Exploring Student Persistence to Completion in a Master of Public Health Programme in South Africa

African Journal of Health Professions Education / March 2020

UCSF First-gen Student Health 2

Student persistence can be defined as the continuation of student enrolment and progression towards the completion of a qualification. Despite the increased number of postgraduate enrolments, attrition from postgraduate programmes is estimated at 40 - 50% in most countries globally. The throughput for Master of Public Health (MPH) programmes in South Africa (SA) ranged from 25% to 60% between 2009 and 2014. MPH students study primarily part-time and reside off campus. This study adopted a constructivist approach to explore the phenomenon of persistence to completion in a Master of Public Health programme in South Africa. Data were collected through face-to-face in-depth interviews with graduates who completed the MPH degree between 2006 and 2014. Interviews were conducted from August 2015 to the end of October 2015. Each interview was audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. A thematic analysis was implemented. The findings indicated that personal, social, work and academic characteristics influenced student persistence to completion. Career advancement, the status that comes with an MPH qualification and being a first-generation postgraduate student provide internal and external motivations that have an impact on student persistence. An interplay between self-efficacy and social capital positively influences student persistence to completion.