Modeling American Graduate Students’ Perceptions Predicting Dropout Intentions

Patricia L. Hardre, Lihui Liao, Yaser Dorri, Malea Beeson Stoesz
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 105-132
Aim/Purpose: Dropout is a critical problem in graduate college programs across disciplines and institutions. Yet relatively little research has assessed graduate students’ motivations for dropping out across disciplines, or systematically modeled perceptions that contribute to dropout intentions.

Background: Perceptions drive critical decisions that people make about their lives, and a core set of these perceptions consistently predict adults’ educational intentions and choices. This study investigates how a set of critical perceptions predict the strength of graduate students’ dropout intentions.

Methodology: This study models their differential contributions using structural equation modeling, in AMOS®. Participants were 886 masters and doctoral students across programs and colleges in a Southwestern university in the United States.

Findings: The best-fitting model demonstrated most significant influences on graduate students’ dropout intentions were predicted by: satisfaction with the overall graduate experience (not just program-of-study), self-efficacy for professional success (not just coursework), and the Perceived Graduate Experience Gap (expectations vs. experience in graduate school). Model fit was excellent for the whole group, and demonstrated some nuanced differences for subgroups, notably by degree type and point-in-program.

Recommendations for Practitioners: These findings illuminate considerations useful to graduate faculty and program administrators concerned about improving retention and completion. They can inform policies and practice for preventing and reducing graduate student dropout.
graduate education, graduate student retention, dropout intentions, graduate student perceptions, self-efficacy, satisfaction, graduate college experience, graduate experience gap, competence, identity development
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