Chancellor's Task Force on Graduate Education

Growth for Excellence: Graduate Education at CU-Boulder

December 10, 1999

Report of the Chancellor's Task Force on Graduate Education

Task Force Membership:

Charge to the Task Force

Examine the delivery of graduate education on the campus as part of the Chancellor's initiative to increase the number of graduate students on the Boulder campus to 20-30% of the student body. As part of answering the question of how Boulder can increase the number of graduate students, the Task Force should examine graduate education nationally and locally, looking at trends and challenges in enrollment patterns and institutional responses to these trends. The Task Force should examine the present structure of graduate education on the Boulder campus, looking at centralization and decentralization of academic and student services, admissions and financial aid as well as the variety of advanced degree programs and post-baccalaureate educational opportunities. The charge, fundamentally stated, asks that the Task Force make a series of recommendations to facilitate growth for excellence in graduate education on the Boulder campus.

Preamble: A History of Reports and On-going Efforts

The Task Force began its examination of the present status and delivery of graduate education on the Boulder campus by assembling a variety of reports and recommendations that have been written over the past several years dealing with issues surrounding graduate education nationally, regionally and locally. These materials provide a wealth of research on the present status of graduate education not only nationally, but on the Boulder campus as well. The Task Force was able to utilize these reports as a beginning point for deliberation and analysis, concluding that some of these materials were important enough to include as appendices to this report. The campus has responded to at least some of the recommendations made in these reports. Unfortunately, a number of other recommendations have not been followed up and implemented. Where relevant and creative recommendations had been made, the Task Force, seeing no reason to reinvent the wheel, utilized such recommendations as part of its own conclusions.

In addition to previous reports, the Task Force has been able to join with the Student Odyssey Project, Phase II, in the examination of issues pertaining to graduate admission and application processes, an important part of the charge given to the Task Force as well. Two surveys, jointly designed by Student Odyssey and the Task Force, were submitted to all departments asking a series of questions about the process of graduate admissions both at the departmental level and centralized handling of admission functions through the Office of Admissions (See appendices A1 & A2). The response level of the combined surveys has given us feedback from 42 of 44 departments, permitting us to draw conclusions on perceived areas to address with graduate admissions, a key component in our understanding of the status of graduate education on the campus.

With the commitment by the Chancellor and Vice–Chancellors to the Student Odyssey project and the three task forces, it is the hope of the Task Force that our recommendations will serve as the basis for a substantial commitment to and examination of graduate education on the Boulder campus.

Best Practices in Graduate Education

Contextualizing its charge, the Task Force has sought to follow the recommendations for best practices made by the Association of American Universities in its major 1998 report on graduate education (See Appendix B). The Executive Summary of the AAU report makes a series of recommendations that give a blueprint of best practices that the Task Force felt could serve to guide deliberations and recommendations. For example, the recommendations of the AAU caution that value must continue to be placed upon the quality of graduate programs. Discussions of increasing graduate student enrollments must be predicated upon the cardinal value of continued development of high quality graduate education. No one wants quantity at the expense of quality. In addition, the AAU recommends that major efforts must continue to be made to diversify our graduate programs with students from underrepresented groups as well as international students. A commitment to the goals of quality graduate education as well as diversification and internationalization of the student body must take precedence over any immediate concern with growth of graduate programs. Having said that, a commitment to these same goals cannot but in the long run grow graduate education on the campus. The Task Force embraces these values and submits its recommendations for the growth of graduate education on the Boulder campus in the spirit of the AAU recommendations.

