Examining Predictors of Professional Master Degree Completion at a Highly Diverse Research Institution



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Background: Master’s seeking students comprise over 81% of the graduate degrees awarded in the United States, but limited research focuses on master programs; most research has instead focused on baccalaureate or doctoral degree completion. Consequently, there are major gaps in knowledge about the demographic and academic factors that affect academic success among master’s degree students. Purpose: This study examined academic success and degree completion among a sample of master’s degree-seeking students by applying Tinto’s (1987) seminal framework of college student attrition. The study addressed three research questions: 1) What factors increase the likelihood of professional master student academic success, as measured by cumulative GPA?; 2) What factors increase the likelihood of professional master degree completion?; and 3) To what extent does the Tinto framework designed to map undergraduate degree completion explain professional master student degree completion? Methods: Using an institutional administrative dataset, this quantitative study examined n= 696 students enrolled in two professionally focused master degree programs (Business and Education) at a large, racially/ethnically diverse research university in the Southwest United States. Data analysis included descriptive statistics, hierarchical multiple regression to analyze the predictability of GPA, and logistic regression to examine how key factors affect degree completion. Results: Tinto’s framework did not provide a strong overall fit in terms of explaining student GPA, though several variables in this model were significant including full-time enrollment, summer enrollment, age, Black, Hispanic, college affiliation, and program affiliation. However, Tinto’s framework was effective at explaining master’s degree completion with significant variables including GPA, full-time enrollment, summer enrollment, Black, and Hispanic. Conclusion: Though originally designed to study undergraduate student attrition, results from the present study suggest that several constructs from Tinto’s framework (pre-entry attributes, academic performance, student effort, and institutional experiences) are also salient for understanding attrition and degree completion among students in master’s degree programs. Findings also indicate the importance of professional assimilation among master’s students, which graduate programs could strengthen by focusing on professional goals and community development to foster students’ career pathways. Other institutional strategies that could increase master’s degree attainment include reviewing graduate admission test scores within context of the whole admission application, and expanding summer course offerings to decrease student’s time to degree. This study advances scholarship on master’s degree-seeking students and outlines policies and practices that will enable postsecondary institutions to better serve this growing, diverse student population.