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B.C. grad students tell us what they think about their programs
After putting in four years or more to achieve an undergraduate degree, how likely is someone to dive in for more? Are graduate studies worth the cost, time and considerable commitment? A first-of-its-kind study in British Columbia is shedding light on what masters and doctoral students really think about their programs, and is helping to determine how relevant graduate studies are to the workplace.
B.C.’s Ministry of Advanced Education and the Universities Presidents’ Council surveyed the graduates in 2006 in order to measure graduate outcomes and to obtain feedback on the relationship between graduate education and the labour market. The online survey was administered to 3,602 graduates from the University of British Columbia, the University of Northern British Columbia, Royal Roads University, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria. Two cohort years were selected—2000-2001 and 2003-2004—in order to obtain sufficient data for analysis. In total, 929 masters and doctoral graduates responded, for an overall response rate of 25.7 per cent. (Article continues below.)
Selected charts from the B.C. University Survey of Graduates from Masters and Doctorate Programs:
Survey analyst Walter Sudmant believes this is the only survey of this type to examine graduate outcomes, and while it included some of the satisfaction questions typically found on surveys designed for undergrads, the survey also asked specific questions to measure whether or not grads were applying the higher level of thinking, creativity, research and teamwork skills they acquired during their grad work to their current jobs. Grads were also asked if they were employed in jobs related to their graduate program. “We talk about graduate students and how they are the true carriers of new knowledge into the economy,” says Sudmant, “yet we don’t have any evidence of that directly.” With the results of this survey showing a strong link between graduate education and the labour market, Sudmant observes: “Now we’ve got some data to back up our rhetoric.”
The study found that skills acquired during graduate studies are highly transferable to the workplace. Ninety-four percent of respondents stated that the knowledge, skills and abilities acquired during graduate education were very or somewhat useful in their work. The skill set cited included: specific techniques and methods; translating scholarly research into applications relevant to work; motivation to develop new ideas; and the ability to work as part of a research team. The study also found that 91 per cent of respondents found their job was very or somewhat related to their program. This compares to only 73 per cent of undergrad degree holders who see the same level of correlation between their job and their bachelor’s degree program.
Graduates expressed a high level of satisfaction with the education they received, with 93 per cent declaring they were satisfied or very satisfied. Similarly, 88 per cent said they would recommend their university to prospective students. Only 73 per cent, however, said they would take the same program again, suggesting room for improvement in the educational process. Student comments pointed to a number of areas of dissatisfaction, including the quality of supervision and course instruction, lack of timely feedback and access to committee members, cost of an education, perceived better opportunities in other provinces or in the United States, as well as changed interests and lack of career opportunities.
When asked about their reasons for pursuing graduate studies, 60 per cent of respondents cited the need to enhance career opportunities and 40 per cent included the desire to continue pursuing scholarly and research interests among their reasons. Only 3.4 per cent of respondents mentioned a lack of employment opportunities, challenging the notion that students enter graduate studies due to poor job prospects.