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DOCTOR OF EDUCATION PROGRAM WITH MAJOR IN SPECIAL EDUCATION

Doctoral Program Completion Process

Comprehensive Examination

Students who have completed all coursework in their program of study will work with the advisor and other committee members to construct a set of comprehensive examination questions that will address the major area, research core, and foundations.minor area. Students may choose sit-down exams without access to resources (generally over a multiple-day period) or take-home exams with access to resources (generally one question at a time over two week intervals). They draft questions for committee review and approval, select topics from which the committee will prepare questions, or ask the committee to identify topics and questions. The committee chair confirms that the committee has approved the questions and administers the exam.

Comprehensive examinations usually consist of four (4) questions:

  • Question 1 addresses the major area and the program option (personnel preparation), outlining recommendations for some component of a personnel preparation or service delivery program appropriate to the student’s area of specialization in special education or disability services.
  • Question 2 addresses the major area and the minor/foundations area by examining a topic related to the student’s area of specialization in special education or disability services and exploring its psychological, historical, social, and/or legal foundations and implications for current or future developments in the field.
  • Question 3 addresses the major area and the research core by identifying one or more research questions and designing a study to address them on a topic related to the student’s area of specialization in special education or disability services (can be related to but cannot be identical to the study planned for the dissertation).

ALL questions must represent the student’s OWN original work with appropriate and substantial citations from the professional literature to document their relationship to the ongoing discourse in special education and disability services. Students who do not pass on the first attempt may be provided an opportunity to revise and resubmit or to substitute another question. Students who do not pass after three (3) attempts must withdraw from the doctoral program emphasis in special education.

The comprehensive examination must be passed within one (1) semester of the completion of the final coursework in the program of study; the committee may grant an one (1) semester extension in case of emergency. Students MUST be enrolled at the time they complete the comprehensive examination.

Admission to Candidacy

Passing of the comprehensive exam constitutes admission to candidacy, which is verified by the academic advisor or committee chair.

The CEHS Doctoral Admission to Candidacy Form is available to download on the CEHS Student Resources: Student Forms web page

Prospectus Development and Approval

Students who have passed the comprehensive examination and been admitted to candidacy will work with the academic advisor/committee chair in developing a proposal (prospectus) outlining a study to become the dissertation.

The prospectus contains the first three (3) chapters of the future dissertation plus supporting materials, such as instruments, consent forms, and other appendices. After multiple drafts and consultation with other committee members or other faculty as needed, the student will provide the committee with the document to review, then present the document and respond to questions in a formal meeting to verify that s/he is prepared to conduct a dissertation study. The prospectus approval must be signed by ALL committee members.

The CEHS Doctoral Approval of Prospectus Form is available to download on the CEHS Student Resources: Student Forms web page


The prospectus must be approved within one (1) semester of the completion of the comprehensive examination; the committee may grant an one (1) semester extension in case of emergency. Students MUST be enrolled at the time they complete the prospectus.

Dissertation Completion and Defense

Students who have their proposal approved by the committee and the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (as appropriate) may conduct the dissertation study. Once all data has been collected and analyzed, the student will submit a draft of the dissertation to the committee chair for review, who will make suggestions for revision. Some students will also wish to consult other committee members at this time, especially to request assistance with data interpretations from members with expertise in specific research approach.

Once the document has been revised and approved by the committee chair as ready for distribution, the student will provide the committee with the document to review and make arrangements to schedule the defense.

The CEHS Doctoral Defense Shuttle Sheet Request Form is available to download on the CEHS Student Resources: Student Forms web page


At the dissertation defense, the student will summarize the study and its findings and respond to questions from all committee members and other attendees. in a formal meeting to verify that s/he has successfully defended the dissertation.

The dissertation must be defended within three (3) semesters of the completion of the dissertation; the committee may grant an one (1) semester extension in case of emergency. Students MUST be enrolled at the time they complete the dissertation.

NOTE: WVU permits students a maximum of five (5) years to complete the doctoral degree after admission to candidacy.

Final Submissions for Graduation

WVU policy requires electronic submission of ALL theses and dissertations. Students must submit the approved dissertation to WVU following these guidelines:

WVU Guide to the Preparation of Electronic Theses and Dissertations