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Department of Geography
Graduate Outcomes Assessment

Structure and Requirements of the Doctoral Program

We employ:

  • Comprehensive exams (written with an oral defense)
  • A traditional proposal & dissertation defense structure with at least 3 faculty members from CU.
  • An external member on doctoral committee
  • Training for our students on how to write grant proposals, prepare research proposals, publish articles, and make effective conference presentations

Applicant Pool for 2002-2003

Total Number of Graduate Applicants: 127
Number of Applicants Accepted: 37 (29% of Applicant Total)
Number of Applicants Enrolled: 21 (17% of Applicant Total, 57% of Accepted Applicants)

Ours is one of the most competitive geography programs in the United States; we consistently attract a group of highly qualified, national-caliber applicants, and are typically able to enroll the majority of our admitted students. Our admitted students usually have multiple offers from the other elite geography programs in the country (i.e. Berkeley, Clark, Minnesota, Penn State, UCLA, Washington, and Wisconsin). The normal reason for a rejection of our acceptance is that a student has accepted another offer from a premier department, often with a more lucrative multi-year fellowship award. Fellowship awards are increasingly valuable for making the difference in recruiting our top applicants.

Our applicant pool includes top students from the leading universities in America and the world, and corresponds to our departmentís national status international status in geography. In the National Research Councilís 1995 survey of US PhD programs, CU Geography was ranked 9th in the nation. More recently, in a comprehensive survey of all US PhD granting institutions in geography, CUís Geography Department swept top honors. Based on rankings of four criteria of FTE-weighted quality in research and teaching productivity from 1980-1994, CUís Geography Department ranked 4th nationally in placement of PhD graduates in MA and PhD granting geography departments; 3rd nationally in per faculty authorship in refereed journals; 3rd nationally in per faculty publication of books, and 1st nationally in "teaching outcomes." (See "Productivity profiles of PhD granting geography departments in the United States: 1980-1994," by R. Groop and R. Schaetzl published in The Professional Geographer 49:4 1997, 451-64 for details on the study that yielded this assessment.)

While CU was in the top four in all four categories, no other geography department in the country ranked in the top five in more than two of these categories. Additionally, in October 2001, CU Geography was ranked 1st in the nation by the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students (see This supports the argument that there is no better geography department in the country than CUís when assessing both research and teaching.

CU has nurtured the growth of a geography department that is very productive and dedicated to its teaching and research mission. The overall quality of the program has been steadily improving, based on rankings over the past twenty years. We have broad expertise in biogeography, climatology, geomorphology, sustainable development, resource management, cultural/social geography, urban/political geography, population geography, geographic education, and geographical information science.

Our entrance requirements are the following: GPA of over 3.0, average GRE percentiles of at least 70%, excellent letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose that is clear, thoughtful and closely related to our research strengths. In addition we look at other experiences that may relate to career development. In the interests of fairness, we have made our expectations very explicit in the literature we send to prospective students (see This has served both to decrease the number of applicants and increase the quality of applicants we receive.

The admissions process involves the entire faculty. All applicants are entered into a data base. The Graduate Director, Graduate Committee, and staff indicate student interest areas as accurately as possible. All faculty are encouraged to review the files of all candidates with related interests. The graduate committee welcomes information from faculty on the quality and acceptability of the graduate pool.

We have a strong mentoring/advisor system, and we do not accept a graduate student unless a faculty advisor can be found who will agree to be the studentís initial advisor. This gives each incoming student direction and allows development of curricular plans and thesis and dissertation ideas to evolve quickly. Further we require a Planning Committee of three department faculty be formed in the first year. Students are carefully monitored and every graduate studentís progress is discussed on an individual basis every semester before a meeting of the entire faculty.

In September 2000, the PRP External Review Committee said, "The program is attracting superior quality students and of even greater importance, it is graduating PhD students who are entering positions in top programs elsewhere. Over the past few years, it has a placement record that is probably the best in the nation. The faculty have developed a superior program of advising and mentoring for graduate students, one that is both appreciated and internalized by the graduate students. The attention to details, the thoughtful first week and first year programs, and the continuing level of intellectual support for graduate students are impressive."

Current Grad Population for 2002-2003

Total Number of Graduate Students: 82 (45 male, 37 female; 15 international)
Average GRE Scores: Verbal: 579, Quantitative: 643, Analytical: 644
Average Undergrad GPA: 3.47

The current graduate student population in geography is exceptionally strong. CU Geography attracts students of many different nationalities, backgrounds and research interests and yet it is a group that truly sees itself as a social and professional community of aspiring scholars. Our graduate students have a strong commitment to professionalization and play a significant role in the daily governance of the department. They are models to themselves and to the faculty.

