Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


A Grounded Theory of Chinese College Students' Self-Authorship Development

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Ellen Broido (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Christina Lunceford (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

William Sawaya (Other)


The purpose of this grounded theory study was to develop a theory that explains the process of self-authorship development of college students in China. Little research exists that explicitly explores the integrated development of college students in China and influences on that development from the educational environment. Despite the extensive research in U.S. higher education settings on students’ development from an integrated perspective, little comparable research has been done in the context of college students in China.

I interviewed 13 junior or senior college students from three institutions in one province in China via synchronous video conferencing. I utilized convenience sampling to choose the province, purposive sampling to select the three institutions with different rankings, purposive sampling to choose the first six participants, and then theoretical sampling to select the subsequent seven participants, until theoretical saturation was reached. I used constant comparative analysis to facilitate theoretical sampling and the data analysis process.

An initial conceptual model of self-authorship development emerged from this study. The trajectory of development in the epistemological domain is from depending on external sources’ knowing to beginning to construct knowledge. The trajectory of development in the interpersonal domain is from being subordinate or dominant in relationships to striving for mutual relationships. In other words, participants were becoming less dependent in relationships. The intrapersonal domain is comprised of three dimensions: self-defined goals, self-efficacy, and self-knowledge. The trajectory of development in the intrapersonal domain is from unclear self-defined goals to clear self-defined goals, low self-efficacy to high self-efficacy, and little self-knowledge to robust self-knowledge. In addition, I found four factors promoting participants’ self-authorship development: absence of externally defined goals, flexibility to explore, support from peers and students in higher grades, and engagement in extracurricular activities.

This study suggests multiple directions for future research, which include exploration of Chinese college students’ post-graduation experience to look at their further self-authorship development and their self-authorship development in different contexts to explore how their meaning-making structures associate with different contexts. The findings also provide insights for policy makers in the Chinese higher education system, colleges and universities in China, and professionals and practitioners in Chinese higher education about ways to promote students’ holistic development.