Graduate Education at the National Level: Context and Challenge

National context for the work of the Task Force is best represented by the CGS survey of graduate student enrollment from 1986 to 1997 (See appendix C). This study, representing 72% of the total number of graduate students enrolled nationally, was the foundation from which the Task Force gained an understanding of enrollment trends nationally and regionally. Summarizing several findings of the CGS study, across the entire period from1986 to 1997 there has been only a 1% growth in total graduate enrollments nationally. From 1995 to 1996 there was a 2% drop, from 1996 to 1997 there was an additional 1% drop in enrollments and early figures from 1998 show additional decline in enrollments nationally. By the same figures Research I publics have decreased in enrollment by 3% from 1996-1997 while all types of public institutions, which account for 70% of the total number of graduate students, dropped 1% in the same period of time. Total graduate enrollments as of 1997 are 1,241,356 and are divided 45% men, 55% women and 49% full time, 51% part time. Full time/part time is divided by institutional type; Ph.D. granting institutions have greater numbers of full time students, while terminal Masters institutions have many more part time students. The greatest enrollments are in fields related to education and business. Nationally total enrollment figures show a composition of 86% U.S. citizens/permanent residents and 14% non-U.S. citizen/temporary residents with more then 50% of the non-U.S. citizens enrolled at Research I institutions. Fields of highest enrollments for non–U.S. citizens are engineering and physical sciences. On the question of minority groups, approximately 20% of the total enrollment nationally are composed of identified ethnic groups with a general concentration in fields related to education and business.

As we attempt to project national enrollment trends out to 2005, we find that population predictions of the Bureau of Census are not encouraging for considering an influx of large numbers of new graduate students. A recent article cautions that as the smaller college age population experienced from 1982-1997 continues to age, it will strike a blow to the potential applicant pool for graduate school across the next several years (See appendix D). Figures are cited indicating that between 1995 and 2005 there will be a 4.8% drop in the 25–29 year–old graduate school applicant population nationally and a 16.5% drop in the 30–34 year–old pool nationally. Clearly any institution offering graduate programs has to be concerned about what such numbers bode for the next decade of graduate education and a Research I institution, whose mission is so directly linked to its capacity to deliver graduate education, needs to be even more concerned.

Add to the equation the desire to advance the cause of excellence of graduate education by enlarging an institution's capacity for graduate programs and there could be serious concerns. The growth of graduate programs requires a commitment to growth of faculty, students and facilities, a daunting task for any administration looking at the limitation of revenue streams available. One has to ask how any institution can create for itself the competitive edge, given the budget limitations, the increased number of institutional players, real and virtual, the challenge to residential institutions and the changing nature of the delivery of higher education. These challenges are also against a backdrop of questionable levels of support, both federal and state, for the advancement of higher education, and graduate education in particular. The present climate is simply not supportive of increased funding for higher education, not supportive of diversity initiatives and not supportive of encouraging the growth of international students. Still, these challenges, as difficult as are the obstacles they present, are themselves contextualized in an increasingly educated workforce and technological world that demands higher and higher levels of education and training in a global community. The shift is already well underway from the traditional baccalaureate degree to the master's degree as the terminal degree of choice if not requirement. However difficult its present circumstances, graduate education will prevail and we must plan for its future.

Boulder Graduate Education: Trends and Challenges

Graduate education on the Boulder campus shows both similarities and differences from the national issues spoken to above. At least some of the differences can be opportunities for growth initiatives at Boulder. Enrollment statistics at Boulder indicate for 1998-99 AY a 73%/27% resident/non–resident division, a higher level of non–resident students then CGS found nationally, but generally reflecting CGS national figures showing higher non–resident numbers in Research I institutions. In gender trends Boulder graduate enrollment is 44% female and 56% male, almost the opposite of CGS national figures, and an indicator of an area where we might market our programs more aggressively. Full-time/part–time division for Boulder is an 88%/12% division, markedly different from the national average of 49% full–time and 51% part–time, even recognizing that Research I institutions will have a somewhat higher percent of full–time students. The part–time student is another area where Boulder might benefit by more concentrated recruitment activity.

While graduate enrollments have dropped nationally, Boulder has seen a larger decline then its national counterparts. Boulder graduate enrollments were at their high point in 1991. Since that point there has been a small but steady decline. While Boulder achieved the long sought-after 20% graduate enrollment figure in 1991, it has lost ground ever since. Even if a steady-state enrollment is achieved at this point, the percent of graduate enrollment will continue to decrease because of an institutional commitment to increased numbers of undergraduates on the campus. Anecdotally, UCLA has been in a similar situation, remaining roughly steady–state in graduate enrollments over the past decade but going from 33% to 24 % of the total enrollment of the campus because of the state-mandated increase in the number of undergraduates.

