Cohort Model

According to Buttram and Doolittle (2015), "emerging trends in research and best practices have identified eight variables recommended by professional organizations, associations, and government agencies" when designing or redesigning doctoral educational leadership programs (p. 288). One of the eight variables used is a cohort model.

A cohort model is characterized by enhanced candidate engagement, higher rates of program completion (Barnett et al., 2000: Basom et al., 1996; Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, Orr, & Cohen, 2005; Young, Crow, Ogawa, & Murphy, 2009; Wyatt, 2011), and a familiarity among cohort members that supports authentic conversations about issues, concerns, and projects (Lei, Gorelick, Short, Smallwood, and Wright-Porter, 2011). These characteristics are based upon the establishment of a community of common purpose that successively develops trust, camaraderie among cohort members, and "an element of collective survival" (Swayze and Jakeman, 2014, p. 104). Online cohorts, like in-residency counterparts, provide opportunities to form strong bonds among candidates through limited on-campus immersion experiences and various types of communication made available through technology (Swayze and Jakeman, 2014).

For a cohort to work well, care must be taken in the formation and structuring of the cohort. In an online program, it is important that early immersion experiences include both structured and informal activities that will build the community of common purpose. Candidates must feel that the cohort supports them on multiple levels and simultaneously challenges them to achieve at higher levels (Imel, 2002).

Well-designed cohorts must also include diversity for the purpose of bringing multiple perspectives to faculty-to-candidate and candidate-to-candidate interactions (Imel, 2002). As a means of ensuring diversity in the proposed program’s cohorts, WTAMU has designated specific assistantships and scholarships for underrepresented candidates.

Cohort models may be open, closed, or a mixture of the two. While the open model allows for entry into the program at any point, WTAMU has proposed a closed model that allows for a single-entry point. With this closed model, cohorts progress together through a series of program courses and immersion experiences (Buttram and Doolittle, 2015).

In the event that a candidate must withdraw from the program for a period of time, two (2) options will be made available to the candidate:

  1. The candidate may return to the program by joining a program cohort that is currently at the same point in the program where the candidate exited, or
  2. If the missed courses occurred in one semester only, the candidate may reenter the program with their original cohort and complete any missed courses as they become available in the cohort course rotation. 

The closed cohort model may likely present some challenges that have not yet been considered. At this time, however, the benefits of a closed cohort model seem more advantageous than the possibilities of any challenges that may arise.


Barnett, B. G., Basom, M.R., Yerkes, D. M. & Morris, C. J. (2000). Cohorts in educational leadership programs: Benefits, difficulties, and the potential for developing school leaders. Educational Administration Quarterly, 36, 255-282.

Basom, M., Yerkes, D., Norris, C, & Barnett, B. (1996). Using cohorts as a means for developing transformational leaders. Journal of School Leadership, 6(1), 99-112.

Buttram, L. B. & Doolittle, V.  (2015, Summer) Redesign of EdD and PhD Educational Leadership Programs. International Journal of Educational Reform, (24) 3.

Darling-Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., Myerson, D., Orr, M. T., & Cohen, C. (2007). Preparing school leaders for a changing world: Lessons from exemplary leadership development programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford Educational Leadership Institute.

Lei, S., Gorelick, D., Short, K., Smallwood, L. & Wright-Porter, K. (2011). Academic cohorts:  Benefits and drawbacks of being a member of a Community of Learner. Education, 131 (3). 497-504. Retrieved from

Swayze, S. & Jakeman, R. C. (2014) Student Perceptions of Communication, Connectedness, and Learning in a Merged Cohort Course. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 62, 102-111.

Imel, S. (2002). Adult Learning in Cohort Groups. Eric Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education Practice Application Brief No. 24.

Wyatt, I. G. (2011). Nontraditional student engagement:  Increasing adult student success and retention.The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 59(1), 10-20. Retrieved from

Young, L. D, Crow, G., Ogawa, R., & Murphy, J. (2009). The handbook of research on leadership preparation. New York: Routledge.