Career outcomes and perceptions across graduate programs : an explanatory sequential mixed methods study of dispute resolution and conflict management alumni.
Universities and academic programs face increasing pressure to align educational outcomes and career outcomes for their students as a measure of program and student success (Coughlin et al., 2016). Graduate programs in the peace and conflict studies (PCS) field face similar issues in measuring student success due to the lack of evidence on career outcomes from various degree programs. Utilizing the theoretical framework of human capital theory and concepts of employability and career success, this study explored the career outcomes and perceptions of alumni from two graduate programs in dispute resolution and conflict management (DRCM) in the United States. An explanatory sequential mixed methods design proved most appropriate for this study as it provided the most insight into the diverse careers, fields, and positions that DRCM graduate students pursue after graduation. Through two phases of purposive sampling, the researcher identified DRCM alumni from two graduate programs at private universities in the Southern United States, not affiliated with law school alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs. To explore the range of outcome experiences, perceptions, and differences of DRCM graduate program alumni, the researcher used two forms of data collection, survey data and interviews. The researcher integrated the quantitative data and qualitative data in the final phase with the purpose of using the qualitative interview data to explain the quantitative career outcome’s data. This study filled a significant gap in knowledge and research on the experiences of DRCM master’s program alumni post-graduation. The study revealed that alumni held diverse employment in various fields and industries, largely in non-conflict-specific roles, while also describing a range of application, impact, and value of the degree to their current roles. In addition, alumni perceived themselves as employable, while also acknowledging the challenges and barriers of conflict work. Overall, the study found no statistically significant differences in objective and subjective career outcomes and perceptions between the alumni of the two DRCM graduate programs. Due to some overlap in curriculum design and practice areas between ADR, conflict resolution (CR), and peace studies (PS) graduate programs, this study impacts the PCS field, informing further research, curriculum development, and student services.