Graduate enrollment trends on the Boulder campus, excluding the MBA in Business and the Law degree, indicate a 10% drop between 1991 and 1999. In real numbers this corresponds to a high point of 4135 students 1991 and a low point of 3729 students in 1999, a drop of 416 students (See appendix E). When the Business MBA and the Law degree are included, total graduate enrollment in 1991 was 5076 students, the high point in graduate enrollments on the campus and 4453 students in 1999, a 12% decrease.

A closer examination of enrollment patterns indicates that the declines in enrollment are not uniform across all programs and departments. In fact, many of the 44 departments have experienced growth in their graduate programs and a number of programs indicate capacity for growth. There are six departments, however, that have experienced between 30% and 70% declines in their enrollment. These departments include Aerospace Engineering, Business, Electrical Engineering, English, Fine Arts and Psychology. In every case the decline is the result of a decision made by the department, to restructure and downsize their program because of internal pressures or because of external issues including job market considerations. Such percentage declines have more than offset the increases enjoyed by a number of departments. The issue that needs to be considered in this pattern of decline is strategies of enrollment management to address decisions on the part of a few units that have such a major effect upon the role of graduate education at the campus level. The decline is particularly frustrating because of the growth experienced by many departments. The Graduate School conducted a survey approximately six years ago and asked about capacity for growth in graduate students given then present levels of faculty FTE. The results indicated that the vast majority of departments could grow by some limited number. In addition some smaller set of departments could grow substantially because of the emergence of sought–after fields.

The enrollment figures for minority graduate students on the campus indicates a growth in enrollment from 1988, when the present initiatives were begun and minority graduate students were approximately 6% of the total graduate enrollment, to 1999 where they were approximately 10% (See appendix E). This percent is not adjusted, however, for the decline in numbers of graduate students in general. The real problem is that we simply have fewer minority students now then we did four years ago. The dwindling number of minority students is a cause for concern in terms of the kind of diversity programs the Graduate School has developed and whether they are now meeting the needs of enhancing the diversity of the graduate students on the campus.

Growth for Excellence Recommendations

Having reviewed national issues of graduate education as well as the present status of graduate education on the Boulder campus, the Task Force offers the following recommendations for the growth of graduate education on the Boulder campus. There is a lengthy history of task force reports on a variety of subjects and nothing is sadder then yet one more report on a shelf, the result of great time and effort on the part of a committee, whose conclusions go unheeded. We believe that the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs have made a commitment to implement change. We hope that our report provides a blueprint for change that will insure growth for excellence of graduate education on the Boulder campus.

Our recommendations are divided into three basic areas: 1) graduate education delivery, 2) academic constituency, and 3) financial incentives. These recommendations have been arranged in an intentional order to emphasize that much can be done with what we have by suggesting alternative procedures and structures to the way we have operated in the past. This order of recommendations is not to minimize the financial issues, but to suggest that while they are of critical importance, they are not sufficient in themselves to solve the issues we face on the campus with graduate education. The Task Force feels that the restructuring of the delivery of graduate education and the expansion of academic constituency are of paramount importance to growth for excellence in graduate education.


  1. Enrollment Management for Graduate Programs
    Develop a process of centralized enrollment management for graduate programs on the campus administered by the Graduate School. While enrollment management programs have been developed both nationally and locally, their focus has been primarily undergraduate enrollments. At Boulder no administrative office has been managing either short–term or long–term trends in graduate enrollments. Increases or decreases in graduate enrollments have significant impact upon the institution and yet fluctuations have occurred without any centralized planning or in most cases even knowledge of any change until after the fact. Note, for example, what was commented upon earlier; graduate enrollment patterns at Boulder show 6 departments out of 44 accounting for the majority of loss in enrollments (See appendix E). No campus–wide planning or management effort has looked at the impact of the decisions of these departments upon the profile of graduate education for the campus as a whole within and across programs.

