College of Doctoral Studies

University of Phoenix’s College of Doctoral Studies focuses on today’s challenging business and organizational needs, from addressing critical social issues to developing solutions to accelerate community building and industry growth. The College’s research program puts students in the center of an effective ecosystem of experts, resources and tools to help prepare them to be a leader in their organization, industry and community. Through this program, students and researchers work with organizations to conduct research that can be applied in the workplace in real time.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix is continually innovating to help working adults enhance their careers in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant courses, interactive learning, and Career Services for Life® help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. For more information, visit