By University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix’s College of Doctoral Studies has kicked off 2020 with a revamping, reflecting changes to the dissertation process, programs and residencies to emphasize practical research and better fit the needs of working adult online learners.
Known previously as the School of Advanced Studies, the College’s new name accompanies changes inspired by student feedback. In addition, the college has added more doctoral programs in high-demand fields.
The innovation, which went into effect in January, builds in more support for students throughout the dissertation process, reduces the number of program hours, and offers more convenient options for residency in the form of online symposiums or cost-free colloquiums. What isn’t changing is the focus on applied practitioner research, which prepares UOPX graduates to become leaders in their field.
“Our new program really is focused on being student-centric, focused on working adults and our ‘2020 Vision’ of being a premier doctoral studies institution,” said Dr. Shawn Boone, associate dean of instruction for the College.
To help ensure that changes were in the best interest of the adult learners pursuing terminal degrees at the University, the College of Doctoral Studies leveraged end-of-course surveys and anecdotal data to review program opportunities. Dr. Boone said that the College took a close look at student feedback combined with a deep dive into how students progressed toward degree completion. The data revealed it was time to revamp.
“From this initiative, we’ve identified some of the root causes of where our students were struggling and we have created and designed roles to assist students as they faced these hurdles,” said Nick Galemore, assistant dean of operations.
Prior to the redesign, students solicited members of their dissertation committee and often encountered a rotating panel of committee members due to timing challenges. The redesign has decreased the size of dissertation committees to three members assigned on the front-end of the program: a committee chair, a research methodologist and a panel validator, comprising a smaller dissertation committee that is assigned by the College at the front-end of the program.
Galemore said these changes give students more continuity and time to prepare for and understand the entire dissertation process, as their committee is assigned six months earlier than in the past.
The communication tools available to students have also been upgraded. Document submissions are now managed by a program called TK20, an internal tool already being used by UOPX staff. The program makes it easier for students to receive feedback on the chapters they are submitting to their committees as they work their way through their program. Students are also now using Microsoft Teams, part of the Office 365 program suite, which allows them to efficiently communicate with their committee outside of the classroom.
Our new program really is focused on being student-centric, focused on working adults and our ‘2020 Vision’ of being a premier doctoral studies institution,
— Dr. Shawn Boone
Associate dean of instruction for the College
Program and Residency Redesign
The redesign has also introduced a decrease in the number of credit hours from 62 to 54. The doctorate programs have been regrouped under four main areas of study — business administration, health administration, management and education — with concentrations available to students within these main doctorate programs to reflect areas of high job growth. Program mapping is improved to better articulate to employers the skills students are learning.
An additional significant change is to a previous core requirement for online students to travel to Phoenix in person to attend three multi-day “residencies,” the last of which spanned eight days. While students reported they enjoyed meeting fellow students and instructors face-to-face, the residencies were problematic for some due to cost and time constraints.
To address these challenges, the content previously presented in the residencies has been repackaged into eight-week courses. In fact, all of the courses in the program have been redesigned as eight-week courses, another point of continuity and consistency that is built into the program. Students are also now grouped into cohorts, where they will take key courses with the same group of students for the duration of their program.
For students who want to attend in-person events in Phoenix, there are now “colloquiums.” These informal two-day events are no-cost and no-credit courses where students can network with other students in their cohort, faculty and local industry leaders invited to give presentations to the attendees.
For those who decide not to attend in person, there are two online symposiums. Students will be offered additional guidance on the dissertation process and all of the elements that are part of it. Some examples of such topics include the Institutional Review Board process (IRB), which is typically required when human subjects are part of research activity, and elaboration on quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.
With such sweeping changes, College leaders will be measuring student outcomes and surveying students and faculty to track whether these program changes are a success. So far, Galemore and Dr. Boone report that student and faculty feedback is positive.
This is a big shift in how the doctoral programs operated in the past, Dr. Boone said. “But really, at the core is maintaining and building a rigorous program that is supported by experienced faculty.”