    Because the process of admissions for graduate programs is decentralized on the campus, the implementation of enrollment management for graduate enrollments is complex. It is well to keep in mind that, as the EMT Graduate Enrollment Management Committee report concluded (See appendix F), graduate programs as a group are very diverse, making their management as a single entity more complex than that for undergraduate programs. Because of the decentralization of graduate enrollment decisions, the EMT report concluded that any implementation of enrollment planning processes must have the full support of all schools and colleges. It is worth paraphrasing the EMTÕs finding. Policies pertaining to enrollments, where they exist, are under the direction of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the deans of the schools and colleges and tend to be linked with strategic planning, program review, and resource allocations. Up to this time there has been no policy pertaining to campus graduate enrollments apart from a vague desire to have approximately 20% of the campus as graduate and now the desire to grow that number to the 20–to–30% range. Critically, there also has been no policy on the ratio of undergraduate to graduate enrollments in any particular program, a factor of no small importance in growing one segment of the student population in relation to another segment.

    To begin a process of enrollment management at the graduate level, the Task Force strongly endorses the recommendations advanced by the EMT report. The EMT report recommended the creation of a system of monitoring graduate enrollments. The Task Force sees these recommendations as the first steps toward the creation of enrollment management policies for graduate enrollments on the campus as a whole. They begin with the Graduate School working with the Office of Institutional Research to develop profiles of graduate enrollments and appropriate ways of monitoring these enrollments. In turn the Graduate School, assuming a greater centralized role for coordination of graduate education services on the campus, must establish ties with each dean's office to determine their annual and long– term plans and associated performance measures for graduate student enrollments. In addition the Graduate School must develop a survey to be sent to each department at the end of recruitment season to request information about application levels, retention levels and anticipated enrollments. The Dean of the Graduate School should bring this information to the Council of Deans at least once a year for a discussion of graduate enrollment goals for the campus as a whole, with strategic decisions rendered by the Council of Deans and approved by the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

  2. Coordinated Graduate School Office for Academic and Student Services
    The Task Force feels strongly that a new configuration of the Graduate School for the delivery of services could play a major role in both recruitment and retention. The present physical and administrative structure of the Graduate School potentially detracts from its capacity to serve graduate students on the campus and properly address the concerns of graduate student applicants to Boulder graduate programs. The Graduate School is not in a location convenient for the majority of graduate students on the campus and as a result historically there is little walk–in traffic. At present the staff of the Graduate School is divided between research and graduate education functions. While the joint office reflects the university's commitment to date of combining research and graduate education administration, it does not necessarily serve the best interests of graduate students or applicants seeking a full range of services. In addition, while Student Affairs has made great efforts to begin to address concerns of graduate students on the campus, they are still primarily structured to handle undergraduate issues. For these reasons, the Task Force strongly recommends the creation of a coordinated Graduate School office, offering both academic and student services for graduate students and applicants. The Task Force sees this major restructuring as a necessary step toward addressing growth in our graduate programs both in terms of recruitment of new students as well as retention of our matriculated students. The services offered to prospective graduate student applicants and present graduate students and the way in which they are delivered on the campus should create a welcoming environment and one-stop shopping convenience center for Graduate School services.

    1. Physically separate the Graduate School from the Research Office, placing the Graduate School in a central campus location and creating a one– stop shopping convenience center for graduate students combining Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. The new Graduate School center would be administered by an individual, under a title yet to be determined, who would report to both Academic Affairs and Student Affairs because of the need to coordinate a wide range of services offered to graduate students through such an office.

    2. Locate additional services in the Graduate School center which in addition to present student advisors, fellowship coordinator, minority student services staff and coordinator for graduate student academic services, would include dedicated admissions staff (See recommendation I.3), financial aid staff (relocated) career services staff (relocated Š see recommendation I.2.c). It should also include, if possible, a professional graduate recruiter/inquiry staff member (new position Š see item d below). It would also include direct links to the Graduate Teacher Program, housing, counseling center, ombuds office as well as Student Affairs cost centers.

    3. As part of the new Graduate School center, relocate a career services staff person in the center and, if possible, raise the level of appointment from .5 to 1.0. Anecdotally, when measured against peer institutions, Boulder is inadequate in career services available for graduate students. Only in the last several years has any attempt been made to provide any services and only at the level of a .5 appointment. Boulder needs to develop adequate career services for its graduate student population, particularly to explore alternative careers outside of academia. Because Career Services is structured for undergraduate counseling and job–placement, this individual should be relocated in the Graduate School center.

    4. As part of the new Graduate School center, it is desirable to create a new position for a professional graduate recruiter/inquiry staff member. The Graduate School receives many first inquiries from potential applicants. These inquiries are presently handled by student hourly's who, without professional training, must often answer questions of which field might be closest to the inquirer's interest. A professional staff person in this position would serve as first respondent for inquiries about graduate programs on the campus, and could also attend national recruiting fairs for graduate students representing all programs on the campus, and act as a resource for departments putting together recruiting materials and/or recruiting activities.

    5. As part of the new Graduate School center, create a centralized admissions service component. Graduate admissions would still be primarily processed at the departmental level, but connecting centralized admissions processes with the Graduate School center would create a convenient single coordinating location for graduate program information. The following services could be part of such a component: pre–screening of initial inquiries, providing 800 number and service staff, advising regarding "best fit" for student goals, central acceptance of applications (mail and web), central mailing of applications, admission processing, and recruiting services.

  3. Dedicated Admissions Officers to Graduate Admissions
    Recognizing that the Admissions Office is set up to handle rolling admissions of undergraduates and not the deadlines of graduate admissions, the Task Force recommends that Graduate Admissions, domestic and foreign be addressed through:
    1. Assigning two dedicated graduate admissions staff members by a reallocation of one present position and the possible addition of one new position,
    2. Outsourcing foreign admissions applications to provide timely response for competitive admissions decisions as well as professional judgement on English proficiency,
    3. Locating admissions staff and outsourcing coordination in the new one-stop Graduate School center, creating a centralized graduate admissions service center (See recommendations I.2).
  4. Graduate School Centralized Coordination and Management Activity
    While the Graduate School plays a central administrative role for graduate education on the campus, there are a number of coordination and management functions that could increase the Graduate School's ability to serve as the administrative center for graduate education on the campus. The Task Force has recommended the creation of a new enrollment management system (See recommendation I.1) as well as a coordinated Graduate School center offering both Academic Affairs and Student Affairs services (See recommendation I.2). In addition we suggest that the Graduate School step up to a greater coordination and management role for data relevant to policy decisions affecting graduate education on the campus. If growth in graduate enrollments is the desired goal, then schools and colleges as well as departments are going to need a greater amount of information about patterns of graduate education both nationally and at Boulder. Therefore we recommend that the Graduate School be prepared to coordinate and manage general data for all programs under their purview on an on–going basis. Such data would include, but not be limited to, retention/attrition rates, time–to–degree rates, assessment/exit surveys, enrollment management coordination, and professional inquiry/recruitment services as well as graduate education performance measures for the various schools and colleges. The Graduate School must assume a leadership role in introducing this information not only to all departments on a regular basis through meetings with graduate directors, but, in addition, to the Council of Deans on a regular basis for Academic Affairs policy decisions affecting graduate education on the campus. Anecdotally, the Graduate Dean at Berkeley personally visits every department on campus once a year to discuss their graduate program's goals and objectives. This attention on the part of the dean puts graduate education at the forefront of the department's attention as well as all schools and colleges. In addition to the Berkeley model, a regular reporting by the Graduate Dean to the Council of Deans would have a similar outcome to raise the attention level to the graduate education mission of the campus.

  5. Graduate Program Performance Measures
    Under the present performance–based budgeting process, develop performance measures directly tied to graduate education and make them required of all schools and colleges, not just the Graduate School. Performance measures for graduate programs could include time–to–degree, attrition, admission selectivity, and employment records. Even though the authority for graduate degrees lies in the Graduate School, performance measures of graduate programs should be mandated for all schools and colleges. Since faculty FTE are rostered in the schools and colleges and instructional dollars for undergraduate and graduate instruction are managed by the deans of the schools and colleges, not the Graduate School, each school and college bears responsibility for the quality of graduate programs housed in their departments. To begin this process at the school and college level each department needs to be able to provide a description of their goals and expectations for their graduate programs. When we consider the role of graduate education on the campus, we need the involvement of all the players if we are going to address the growth of excellence. The schools and colleges and the departments they represent have been sadly uninvolved in this decision making process. Nothing short of a campus–wide effort will be necessary to move the agenda of graduate education forward. It is for this reason that the Task Force recommends graduate education performance measures be reflected in the budgeting process. All schools and colleges have a role to play and a responsibility to exercise for the benefit of graduate education on the campus.

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