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Graduate School Or Not: Engineering Students Consider Continuing Their Education In Co Terminal Programs

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

SPECIAL SESSION: Describing the Engineering Student Learning Experience Based on CAEE Findings: Part 2

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.653.1 - 13.653.15



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Paper Authors


Kristyn Jackson Stanford University

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Kristyn Jackson is a Ph.D. student at the Center for Design Research in the Mechanical Engineering
Department at Stanford University. Her research interests include K-12 grade students engineering education, students' misconceptions of dynamics, and development of engineering students. Ms. Jackson received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. She also received a Master of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University

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Tori Bailey Stanford University

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Tori Bailey is a Ph.D. student at the Center for Design Research in the Mechanical Engineering
Department at Stanford University. Her research interests include academic and professional
identity development of engineering students, academic advising of engineering students, history
of engineering education in the U.S., and the organization of engineering education programs.
Ms. Bailey received a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from Spelman College and a Bachelor's
Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology where she was a
NASA Women in Science and Engineering Scholar. She also holds a Master's Degree in
Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University.
Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design-related classes at Stanford University,
Dr. Sheppard is co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant which
formed the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), along with faculty at the University of Washington, Colorado School of Mines, and Howard University. Dr. Sheppard
was named a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) and the
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1999, and in 2004 she was
awarded the ASEE Chester F. Carlson Award in recognition of distinguished accomplishments in
engineering education.

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Helen Chen Stanford University

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HELEN CHEN is a Research Scientist at the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning and the
Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), Stanford University. Her current
research focuses on the application of electronic portfolio pedagogy and practices in engineering
education and the evaluation of eportfolios and other social software tools (wikis, weblogs, etc.)
to facilitate teaching, learning, and assessment for students, faculty, departments, and institutions.

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This research highlights how institutional structures may influence students’ decisions to continue their education through a Master’s degree. Some universities strive to encourage more students to continue their education with dual degree programs, programs in which undergraduates can count courses from the last two or more terms of their undergraduate career towards their Master’s degree. In this paper, we look at engineering students’ decisions to enter into a dual degree graduate school at a mid-sized private university. We focus on the questions: Are these students critically evaluating their decision to pursue a graduate degree? What process are they going through to choose their program? Our research suggests that while universities with dual degree programs may encourage more students to pursue Master’s degrees, these dual degree programs may allow some students to avoid systematically considering their decisions.


The paths students follow after completing a bachelor’s degree in an engineering field are varied. According to the model presented by Sheppard and Silva based on students graduating with an engineering BS in 1996, three in 10 of these graduates will step into non-engineering employment or education, and the other seven will pursue engineering work or graduate education1. Of these seven, 46 percent (or 32 percent of the original 10) will eventually get a graduate degree in engineering. This number is consistent with data published by Saks2 looking at long-term national trends, and with more recent “degrees awarded” data from NSF3. We are interested in exploring how decisions to do graduate work in engineering are made. Among the questions to be examined are: What factors do students consider? How do students decide where to apply for graduate work and in what field? Who is involved in the decision?

In this paper we develop some preliminary answers to these questions for one particular group of students---those choosing to pursue a dual degree in engineering. Some universities offer students the option of completing their undergraduate degree and a master’s degree concurrently in a dual degree program after accumulating a certain number of units/hours towards their undergraduate degree. The timeframe to enter into a dual degree program is usually equivalent to mid-way through the student’s junior year or later. The availability of these degree options is fairly common; 51 percent of the 96 engineering schools in U.S. universities categorized as Doctorial Research University-Very High Research Activity4 have dual degree programs (see Appendix A for a listing of these schools).

We note that schools have several names of their programs, such as a concurrent BS/MS degree program, accelerated dual degree program, dual degree program, BS-MS program, coterminal degree program, and accelerated joint degree program. No matter the name, these are programs allowing students to work simultaneously on their last few units of their undergraduate program while beginning work on their graduate studies. We further note that of 51 percent of engineering schools with at least one dual degree program, several have created such a program in the last few years. For example, since 2005 there are new programs at the University of Colorado at Boulder Mechanical Engineering Department5 and at the University of Texas at Austin Petroleum Engineering Department6. Finally, we note that the concept of dual degree

Jackson, K., & Bailey, T., & Sheppard, S., & Chen, H. (2008, June), Graduate School Or Not: Engineering Students Consider Continuing Their Education In Co Terminal Programs Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3612

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015