Nearly half of graduate students in the U.S. leave without finishing their degrees, but UC Davis officials are looking to change this statistic with the creation of a new task force aimed at identifying the barriers students face.
The completion rate for doctoral students at UC Davis is currently 50.6 percent, according to a press release from the Graduate Studies Department. This number is slightly higher than the national average, but is still a concerning percentage, said Hector Cuevas, director of outreach, recruitment and retention for the Office of Graduate Studies.
“The amount of investment in terms of money and time that a university puts into an individual graduate student is remarkably higher than the investment it puts into an undergraduate student,” he said. “When the university is losing these qualified, talented students, the university really suffers.“
The percentage looks particularly low when compared to retention rates of other post-graduate programs such as law and medicine, where completion rates are around 90 percent, said Lenora Timm, dean of students at the Office of Graduate Studies and co-chair of the task force.
“Any professional school would see this [50 percent] retention rate as ridiculous,“ said Timm.
To combat the low completion rate, the Office of Graduate Studies has teamed up with the Graduate Council to create the Task Force on Graduate Student Retention. The task force recently created a survey which it hopes will help in determining the obstacles that prevent graduate students from obtaining their degrees.
“The survey will be sent out to all 3,000 doctoral students and will ask them about their experiences in areas such as financial support, program environment and relationships with peers and with faculty members,” Timm said. “The aim is to find out more about these students‘ needs so that the university can better understand what it can do to better meet those needs.“
The task force is comprised of seventeen members representing faculty, staff and students as well as several groups on campus, Cuevas said.
“The task force was carefully designed to include a cross section of the campus that is involved in graduate education,” he said. “We have members from the Black Graduate Student Association, the Latino Student Association, the Women’s Center and the LGBT Center … they are very active in the committee and were very helpful in putting together this survey.“
Timm said that the task force has been working on the survey since last September and hopes to distribute it by the end of the month.
“We worked very hard to design a survey that speaks to the uniqueness of UC Davis,” she said. “Every campus has its own environment and services that are available to students … we hope to use the findings from this survey to make recommendations to the university on how it can help improve the student experience.“
Though the results from the survey will not be available for at least another five months, past studies have been done on this issue and have provided some insight into the reasons that students do not finish their graduate degrees.
“Based on past research, there are several components that contribute to low retention rates,” said Helen Frasier, an analyst for the Department of Graduate Studies. “For many students it is just a matter of life happening … individual situations arise which cannot be controlled by a campus administrator.“
However, there are various elements of the student experience that can be improved by the university, Frasier said.
“In addition to things like financial funding, one of the most important factors that determine whether a student will complete their doctoral degree is the relationship they have with a mentor,” she said. “Graduate students really need to be exposed to an environment that is supportive of their research. Having a faculty member take a student under their wing is really vital to that student feeling supported professionally.“
Cuevas said the survey will be anonymous and will be sent out to graduate students as early as next week. The committee will then comprise a report which it hopes to publish by next fall.
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