It is important to note that 45% of our graduate students are female. In an article a decade ago in the Annals (our flagship journal), CU was ranked as having the highest proportion of its PhDs being women. We continue that trend with our latest enrolled class in which women accounted for 48%. In comparison, on a national scale, only 32% of the geography graduate students in the US who are members of the AAG are women.

The majority of our graduate students have published research articles in peer-reviewed journals, and the average PhD student currently has more than 2 publications to his or her credit. This past year, CU Geography graduate students won 5 NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Awards, and 1 student won NSFís prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship. Two of our students won NSF-supported Young Scientist Summer Program awards to study at the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. Two of our students are also recipients of EPA STAR grants, and one is a recipient of Japanís Prestigious Monbusho Fellowship. Our students regularly take top honors in competitions held by the different specialty groups of the Association of American Geographers (AAG). This year, for example, our students won paper and research funding awards from 3 different specialty groups. Additionally, for the last several years we have had some of the highest rates of graduate student participation at the AAGís annual meetings. Finally, a geography graduate student has also been awarded a Center for Humanities and the Arts Fellow for the past two years.

We regularly draw our graduate students from outstanding undergraduate programs. Currently enrolled students include graduates from Oxford, Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, Smith, Washington, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Dartmouth, Williams, Penn State, Brown, Vassar, and Chicago as well as many fine international universities. Many of our students, prior to entering CU, have had substantial experience beyond their BA degree, conducting research for NOAA, NASA, USGS, and the National Academy of Sciences.

In sum, this is a highly select group that recognizes its opportunities on the cutting edge of research in a department dedicated to this enterprise. Indeed, our graduate students typically expect to become the next generation of leaders in the field of geography.

Graduation Rates & Placement for 1998-1999 to 2002-2003 (5 years)

MAs Awarded 47; Ph.Ds Awarded: 43

The best indicator of our placement record is our ability to consistently secure jobs for our graduate students in other PhD-granting institutions. According to our own records, we rank 2nd in the country (behind Berkeley) in PhD placements. However, our recent PRP indicated that in recent years we have surpassed Berkeley in placement of our PhDís in other PhD-granting institutions. The 1997 survey in The Professional Geographer ranked us 4th when placements are expanded to include MA granting institutions. In other words, our best students can expect to be placed in the best departments in the country.

The 2000 PRP External Review Committee had the following comment: "Over the past few years, [CUís Geography department] has a placement record that is probably the best in the nation."

A minority of our students continue to find work in research/government-service institutions, and a small percentage work in industry and consulting services. When considering these fields in addition to placement in academic institutions, placement has not been a problem for our graduate students.

The majority of our MA students continue on at CU for a PhD. Some continue in other programs (recently UCLA, Syracuse, Washington, Yale, Berkeley, and Minnesota). We also train a significant number of MA students in technical skills that are highly marketable (generally centering on Geographic Information Sciences). In addition to finding private sector employment, these students regularly find work in government and non-profit research organizations such as USAID, UN Office of Refugees, local urban planning offices, USGS and Forest Service.

In 1999-2001 the department graduated an unprecedented number of PhD and MA students. Based on this experience we have since tried to expand our graduate admissions, and the 2002 entering class reflects these efforts. University fellowships made the difference in being able to increase our admissions in this way, and we hope to be able to maintain this approach in the coming 2003 admissions cycle.

Quality of Graduate Program

The most recent PRP External Review Report from Fall 2000 (plus 2002 update) includes the results of a graduate student outcomes survey for AY 1996-2000 in which 74 MA and PhD students responded. Overall, the results of this assessment were highly positive. As mentioned above, the report found the graduate program to be of outstanding quality, deserving of increased funding support for graduate students and one of the top five geography programs in the country. Graduate School fellowships for 2002-2003 have been significant in helping the department offer greater financial support for graduate students.

It should be noted here that our faculty brings in significant extramural funding from such national agencies as the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the US Forest Service, the US Park Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and USAID. On a per capita basis, geography faculty bring in more extramural funding than any other social science and many natural science departments. We have been able to support a significant number of our graduate students through these grants. A significant part of graduate training therefore involves grant writing and administration, and our advanced graduate students have an excellent record in winning external grant support for their own research programs.

A recent university-wide exit survey of graduate students conducted by CU's Office of Institutional Research indicates that the majority of graduate students found graduate instruction to be excellent (the highest rating). The vast majority also affirmed that if they were starting their graduate career again, they would choose CU geography again, and would choose to work with the same advisor again.

In our 1995 NCA graduate program review, anonymously compiled graduate student surveys concluded that, "Students report that the most satisfying aspects of their education are: faculty mentorship, advising and collegiality, intellectual atmosphere, mutually-supportive graduate student community, professional growth and opportunities (e.g. through support for conferences, publications and teaching), and a helpful department staff."

