Document Type

Doctor of Education Capstone

Original Publication Date



Dr. Reuban Rodriguez, VCU Dean of Students


Richmond, VA, United States

Date of Submission

May 2023


The purpose of this multi-case study was to explore how the institutional landscape is designed to support graduate student success at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), a large, public, urban, R1 research university. The study included review of existing literature on the various factors that contribute to or limit graduate student success at institutions across the country. A major aim of this study was to collect qualitative data from participants with a key stake in this issue, including enrolled graduate students, and faculty/staff supporting graduate (master’s and doctoral) programs at VCU. Participants included 39 graduate students and 23 institutional stakeholders. All graduate students were invited to participate by email, with 39 final graduate students participating in seven, 60-90 minute focus groups of 6-8 students via Zoom with two members of the research team. Institutional stakeholders, with roles as full-time faculty or staff members at the university, were identified through institutional mapping and website review and invited via email, participated in 60-minute, one-on-one interviews via Zoom with one member of the research team. The study resulted in data coalescing around larger themes of graduate student support, factors promoting graduate student success, and challenges and barriers to success. A benchmarking comparison of VCU alongside peer institutions related to standards for graduate studies further identified areas of interest in 1) Programs and Services for Student Success, 2) Social Justice and Accessibility, 3) Collaboration, and 4) Assessment and Strategic Planning. Findings from the study indicated that, although VCU students appear to excel academically, there are challenges to graduate students balancing the demands of academic rigor with other obligations including, familial support, mental health and wellbeing needs, financial obligations, and social engagement. VCU students will continue to need increased support for funding, social connections, and referrals to appropriate resources. These findings have significant implications for structuring support for graduate students both at Virginia Commonwealth University and could influence institutions similarly situated across the country.


© The Authors