The Preprofessional Degree: Is It a Predictor of Success in Physical Therapy Education Programs?

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Background and Purpose.

Admitting physical therapist (PT) students to professional programs based on predictors of future academic, clinical, and licensure examination performance has been the subject of a number of studies. The best known predictor of student performance is the admission grade point average (GPA). Although the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) indicates a preference for an undergraduate degree at admission to physical therapy programs, there is little research that supports a preadmission undergraduate degree as a predictor of academic performance or success on the national licensure examination. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the preprofessional baccalaureate degree is a significant predictor of student outcomes.


Two geographically diverse professional physical therapy doctoral degree programs, admitting students with either a bachelor's degree or at least 3 years (90 credits) of prephysical therapy coursework, contributed study data. The records of 290 graduates from the programs were reviewed.


A retrospective observational cohort research design was applied. Variables included admission undergraduate degree status, admission science grade point average and cumulative grade point average (SGPA and CGPA), professional program grade point averages (PGPA), first attempt National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) scale scores, and the number of attempts to pass the NPTE. Nonparametric and parametric tests were used to analyze differences between the 2 PT programs, as well as between students with or without a degree. Logistic regression was applied to identify variables that might predict student ability to pass the NPTE on a first attempt. Multiple regressions were used to identify predictors of PGPA and first attempt NPTE scale score.


The admission SGPA and PGPA were predictors of passing the NPTE on the first attempt. Degree status was not a significant predictor. Admission CGPA and degree status predicted the PGPA with R2 values of .275 and .052, respectively. Admission SGPA, PGPA, and degree status predicted the first attempt NPTE scale score with R2 values of .078, .316, and .012, respectively.


The degree status was not a meaningful predictor of student outcome. Statistically significant predictors were found for (1) passing the NPTE on the first attempt (admission SGPA and PGPA); (2) PGPA (admission CGPA and degree status); and (3) first attempt NPTE scale score (admission SGPA, PGPA, and degree status). While degree status contributed to the PGPA and NPTE scale score outcomes, only 5% and 1% of the variability were attributed to degree status, respectively.

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