Updated August 2021

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In October 2019, Provost Russ Moore charged the Graduate School Strategic Planning Committee with envisioning the future of graduate education at CU Boulder. Just a few months into this process, the committee’s work on this charge was put on hold by a global pandemic that resulted in severe economic disruption and an academic job market thrown into sudden disarray.

When the committee resumed its work in spring 2021, many of the imperatives that the committee had originally identified and committed to were made even more relevant and pressing as a result of the events of the past year. Thrown into stark relief were the challenging fiscal realities of academia, the effects of globalization, concerns over justice and equity, and evolving career pathways. The strategic imperatives identified and discussed in this plan include the following: broadening access to graduate education to a wider array of students, bolstering community among all graduate students, encouraging more productive advising relationships, facilitating interdisciplinarity in existing and new degree options, and adapting the training of our graduate students to better fit their academic needs and career aspirations. 

The pandemic allowed us all to see how the university could be a more nimble and more responsive version of itself. As well, it accentuated the need for a pragmatic yet ambitious strategic direction for the Graduate School to ensure its resiliency and success for the future. Ultimately, the committee devised a set of priority items for graduate education at CU Boulder for the next three to five years. Clearly, these priorities are not merely actions to be taken by the Graduate School alone but require the partnership and collaboration of other campus units.

The actions outlined in this plan should be placed in context and are meant to complement the various other strategic initiatives happening or recently completed on campus—the IDEA Plan, Academic Futures, Budget Model Redesign, etc.—as well as those in the Graduate School, such as the Task Force on Stipends and Benefits and our expanded use of graduate student and program data. Along with the priorities set forth in campus initiatives, we place these imperatives and action items in front of the provost, graduate program directors and other leaders to move graduate education at CU Boulder to even greater heights. 

I offer my profound gratitude to all those involved in the creation of this strategic plan. Thank you, first and foremost, to the Strategic Planning Committee, which was composed of faculty from every college, representatives of the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG), a graduate program assistant, and the leadership of the Graduate School. The committee met regularly throughout the fall and spring of the 2019–20 academic year, and after a pause completed its efforts in spring 2021. 

Thank you, also, to the many groups of faculty, students and staff on campus who contributed ideas at different stages of the committee’s work, including the GPSG Assembly, the Council of Deans, the associate deans of graduate education, the Boulder Faculty Assembly (BFA), the Graduate School's Executive Advisory Council, and the members of the provost’s cabinet.  

Next Steps

It should be noted that the completion of this plan, while significant, is not our end goal. Our continuing aim is to ensure the plan’s adoption and the successful implementation of its recommendations in support of our shared vision. To that end, and in the spirit of transparency and accountability, the Graduate School will communicate with stakeholders in graduate education about the status of the initiatives and priorities outlined in this report.  

Members of the Graduate School Strategic Planning Committee

  • Scott Adler, dean, Graduate School and vice provost for graduate affairs
  • Gretchen Sundance O'Connell, senior assistant dean, Graduate School
  • Genevieve Borst McNellis, assistant dean, Graduate School
  • Kenneth M. Anderson, professor and chair, computer science, College of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Joe Thomas, senior executive aide, Student Affairs
  • Sarah Fahmy, former Graduate and Professional Student Government president, graduate student in theatre and dance
  • Erin M. Furtak, professor and associate dean of faculty, School of Education
  • Laurie B. Conway, graduate and undergraduate program assistant, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Emily Nocito, former Graduate and Professional Student Government vice president, graduate student in environmental studies
  • Thomas Vossen, associate professor, Leeds School of Business
  • Jennifer Ho, director, Center for Humanities and the Arts; professor, ethnic studies, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Daniel S. Silver, professor, College of Music
  • Matthew McQueen, professor, integrated physiology, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Patrick Ferrucci, associate professor, journalism, College of Media, Communication, and Information

 Ex Officio Members

  • Janet Braccio, director of communications, Academic Affairs and the Graduate School
  • Maizy Faithfull, director of finance and administration, Graduate School
  • Erin Hutchinson, senior academic business partner, Office of Budget and Fiscal Planning
  • Leslie Kavanaugh, organization development specialist, Human Resources
  • Michael Murray, assistant vice chancellor, Strategic Initiatives, Human Resources

About the Graduate School   

CU Boulder’s third university president, James Baker (1892–1914), is credited with initiating the establishment of a graduate school. In 1882, a standing graduate committee composed of liberal arts faculty was formed, and the College of Liberal Arts announced that candidates would be received for the doctor-of-philosophy degree (PhD). Formal policies relating to graduate work were drawn up and adopted in 1893, and in 1895 the first PhD was conferred.

As one of the nation’s top-ranked Tier 1 research institutions, the University of Colorado Boulder offers 124 master's, doctoral and professional degree programs spanning the arts and sciences, business, education, engineering, music and more. Across all its programs, the Graduate School has over 5,200 students.  Forty-two percent of graduate students identify as women, just over 19% are international and hail from 86 different countries. Slightly more than 18% of CU Boulder graduate students are Black, Indigenous or other people of color.

CU Boulder’s continued presence among graduate programs of excellence in U.S. News & World Report is a tribute to its world-class teaching and scholarship. For its 2022 rankings,13 graduate programs ranked in the top 25 nationwide, five of which are in the top 10.

