Graduate School master’s programs reviewed

Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard released a report on master’s programs Wednesday, following a comprehensive review of Yale’s doctoral programs conducted in 2011.

The report, which was compiled by Pollard’s office, examined the 20 terminal master’s programs — one- or two-year programs that do not transition into a Yale doctoral program — administered by the Graduate School of Art and Sciences. Based on interviews with faculty and a comprehensive survey of the 200 students enrolled in the programs, the report recommends that departments review their master’s programs, create a system to track graduates from each program after graduation, conduct regular surveys and find ways to recognize the role master’s students play in relation to other parts of the University.

According to the report, 84 percent of master’s students said they would recommend their programs to others, but many felt master’s students were prioritized below the more numerous undergraduate and doctoral candidates and suggested improvements to advising, course offerings and workspace options.

“Terminal master’s programs constitute a small fraction of the education that we provide at Yale, but they are important to students in certain areas,” Pollard said. “Finding out whether they meet the needs of these students was the goal of the study.”

Carl Hashimoto, Graduate School assistant dean, said the Dean’s Office wanted to take a separate look at the one- and two-year master’s programs to assess where these students fit into the framework of the Graduate School, which is largely composed of doctoral candidates. He said the Dean’s Office interviewed the directors of graduate studies for each program that has terminal master’s students and conducted a thorough survey of enrolled students through the Office of Institutional Research.

Hashimoto said the report indicated the master’s experience varied across disciplines and departments. Students in the humanities expressed the highest degree of satisfaction with their programs, and students in the hard sciences expressed the lowest level of satisfaction. One-hundred percent of humanities students, compared to 51 percent of science and 55 percent of social science students, said they are “very satisfied” with the quality of instruction and faculty interaction.

Hashimoto added that these results suggest the Graduate School and its individual departments should re-examine the programs with lower satisfaction ratings and consider ways to improve student experience with faculty.

“I think the hope is that this report provides a base for assessment and reflection that make change possible,” Hashimoto said. “We wanted to gain information that would be useful for the programs themselves, and ultimately for the Dean’s Office.”

The number of applications to master’s programs has doubled in the past 10 years, according to the report, and there has been a roughly 50 percent increase in the number of admissions offers extended.

Holly Rushmeier, chair of the Computer Science Department, said the increase in applications reflects a national trend, as employers look for people with experience beyond their undergraduate program but do not require the intense research training students receive in doctoral programs.

But despite the increase, master’s students remain a small percentage of the overall campus student body. In the 2011–’12 academic year, roughly 200 students were enrolled in terminal master’s programs, compared to roughly 2,500 doctoral students and over 5,000 undergraduates. Only four of the 20 programs have more than 15 students per year, and nine of the 20 programs have five or fewer.

Hashimoto said the report revealed that most students applied to pursue terminal master’s degrees either as a precursor to further graduate work or in anticipation of directly entering the workforce, which he said makes it difficult to address some of the issues that emerge from different departments because program participants have different goals.

Aaron Gerow, director of graduate studies for East Asian Studies, said he hopes the report will remind faculty that the master’s programs, while small, are still an important part of the Graduate School.

“My general take on this report is that in general Yale is doing a very good job with its master’s programs, but that in itself should be better known,” Gerow said. “I think Yale should be a little bit more aware of the importance of both the master’s students and these master’s programs.”

Eleven of Yale’s 12 professional schools administer separate master’s programs that were not examined in the Graduate School report.

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