Campus Location

Dallas Campus (Online)

Date of Award



Document Type



Educational Leadership

Degree Name

Doctor of Education

Committee Chair or Primary Advisor

Irma Harper

Second Committee Member or Secondary Advisor

Leah Wickersham-Fish

Third Committee Member or Committee Reader

Robert Haussmann


Attrition in doctoral programs has been a problem of practice for countless years. With the surge of online degree programs and the high attrition rates in online doctoral programs, factors that could reduce attrition and increase retention are rising in importance. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine social support factors that influence persistence to completion rates in online doctoral studies. Furthermore, this study was focused on obtaining student perceptions of family, the academic community, and peer support influencing persistence during the dissertation stage. Data were collected from participants using survey questionnaires and semistructured interviews. The sample population consisted of 12 former students from a small private university who had completed their dissertation and online doctoral degree between 2018 and 2020. The findings revealed that these three social support groups, family, the academic community, and peer, provided important motivational support in the form of knowledgeable guidance, relationships/connections, and emotional and time support. Families primarily provided needed emotional and time support. The academic community, especially dissertation chairs, provided desired knowledgeable guidance during the dissertation process. Peers, in the form of cohorts, provided critical encouragement and emotional support. Existing relationships from which participants relied on for support included family members, coworkers, and friends, while new connections and bonds with cohorts and dissertation chairs played a vital role in influencing completion. In addition, the findings also revealed that internal motivation and self-determination played a significant role in persistence to completion. Keywords: social support, attrition, persistence, academic community, dissertation, online doctorate degree, student integration

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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