Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


A Grounded Theory Study of the Self-Authorship Development of Art and Design Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Maureen E. Wilson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Ellen M. Broido (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Barbara Bergstrom (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jacob Edward Clemens (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

John Liederbach (Committee Member)


The purpose and value of higher education have been debated for centuries as proponents of technical or liberal ideals have advocated for their respective positions. Post-secondary art and design education has been affected by such debates, causing arts educators to justify their existence and demonstrate a return on investment for undergraduate students’ degree attainment. However, quantitative measures of success through career and financial criteria fail to recognize the inherent value of arts education on the development of students as people and creators, which is an oft-espoused outcome of the arts. Further, student development in higher education is a well-researched field and student affairs practitioners use student development theory to inform their work. Yet such theories have evolved in waves marked by critique of the limitations inherent with theories past. Today’s practitioners question the relevancy of student development theories on distinct student populations and within specific settings, including art and design contexts.

The purpose of this study was to construct a theory of self-authorship based on experiences described by undergraduate students studying art and design and to understand what factors students describe as influential to such development. The research questions are: (a) How do art and design students describe their development toward self-authorship in college? and (b) What factors do art and design students describe as influential in their development toward self-authorship?

Using constructivist grounded theory methodology, I developed a theory of self-authorship specific to the nuances of the art and design context that includes three components: (a) considering post-secondary study in the arts, (b) adapting to the arts environment, and (c) shifting from extrinsic to intrinsic orientations to develop a creative identity and live a creative life. Factors that influenced students’ self-authorship development included pre-college experiences with the arts, adjustment to curricular and work expectations on campus, students’ sense of self, and students’ view of the creative community. Each of these were further prefaced by students’ pre-existing orientation, their feelings of belonging within the creative community, and their openness to new experiences.

The findings of this study support the notion that the art and design context is supportive of students’ self-authorship development and that arts educators and administrators can support such development by supporting arts exposure at the P-20 level, balancing students’ feelings of challenge during adjustment to the creative environment by providing explicit expectations about their experience, and working to promote students’ feelings of acceptance within the creative community.