Grad review to examine master’s program

mastersgraph
Photo by Antonia Woodford.

After the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences reviewed its doctoral programs last year, a similar effort is underway to evaluate the school’s terminal master’s programs.

By meeting with directors of graduate studies and compiling statistics on each program — such as data on applications, admissions rates, enrollments and degree completion rates — administrators hope to determine the reasons students enter these programs and how successful the programs are at meeting students’ needs, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School Carl Hashimoto said in a Tuesday email. The comprehensive review will consider issues such as how master’s programs award course credit, the job placement of graduates and funding arrangements master’s programs have with the Graduate School , administrators said.

Administrators have been gathering data since the fall, and they are now in the process of visiting individual departments to discuss those programs, Associate Dean of the Graduate School Richard Sleight said in a Tuesday email. As of Tuesday, administrators had met with seven of Yale’s master’s programs, and they will also seek feedback from a student survey, Hashimoto said.

“The review involves taking a ‘snapshot’ of the programs by gathering data and then sharing and discussing the information with departments and programs,” Sleight said. “We began this study with no specific ‘action items’ in mind. We simply want to see where we are in master’s student training.”

Not all of the Graduate School’s 22 terminal master’s programs — which students enter to earn only a master’s degree rather than the degree en route to a Ph.D. at Yale — have new students each year. The current review focuses on the 14 programs that are “active,” which includes programs that have a few students or as many as 30 entering in a given year, Hashimoto said.

Sleight and Hashimoto declined to comment on the results thus far, as the review is still ongoing. They said they expect to finish collecting information by the end of this semester.

When the Graduate School collected information during the 2010-’11 academic year for its review of doctoral programs, some professors worried that their programs would be compared unfairly to other programs. But administrators maintained that last year’s review aimed to increase transparency and to evaluate best practices.

Three directors of graduate studies in departments that have terminal master’s degrees said they did not know specific details of the current review.

One aspect of the review will involve making sure that master’s programs are in compliance with new federal standards about credit hours, administrators said. The U.S. Department of Education announced a new definition of a “credit hour” in October 2010 that has implications for the minimum number of credit hours students must complete to earn a master’s degree.

Because the Graduate School does not record credit hours on students’ transcripts, it must make sure all its master’s programs meet a 30-credit hour requirement in total, as prescribed by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Sleight said.

He added that Yale’s programs generally meet this requirement but may require clearer documentation for compliance.

Five directors of graduate studies for master’s programs said they were unaware of the credit hours issue or uncertain whether the new requirements would impact their programs.

The review will also look at student outcomes — such as what jobs master’s students take after graduation — and the purposes terminal master’s programs serve.

Students choose to enroll in master’s programs for a variety of reasons, including gaining qualifications before applying to a doctoral program and boosting their career possibilities in fields where a master’s degree leads to a higher salary, Associate Dean of the Graduate School Pamela Schirmeister said.

Eckart Frahm, director of graduate studies for the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department, said master’s students in his department use their time to improve their language skills and have been “fairly successful” in gaining admission to Ph.D. programs afterwards.

Francesca Trivellato, director of graduate studies for history, said the History department does not keep records of master’s students’ job placements. But she said a general review of master’s programs seems like “a good idea” given the “wide variability” in arrangements the Graduate School has with departments about these programs.

The Graduate School released its report on doctoral programs at Yale in August 2011.

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