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Student Benchmarks

There are several benchmarks throughout a student’s doctoral career. This document is designed to outline these in overview form. More detailed information about some of the benchmarks—in particular, the comprehensive exams—is available in other areas, and from your advisor. Click on the links below for an introduction to each benchmark.


Program Plan
Annual Progress Review
Comprehensive Exams
Dissertation Proposal and Defense
Advancement to Candidacy
Dissertation Defense

Benchmark: Program Plan.

The Program Plan is a focused, detailed description of the doctoral student’s proposed coursework, specialization, and goals for the doctoral program. The Program Plan will be submitted to the Doctoral Program Plan Committee for approval and suggestions. The Program Plan must include the following:

  • goal statement that includes doctoral study goals (including specialization) and future professional goals
  • professional curriculum vitae
  • coursework plan. This is the appropriate place for petitioning for course transfer for graduate work done previously (there is a 5-year time limit on any coursework counting toward candidacy, as noted below in the "Advancement to Candidacy" section) .

The student should work with his/her advisor for direction while completing the Program Plan prior to submitting it to the Program Plan Committee. It is due to the Program Plan Committee by November 15 in the fall semester of the student’s first year of study. After the Program Plan Committee reviews the student’s Program Plan, there may be a meeting scheduled with the student for further review of the Plan.

Benchmark: Annual Progress Review.

Although students will be meeting with their advisors regularly throughout their doctoral careers, this annual benchmark is an opportunity for students and advisors to formally take stock of students' progress to date, and to make sure that students are on track with their Program Plan. The outcome is a Doctoral Student Annual Progress Review form, completed and placed in the student’s file. This is due in the spring semester of each year of doctoral study.

Benchmark: Comprehensive Exams.

In the doctoral program in developmental education, the comprehensive exam is designed both to prepare students for the dissertation stage as well as demonstrate their readiness for dissertation research, and is achieved through a process that reflects the kinds of tasks that are a part of the vast majority of dissertations. Each student will form a Comprehensive Exam Committee that is comprised of their advisor and two other faculty members from the program.
There are TWO options for your comprehensive exams, and you and your advisor and committee will discuss each and decide which option better aligns with your background, program goals and dissertation goals. Neither option is “greater” or “lesser” than the other, and both options are designed to cover the same processes and achieve the same control over salient aspects of empirical research. The main differences, as will be noted in the descriptions below, center around how the Two-project Option has a more scaffolded and formal literature review aspect, and the One-project Option has data collection and analysis aspects. In the table below, a brief description of each Option is presented side-by-side. Then, in the sections below, each option is described in detail.

Overview of Comprehensive Exam Options
Two-project Option of Comprehensive Exams
With advisor and Program Plan Committee’s assistance, the student chooses which comps option to undertake
One-project Option of Comprehensive Exams
In the Two-project Option, students will undertake two parts to the comprehensive exam. Part I is the Control of Literature and Part II is the Control of Research. Part I, Control of Literature, is a structured, critical review of literature in the field. Part II, Control of Research, is an exhaustive proposal for an empirical research study. Part I must be completed before Part II, and students must successfully complete both Part I and Part II in order to be pass the comprehensive exam.
In the One-project Option of Comprehensive Exams, students complete all aspects of a small-scale empirical research study—the Pilot Research Project—including research design, literature support, original data collection and analysis and producing a written manuscript of publishable quality. Students must pass both the written portion (the manuscript) and the oral portion (the committee defense) of the project in order to pass the comprehensive exam.
Detailed descriptions of each option are available in the Comprehensive Exams drop-down menu, found at this link: Detailed Description of Comprehensive Exam Options.

Benchmark: Dissertation Proposal and Defense.

By no later than the end of their Comprehensive Exams, students must select a Dissertation Advisor. After selecting their Dissertation Advisor, and before beginning their dissertation proposal, students will form a Dissertation Committee that will provide technical support for the inception, conduct, and completion of the dissertation research study and evaluate the final product. The Dissertation Committee will be comprised of four faculty members with doctoral graduate faculty status, one of which must be outside of the program. The student will undertake the research and write the dissertation proposal under the guidance of his/her Dissertation Advisor. The dissertation proposal must be successfully defended by the student and approved by the Dean of the Graduate College before a student can be advanced to candidacy. 
Click here for an Organizational Suggestion for Dissertation Research Proposals

Benchmark: Advancement to Candidacy.

Once all coursework (except for dissertation coursework) has been completed, the comprehensive exams have been passed, and the dissertation proposal has been successfully defended, doctoral students will apply for advancement to candidacy. No course credit will be applied toward the doctoral degree for coursework completed more than five years before the date on which the student is advanced to candidacy.  This time limit applies toward credit earned at Texas State as well as credit transferred to Texas State from other accredited institutions.  Requests for a time extension must be made to the program, which in turn submits a recommendation to the Graduate College.  Achieving doctoral candidacy (what some refer to as “All But Dissertation”) allows the student to begin doctoral dissertation research.
Candidacy forms are found here:

Benchmark: Dissertation Defense.

The Graduate College provides a guide to writing and preparing the dissertation, here: After the dissertation has been judged to be acceptable overall by the Dissertation Advisor and a majority of the dissertation committee members, the candidate, in consultation with the chair of the dissertation committee, will schedule a two-hour Dissertation Defense meeting at the mutual convenience of all concerned. Any member of the committee who has substantial criticism of the document should inform both the candidate and the chairperson before an oral defense of a dissertation is scheduled.  The approval of the dissertation requires positive votes from the Dissertation Advisor and a majority of the members of the dissertation committee.

Benchmark: Graduation

Information about graduation procedures and applying for graduation are provided by the Graduate School here: