Enhancing the Quality of U.S. Graduate Schools

Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010

The final "main assumption" made in Graduate Education: Backbone of American Competitiveness and Innovation, released in April 2007 by the Council of Graduate Schools' Advisory Committee on Graduate Education and American Competitiveness (CGS), is that the United States must improve the quality of its graduate education system through continuous research and evaluation.

Assessment and strategy

The Council of Graduate Schools report indicates that the quality of the United States' graduate education system is directly correlated to the country's leadership status when it comes to research and innovation. The report found that the content, skills, frameworks and delivery of graduate programs are changing in order to fit today's knowledge base, work demands and technology. Many universities have been attempting to assess their graduate programs, but some of the metrics are hard to measure.

Two standout national projects have been contributing to the innovations implemented in graduate schools in the United States-the Council of Graduate Schools' Ph.D. Completion Project and the National Research Council's Assessment of Doctoral Programs. The Ph.D. Completion Project is a partnership between the Council of Graduate Schools, Pfizer and the Ford Foundation. It has funded the assessment of doctoral completion rates at 21 major U.S. and Canadian research universities.

The assessments of doctoral completion rates are examined across a range of fields, and are meant to help create and implement strategies to increase completion. The Completion Project is designed to establish the most comprehensive and useful data compiled to date on the completion rates of doctoral studies. The report indicates that although most doctoral students are quite capable of completing their program, only 50 to 60 percent actually do so.

The Assessment of Research Doctoral Programs is a cooperative effort between the National Research Council and more than 200 U.S. doctoral-training institutions. The programs are designed to strategize ways to improve graduate education, as well as ways to get the word out to students and the public about the benefits of a graduate degree. The assessments are expected to be reported later this year.

Fostering innovation

The Council of Graduate Schools has also teamed up with the National Science Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Atlantic Philanthropies and the Association of American Colleges and Universities to create the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program. PFF programs are a part of more than 45 institutions that award doctoral degrees. Through the program, doctoral students are able to observe the faculties of several graduate schools. PFF aims to entice more students into graduate education, as well as careers in research and teaching.

The report acknowledges that some metrics of graduate school quality are difficult to measure, such as creativity and risk-taking. The report calls for universities to find ways to encourage students to take intellectual and academic risks. It also suggests that universities get involved with the National Research Council's Assessment of Research Doctoral Programs, as well as with the Council of Graduate Schools' Ph.D. Completion Project.

The business sector is called upon to support the risk-taking research programs that prepare students for later employment. Universities and governments are encouraged to come up with some creative ways to improve the completion rates of doctoral candidates. The report suggests that to do so, university administrators should use data gleaned from the assessment studies that focus on graduate education quality and accountability.



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