The Relationship between School/department Rankings, Student Achievements, and Student Experiences: The Case of Psychology

By Stenstrom, Douglas M.; Curtis, Mathew et al. | International Journal of Doctoral Studies, Annual 2015 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between School/department Rankings, Student Achievements, and Student Experiences: The Case of Psychology


Stenstrom, Douglas M., Curtis, Mathew, Iyer, Ravi, International Journal of Doctoral Studies


Introduction

What predicts academic success during graduate school? How does the average student evaluate his or her graduate school experience? The current research started while the authors were in graduate school studying social psychology and wondered about the relative experiences of other graduate students. Through conducting a national survey of psychology graduate students, we sought to quantify aspects of the graduate school experience. We hoped to understand what predicted professional success as well as what predicted the subjective experience of life in graduate school as students navigate the program year-by-year.

To address these two main focuses (objective academic benchmarks and subjective experience of graduate school), the current paper reports on a survey of 3,311 graduate students from all psychological disciplines that addresses different aspects of individual accomplishments and experiences while in graduate school at each year in the graduate program. To fully understand the influences of these variables, we integrated our survey with the newly released preeminent assessment of department-level rankings from the National Research Council (Assessment of Research Doctoral Programs, n.d.) as well as school-level rankings systems from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (Carnegie 2005 Edition, n.d.) and the U.S. News and World Report rankings (US News & World Report, 2012). Through integrating all three levels (i.e., student-level variables from our national survey, department-level rankings compiled from faculty variables, and school-level rankings), it is possible to examine previously unaddressed associations and predictors of each level. For example, what is the relationship between individual achievements like publications/posters and psychological needs [autonomy, relationships, competency] (Deci & Ryan, 2000)? Is graduate school meeting the psychological needs of students at different years in the program? What predicts happiness or competence in graduate school? Are students at more prestigious departments or colleges happier and more productive?

More precisely, the current research addresses our two main focuses (objective accomplishments and subjective experiences) by investigating (1) how department/school rankings are associated with these student variables, (2) what predicts these student variables, and (3) examining the student variables year-by-year in the program to explain changes over time and allow the reader to identify comparative benchmarks at different points in the graduate career. There are many potential consumers of these results. First, the answers presented will hopefully help other graduate students understand the factors that broadly affect graduate students achievements and experiences. Second, the data is valuable to institutional and national policy makers in formulating and administering policy for graduate education. Finally, the data allows departments and schools to quantify the effect of rankings, which are a focus of many institutions, in terms of objective student accomplishments and subjective student experiences while in graduate school.

Method

Participants

Participants were 4,162 graduate students (3,311 PhD and 851 MA) in psychology programs in the United States and Canada. The current research focuses on the 3,311 PhD students because the newly released department-level ranking system is restricted to assessment of doctoral programs. The majority of participants were younger than 30 years old (M = 28.42, Mdn = 27.00, SD = 5.41) and female (910 males and 2,387 females). Data was collected between May-June 2007 at the same time that the National Research Council (NRC) department-level ranking system was compiled, and after years of processing the data the NRC ranking system was eventually released to the public in 2011 (National Research Council, 2011). In the original dataset of 4162 respondents, an additional 32 did not indicate program type (MA, PhD) so we opted for a conservative approach of removing them from data analysis since we could not confirm they were PhD students. …

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