Defining the Graduate College Experience: What it “Should” versus “Does” Include

Patricia L. Hardre, Shannon Hackett
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 10  •  2015  •  pp. 057 - 077
Gaps between expectations and actual educational experience may influence motivation, learning and performance. The graduate college experience (GCE) is shrouded in myth and legend that may create unrealistic expectations, while its reality includes elements of politics, economics and organizational psychology. This study examined 1,629 present and former graduate students’ perceptions of what their graduate school experiences should and did include. The sample was analyzed as a whole and also divided and tested for subgroup differences by: degree types (masters and doctorate); at four different points along their degree paths (entrance, midpoint, exit, alumni); and by disciplinary subgroups (hard sciences, social sciences, arts, interdisciplinary). Statistically significant differences were found between subgroups on perceptions of what the GCE “should” and “does” include separately. Further, within-groups comparison of what the graduate college experience “should” and “does” include showed significant differences for the whole group and all subgroups. In addition, the differences between graduate students’ expected and actual experience (should - does) negatively predicted overall satisfaction with their graduate experience. These contrasts of students’ actual and expected graduate experiences present potential to explain some of graduate students’ dissatisfaction and non-completion, and offer information to support program improvement and retention of graduate students.
Graduate education, graduate school expectations, attrition, graduate student satisfaction, program improvement
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