Diversity of Graduate Population & Program

Profile of Graduate Enrollment Diversity

Total number of grad students:
82 (45 men (55%), 37 women (45%)) (3 minority (4%) 15 international (18%))

CU Geography is a national leader in the graduate education of women and international students. Ten years ago, our department was singled out in a national survey as having the highest percentage of graduated PhDs who were women of any geography department in the country. This trend has continued, as the most recent class of enrolled students includes 10 women out of 21 enrolled. In comparison, on a national scale, only 32% of the geography graduate students in the US who are members of the AAG are women. Between 1992 and 1999, the annual average of the percentage of women among the graduate students was at least 45%, while the average of international students was at least 10%. Our most recently enrolled class included 5 international students out of 21 enrolled.

While CU Geography is recognized as a place supportive of women and underrepresented groups, the department recognizes the challenges of recruiting minority students (this is a problem for the discipline as a whole). Toward this end the department is seeking to affiliate itself with the Universityís AGEP Peaks program for recruiting underrepresented groups in Science, Math, and Engineering fields. Additionally, in our most recently admitted class, two candidates were nominated for Graduate School Diversity Fellowships, and one of our nominations was successful in winning this support.

The department maintains a Diversity Committee of faculty and graduate students. This committee seeks to enhance the diversity among students and faculty, as well as in the curriculum and in other aspects of graduate student life in the department. We also have a faculty position specializing in Gender and Development. Fellowship funds are instrumental in the department maintaining its success in recruiting women and international students, and it is through fellowship funding that we seek to further improve the presence of underrepresented groups in the department.

New Graduate Academic Initiatives

This past year saw the successful implementation of the new Developing Areas Research and Teaching (DART) program, centered in our department. This program includes a sequence of sustainable development seminars, a Development Studies Certificate program, a subgroup on microenterprise assessments in developing nations, an on-going speaker and seminar series, and a number of fellowship and research assistantship programs for graduate students. The DART program has brought a number of high-profile development scholars to CU for lectures and seminars, significantly enhancing the quality of graduate education both within and beyond geography. DART has been a significant factor in attracting high quality graduate applicants interested in development issues and developing regions of the world.

On-going academic initiatives between our department and other cognate fields include the Western Water Assessment (CIRES-NOAA), the Globalization and Democracy program (IBS), a certificate program in Applied Behavioral Sciences (IBS), contributions to the Environmental Studies program in the water and conservation fields, and cooperative research initiatives with INSTAAR. An NSF IGERT proposal has been submitted in conjunction with IBS, and reviews are currently pending. If successful, this would significantly enhance the graduate opportunities in Globalization and Democracy program. Along with IBS, the department has also been instrumental in the DOE funded Transnationalism, Immigration, Race, Ethnocentrism, and the State (TIRES) initiativeówhich runs a summer institute on the Boulder campus attracting international graduate students from 10 countriesóand the International Collaborative Teaching Initiativeís virtual seminar, involving 4 US and 4 European universities in a "virtual graduate seminar."

These initiatives indicate our graduate programís continuing efforts to remain among the very best programs in the United States. They help insure the high quality opportunities available to our students. Along with extramural support from the faculty, university fellowships are crucial to the departmentís ability to maintain this high level of performance.

Exit Surveys

The department has conducted exit surveys of its graduates since 1996. The questionnaire is distributed to MA and Ph.D. students by the graduate secretary at the time students file their paperwork for graduation. The questionnaire is submitted anonymously. Since 1996, 105 completed questionnaires have been returned. The returns are analyzed annually with results compared year-by-year. The average rating remain high--4s and 5s for all but a few questions. Students report that the most satisfying aspects of their education are: faculty mentorship, adivsing and collegiality; intelletual atmosphere; mutually supportive graduate student communtiy; professional growth and opportunities (through support for conferences, publications and teaching); and a helpful department staff. Suggestions for improvement often involve increasing faculty and student diversity; reducing TA workloads to enable more time for researhc; increasing financial support; improving support for field research, teaching and computing facilities; increasing teacher training in the department; encouraging collaborative reserach; and improving the frequency and sequencing of graduate student soures and seminars.

The results are discussed each year by the Graduate Studies Committee. If the survey results suggest issues that need attention, the Graduate Studies Committee takes action or raises the issues at a faculty meeting. In recent years such discussion has led to department-wide debate over how to strengthen and expand the department's offerings in environment-society relationships; substantially upgrade of the computer facilities for graduate students; and offer more training for new TAs.

The department is now planning a more extensive survey of its MA and Ph.D. graduates that will be conducted in spring or fall 2003. The emphasis will be to poll students who have graduated over the past ten years to discover how their graduate training aligns with their current career responsibilities.


Last revision 03/27/06

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