Brenau Professor Kelley Brock-Simmons speaks at webinar on dissertation support

May 26, 2021
Kathryne Davis

Kelley Brock-SimmonsKelley Brock-Simmons, chair of graduate education programs, Doctor of Education coordinator and associate professor at Brenau University, spoke May 25 at an Inside Higher Education-hosted webinar addressing low retention and graduation rates in doctoral programs due to difficulties with dissertations.

The webinar, Dissertation Support and its Positive Effect on Grad Outcomes, was presented with support from Brenau University and Gwynedd Mercy University. Dan King, president and CEO of the American Association of University Administrators and editor of the Journal of Higher Education Management, served as host for the event, which also included speaker Raymond Bandlow, professor of education policy and director of the doctoral studies in education program at Gwynedd Mercy University.

Brock-Simmons shared how dissertation support has benefited Brenau’s Ed.D. retention rate and kept it well above the national average. Brenau’s program begins with an outline of every course students will take and which semester they will be taken. Brock-Simmons said the plans are created so students can start dissertation support courses in their first or second semester in order to receive as much assistance as possible from the dissertation chair and graduate librarian.

Brock-Simmons said today’s doctoral students have unique needs and many cannot or attend face-to-face classes in the evenings or quit their jobs to go to school full-time.

”Students need to seek out a program that is structured for success without sacrificing the rigor of the program,” she said. “The way the Brenau program is set up isolates the most difficult part of a doctoral program, the dissertation, and breaks it down into manageable parts.

“We can’t really compare our traditional experience of our program of study to what the contemporary online student needs because there are different obligations. So what the Brenau program is doing is creating new traditions. And from what I’m seeing, it’s working.”

Since Brenau’s Ed.D. is an online-only program, starting the dissertation process early allows students to become more organized, receive help if they are having difficulties and learn how to juggle all of their responsibilities.

“At Brenau, students are expected to be full-time year-round,” Brock-Simmons said. “But they also have full-time jobs and families. There’s a lot of balancing that has to be brought into the program. Being able to isolate the components of the dissertation and supporting the students through the dissertation process from the beginning is what’s going to set the student up for success.”

The webinar is available for viewing on the Inside Higher Education website.