Addressing Doctoral Student “Failure”: Catching Lost Souls

Michael W. Kramer


Statistics indicate that 45-50% of doctoral students who finish their course work never finish their degrees ( This essay examines this problem as an example of fundamental attribution error and suggests that in some cases, but not all, success rates can be improved by making changes in the situation instead of blaming the students. It illustrates this point with examples of successful efforts to prevent students from failing to finish their degrees by advisors serving as process experts instead of content experts. It also points out that while being a process expert may increase the percentage of students who complete their degrees, it does not always lead to success. Rethinking this issue may assist educators as they attempt to help college students at all levels finish their degrees.

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