About Doctoral Programs at GCU

A doctorate is the highest degree in the United States post-secondary education system. It is also the least achieved, due to the requirement of creating new knowledge by completing a dissertation, which is original, individual research that is defendable and publishable in the form of a five-chapter book.

A researcher must convince their doctoral chair and committee through the proposal, dissertation and defense that the learner is an expert in their field. While the chair and committee provide academic guidance to doctoral candidates, it is not their role to co-author a dissertation or tell the student how to conduct or interpret research.

The Department of Education requires the university to count the required coursework’s instructional time, as indicated above. This is calculated by multiplying the instructional weeks per course by the number of courses. Grand Canyon University (GCU) adds two (2) weeks for Christmas when the university is on an official break as well as an additional two (2) weeks for breaks each year, as a reasonable amount of time students are out of class.

The Department of Education has no mechanism to account for the dissertation process within their calculation. Therefore, any amount of time a student is not enrolled adds to the time to completion. Additionally, because of the uniqueness of the dissertation process, which is dependent on the student, there is no way to predict the amount of time for each learner to complete their dissertation journey.

These doctoral programs are not intended to lead to licensure, certification or endorsement as a superintendent, principal or teacher in any state. Students are advised to contact their state department of education to determine if this program might lead to a credential, license or salary increase.

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Important GCU Statistics

  • The maximum amount of time allotted is seven years to complete coursework and the dissertation. Graduation requirements include earning the total number of credits required by the program, meeting content requirements, and approval of a dissertation by the committee and the dean as demonstrated by a signed D-80 document (see the University Policy Handbook). Students may need to take continuation courses that provide them with additional time for completing all the content and process requirements of the dissertation until officially approved or until the maximum time allowed per program policy has been reached.
  • As of Dec. 31, 2022, the average number of continuation courses for the 2,440 doctoral graduates since the first graduate in 2011 was 9.9 continuation courses (with passing grades) and a total program average time of 5.7 years. This information is offered as a guide to help you understand the process, but the path toward your degree and the timeframe to complete it will be determined by your effort and the pace of your work.
  • The following table shows the amount of time GCU doctoral graduates took to complete the program:
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Completion Times for GCU Doctoral Candidates

Graduated Timeframe Total Percent
Less than 3 years 16 0.7%
Within year 3 354 14.5%
Within year 4 692 28.4%
Within year 5 517 21.2%
Within year 6 345 14.1%
Within year 7 243 10.0%
Within year 8 124 5.1%
Within year 9 119 4.9%
Year 9+ 30 1.2%
Grand Total 2,440  

The Dissertation Committee for Doctoral Programs at GCU

  • Learners should familiarize themselves with the Doctoral Dispositions located in the University Policy Handbook, specifically in communication with faculty, dissertation committee, administrative staff, academic advisors, and fellow learners. These will be upheld through graduation.
  • GCU will assign a chair and methodologist in the Dissertation I course in their program.
  • Learners are responsible for selecting a qualified content expert to serve as their third committee member. Learners must work with their student services counselors (SSC) to add the content expert to their dissertation committees.
  • The chair and committee provide academic guidance to doctoral candidates, but it is not their role to co-author a dissertation or determine how to conduct or interpret research.
  • The College of Doctoral Studies attempts to keep learners and their committees together throughout the dissertation process. However, a change to the dissertation committee may be needed due to faculty personal, work or health-related reasons. The longer a learner is in the program, or out of enrollment, the more likely the committee will require changes.
  • Learners must convince their doctoral chair and committee that they are an expert in their field through the proposal, dissertation and defense. Please see the Milestone Guide in the University Policy Handbook Appendix A.
  • Learners must submit dissertation topics that are aligned to their degree major. If the dissertation committee and corresponding program chair determine a study is not aligned with the major of the learner’s degree, the learner must adjust the dissertation topic to align with their major degree. This will add additional time to the learner’s dissertation journey. Below are the broad topics for the major degrees:
    • General Psychology in the Ph.D. program
    • Leadership in the Ed.D. Organizational Leadership program
    • Adult Instruction in the Ed.D. Teaching and Learning program
    • Management in the DBA program
    • Health Administration in the Doctor of Health Administration program
    • Counseling Practice, Counselor Education, Clinical Supervision or Advocacy/Leadership within the counseling field in the Counselor Education Ph.D. program.
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The Dissertation Process for Doctoral Programs at GCU

  • The College of Doctoral Studies sections of the Academic Catalog and the University Policy Handbook contain dissertation and program information. Both can be found on our Academic Catalog and Policies page. Scholarly standards for dissertation research require a rigorous, iterative peer-review process. Learners can expect multiple revisions of dissertation documents, including integrating edits and revisions, driven by committee members or the College of Doctoral Studies throughout the doctoral program.
  • Each dissertation class has a minimum progression milestone that must be reached to progress. Learners who do not meet the requirements will repeat the course. Each course may be attempted only three times.
  • Learners should be committed to quantitative or qualitative research by the 24thcredit, in order to prevent loss of time. Learners should use their 10 Strategic Points as guidance for methodology choice.
  • All doctoral programs require two residencies. An optional third is available and may be required for learners needing additional focus on completing the dissertation. Residency availability can be found here.
  • SSCs direct learners to resources and assist them with scheduling courses, including content, dissertation and continuation.

Learners who complete all the coursework and not the dissertation, also known as All But Dissertation (ABD), may be offered a chance to transfer many of their courses into a master’s degree in substitution, dependent on their previous earned degrees.

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