Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Beth Rous


A positive doctoral experience is rooted in an understanding of the expectations and reality of doctoral–level work. Students need specific knowledge, skills, and mindsets to complete coursework, critically analyze research, and write and defend a research dissertation. Despite a mutual commitment to academic achievement and graduation by faculty and students, attrition in doctoral programs remains high. This rate is even higher for those in online programs. Additionally, there are many challenges doctoral students experience outside of the core curriculum. The challenges facing students vary depending on the phase of the doctoral journey and the individual development of each student.

This dissertation is a report of a mixed methods action research study that identified the needs of doctoral students across the doctoral journey and explored how a strategically designed onboarding process impacted awareness of doctoral expectations and a sense of connectedness of doctoral students.

Findings indicate that established practices of the department and added features to the onboarding process positively impacted students’ sense of connectedness and awareness of program expectations and information.

The findings of this study encourage leadership and faculty members of online doctoral programs to consider department–led efforts designed to strengthen a student's connectedness with peers and faculty members and increase their awareness of expectations and available resources. The power of these connections can support doctoral students toward an enhanced doctoral experience and persistence toward degree completion.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)