Graduation rates and first-time National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) pass rates among doctor of physical therapy (DPT) programs have ranged from 30-100% and 0-100% between 2008 and 2017, respectively.1,2 Prior studies on predictors of graduation rates and NPTE pass rates have used cross-sectional student and program data and have not studied faculty data.3,4,5 It is unknown how faculty may influence DPT student outcomes. Following the theory of academic capitalism, programs would notice changes over the past 10 years as institutions become increasingly subjected to the academic capitalist environment of uncertain budgets and heightened competition.6,7 Theory predicts growing gaps in qualifications for and duties of teaching and research faculty over time,6,7 which could impact student outcomes,7 including graduation rates and NPTE pass rates. The purpose of this study was to understand how trends in DPT faculty and program characteristics correlated with graduation rates and first-time NPTE pass rates.
This study was a retrospective panel analysis of yearly data from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education Annual Accreditation Reports. The final sample consisted of 231 programs between 2008 and 2017. Independent variables were graduation rates and first-time NPTE pass rates by program. Dependent variables included 14 faculty characteristics (including number of faculty, faculty vacancies, academic doctoral degrees, etc.) and 12 program characteristics (including total cost, expenses per student, number of students, Carnegie classification, etc.) Random effects models estimated the correlations between faculty and program characteristics on graduation rates and first-time NPTE pass rates.
Graduation rates peaked when programs devoted 25% of faculty time, on average, to scholarship. The number of peer-reviewed publications was positively correlated with graduation rates, though the trend was logarithmic, indicating a diminishing rise in graduation rates as the number of publications exceeded one per faculty FTE. Tenure track status, faculty of color, and part-time faculty were all negatively correlated with first-time NPTE pass rates. However, these three trends are likely not meaningful, as the predicted rates of decline in pass rates were minimal in each case. Academic doctoral degrees were not associated with changes in either graduation rates or NPTE pass rates.
Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme:
Faculty engagement in scholarly activities may positively influence graduation rates, but only up to a certain level of faculty time devoted to scholarship. It is possible that students may therefore demonstrate improvements in graduation rates in programs with a certain level of faculty engagement in scholarship, or, as theory would suggest, highly qualified students may be more attracted to programs that appear to be more prestigious as demonstrated by their research emphasis. Programs with more prestige and resources may be better able to support students in their academic endeavors, but further research is needed. The well-being of students and future healthcare practitioners may be influenced by the academic capitalist environment.