June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Educational Research and Methods
13.653.1 - 13.653.15
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
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