African American doctoral degree completers and the factors that influence their success in the Ivy League

Pamela Felder Thompson, University of Pennsylvania


This study was designed to examine the factors that served to promote or retard the success of African American doctoral students within the Graduate School of Education at an Ivy League university. Guiding this examination was a conceptual framework that included the theoretical constructs of three widely tested theories of undergraduate student persistence and a student-based expertise model. This framework was used to investigate the belief systems that doctoral students ascribed to these constructs and how these belief systems influenced their behavior. Eleven African American students who completed their doctoral programs between 1994-2005 and who had held their degrees for no more than five years provided retrospective views of their experiences. This sample included both Ed.D. and Ph.D. students and excluded the mid-career and executive doctoral program cohorts. Qualitative methods were used to answer the following questions: What were the motivating factors that caused degree completers to persist to completion? What are the factors that influenced academic success for African Americans who have completed doctoral study? What are the barriers that impeded progress to degree completion? How are their belief systems applied to overcome barriers to success? Qualitative methods include a one-phase interview process and a semi-structured interview protocol used to gather information on the alumni perspectives. Barriers to retention were investigated using an unfolding matrix that categorized responses into student knowledge and actions. Three (3) knowledge categories and action categories emerged from using the unfolding matrix. Fourteen (14) Factors were identified as serving to promote success. Five (5) Factors were identified as serving as barriers to success. Based on these findings a model of African American doctoral student success within the Ivy League was developed. Results of the study demonstrate that doctoral student persistence is complex as it involves the interaction of several Factors that may occur simultaneously. Successful African American doctoral students obtain heuristic knowledge about the barriers to degree completion and engage in specific behaviors to overcome them.

Subject Area

Higher education|Black studies|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Thompson, Pamela Felder, "African American doctoral degree completers and the factors that influence their success in the Ivy League" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3197745.