Topics: New trends in engineering graduate education; Graduate student needs and experiences; and Innovative graduate programs and methods
In recent years, more condensed graduate programs (such as one-year Master’s programs) have emerged to better enable students to advance their understanding beyond the undergraduate level to aid in potential career advancement. However, limited research has been conducted to understand how the student experience in these programs compare to more traditional graduate programs and the motivators that influence students to enroll in these new programs.
In the fall of 2015, 7 engineering programs at a large, public university introduced new Master’s programs designed to be completed in one year rather than the more traditional 2+ years. In the spring of the first year of the program, the students in these innovative programs as well as all other Engineering Master’s and Ph.D. students were invited to participate in a Program Assessment survey. This survey was designed to explore student motivations for enrolling in their graduate program, career and research goals, academic perceptions, challenges, and program satisfaction. Respondents were separated in three groups for analysis: One-year Master’s students, More-than- one-year Master’s students, and Ph.D. students.
As expected, a majority of students in both One-year and More-than- one-year Master’s programs indicated their plans were to pursue a career in industry, followed by those planning to pursue a doctorate in an area of engineering. Both groups also had a majority of students indicate that research was at least moderately important to their career- and education-goals. However, for the More-than- one-year Master’s students only, the students who reported planning a career in industry rated research significantly less important than those with academically related career plans. Many Master’s students in traditional programs have, therefore, indicated that they do not see research expertise as their primary goal for completing the program. These programs may want to consider the goals and activities offered for Master’s students and whether or not they are aiding students in meeting their career goals.
Results showed that among the expected motivators of career goals, speed, and cost, One-year Master’s students also reported different responses on the three Likert-style scales that asked students about academic perceptions, challenges, and program satisfaction. One-year and More-than- one-year Master’s students’ responses were not significantly different for their academic perceptions or program satisfaction. However, the One-year students rated the level of challenge of their programs significantly higher than their More-than- one-year counterparts, specifically rating coursework, course load, and out of class experiences with faculty as significantly more challenging. This is not unexpected as these programs are meant to be accelerated and are new programs being offered for the first time. However, to encourage success and increased satisfaction with the One-year Master’s programs, suggestions for way to reduce these challenges moving forward will be discussed in more detail in the paper.
Future plans include collecting further data in Spring 2017, which will function both to replicate and to reveal the effects of improvements implemented following the initial year of the programs.
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