Exploring graduate engineering students' reasons for original enrollment and current persistence in engineering master's and PhD programs

Gabriella M. Sallai, Matthew Bahnson, Catherine G.P. Berdanier

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The purpose of this research paper is to capture reasons engineering master's and PhD students enroll in and persist through their graduate degrees. Graduate enrollment literature has largely focused on undergraduate students' perceptions of graduate education and has also characterized the factors, including research experience, high self-efficacy, and math proficiency, that contribute to undergraduate students' intentions to pursue a graduate degree. Few studies, however, have explored what reasons motivate students to enroll in master's or PhD programs or whether there are differences based on degree type. Fewer, still, explore what reasons motivate students to persist in their degree once they are already enrolled. Given that enrollment and persistence are critical issues for national competitiveness in industry and academia, it is important to understand why today's engineering master's and PhD students enroll in and persist through their degrees and whether those reasons vary based on different demographic factors. To this end, we report quantitative results of a nationwide survey of n=1084 engineering master's and PhD students across the United States that asked students i) why they chose to enroll in their graduate program and ii) why they are persisting through their program. The descriptive statistics presented here also explore the patterns in this data with regard to gender, race/ethnicity, and year in graduate program. Results indicate that master's and PhD students enroll and persist through their graduate programs for different reasons. Our data also show that participants reasons for persisting in their respective degrees are more varied than their original reasons for enrolling, indicating that students' experiences are causing them to change their perspectives on why they should continue in their degree. This paper is one of the first to explore whether there are differences in enrolling and persisting for master's and PhD students and to understand what the reasons are for persisting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 25 2023
Event2023 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - The Harbor of Engineering: Education for 130 Years, ASEE 2023 - Baltimore, United States
Duration: Jun 25 2023Jun 28 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering

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