Doctoral Student Attrition: A Problem for Higher Education


  • Gail D. Caruth



The attrition of doctoral students is a significant problem for higher education. The purpose of this archival quantitative, data mining research study using data from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) was to identify the demographics of doctoral graduates during the 2011-2012, 2012-2013, and 2013-2014 academic years at public, private, and for-profit universities in the United States. This study is significant because universities need to know what the demographics of potential doctoral graduates are before they can begin to work effectively on improving the attrition rates of aspiring doctorates. Findings revealed that here has been an increase in doctoral degrees awarded. While most of the degrees were awarded at public universities, students between the ages of 18-24 tended to earn doctoral degrees at private, nonprofit universities at a higher rate. Also, female doctoral degrees awarded during the 2013-2014 academic years increased to 52% of the total degrees awarded. For-profit universities increased doctoral degrees awarded at a higher percentage than public and private universities (9%-18% at for-profit universities, 3% at public universities, and 0% increase at private universities).