CU Boulder’s graduate students consistently receive many of the most prestigious fellowships and grants for their scholarship, research and creative work. In 2021, CU Boulder ranked eighth among all United States universities in the number of graduate students awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, with 38 graduate students receiving fellowships.

The CU Boulder Graduate School has a long history of educating students from Colorado, the nation and the world. Our students, faculty, staff and alumni have built a global reputation for high-quality teaching, research, creative work and service to society.  

Introduction of the Graduate School Leadership

E. Scott Adler, dean

Scott Adler became dean of the Graduate School in June 2019.  He joined the faculty as a professor of political science at CU Boulder in the fall of 1996. He served as chair of the Political Science department and previously as director of graduate studies. He was founding director of the department’s American Politics Research Lab, and director of the Center to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences.

Scott received his doctoral and master’s degrees in political science from Columbia University, and his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan.

Gretchen O'Connell, senior assistant dean

Gretchen O’Connell joined the CU Boulder Graduate School team in 2007, and since that time has worked closely with the colleges, schools and departments on issues that impact graduate students.

Gretchen received her Ed.M. in educational policy and management from Harvard University and her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University.

Ginny Borst McNellis, assistant dean

Ginny Borst McNellis joined the Graduate School in 1999 and is the longest serving staff member on the team. She provides guidance to students, staff and faculty on a wide range of graduate student issues.

Ginny received both her master’s degree in higher education and her bachelor’s degree from CU Boulder. She is a past winner of the Chancellor’s Employee of the Year award.

Core Functions of the Graduate School

The functions and responsibilities of the Graduate School at the University of Colorado Boulder are many and varied.  Below is a snapshot of duties the Graduate School performs each year.

Student Services

Provide academic student services and foster connections to campus partners and resources.

  • Provide oversight and guidance regarding Graduate School and university policies and procedures.
  • Administer and help students navigate thesis and graduation processes, confirming and awarding close to 2,000 degrees.
  • Represent the interests of graduate education in university-wide initiatives.


Promote graduate student connections across disciplines and support all graduate community members.

  • Foster student initiatives, including the Peer Mentoring Program, Graduate Student Liaisons, Graduate Student Appreciation Week and the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.
  • Promote community and collegiality among department personnel involved in graduate education.

Recruitment & Admissions

Oversee and maintain the online admissions application system and admissions policies and procedures for 124 graduate programs.

  • Provide over $800,000 for department recruitment activities and the diversity recruitment initiative. 
  • Offer holistic admissions training. 
  • Offer support to over 14,000 applicants, as well as support and training for department staff and faculty.
  • Partner with New Student and Family Programs to provide ongoing information and resources to new students, as well as plan and execute new student orientation.


Oversight and guidance on issues related to graduate student funding.

  • Create policies and procedures related to student appointments, fellowships and traineeships, and awards and grants.
  • Award over $4 million in graduate student fellowships, research grants and prizes.
  • Provide approximately $1 million in matching funding for programmatic initiatives and external grants.
  • Provide funding to over 300 students for conference presentations.

Career Exploration

Offer over 40 professional development workshops in collaboration with internal and external partners.

  • Offer online micro-credentials to showcase skills and competencies
  • Partner with Career Services to provide one-on-one career advising and guidance
  • Connect students with alumni through field-specific career panels

Student Success

Provide a wide spectrum of resources to help students navigate and build the skills and competencies to be successful throughout their graduate career.

  • Provide research and writing support to over 500 graduate students through the GRAD+ seminar series, weekly write-in’s, and dissertation writing retreats.
  • Oversee and track student progress, informing interventions and advising.
  • Provide mentoring and advising resources and training for faculty university wide.


Support educational innovations and creation of new graduate programs.

  • Help academic departments create and launch educational initiatives and new degrees.
  • Partner with colleges and programs to adapt graduate education to the changing academic landscape, and the needs and interests of our students.
  • House a number of interdisciplinary centers and programs to provide graduate students and faculty research opportunities and graduate student training.


Gather and use data on students and graduate programs for evidence-based decision-making and planning.

  • Employ surveys and detailed information gathering from graduate students at all stages of their education.
  • Provide data to stakeholders in a timely and useful manner for assessment and improvement of graduate education and outcomes.          

Graduate School’s Equity & Inclusion Statement

We acknowledge that the University of Colorado Boulder sits on the traditional territories of the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute nations. 

Nothing is more central to creating an equitable and just society than providing education for all. Moreover, the educational endeavor is best served when diverse viewpoints, backgrounds and abilities are represented and empowered in the scholarly, creative and teaching process.

The Graduate School at the University of Colorado Boulder is committed to ensuring that our graduate education is accessible and welcoming for all students. This includes the active and purposeful recruitment of students from all backgrounds, especially students from traditionally underserved communities, the creation of a welcoming and productive scholarly community, and the fostering of respectful and nurturing academic and professional relationships.   

We ask our graduate community to continually reexamine their practices and attitudes to ensure that they are not intentionally or unintentionally excluding or disadvantaging anyone. While we live in a society that continues to be mired in intersectional oppression, we aspire to cultivate a climate in all units at CU Boulder that fosters justice, equity and inclusion. We strive to combat the many forms of systemic injustice that make people vulnerable.


The Graduate School lies at the crossroads of world class scholarship and education at the University of Colorado Boulder. With an emphasis on inclusivity, trust and respect, our graduate students thrive in a rigorous and versatile educational environment. CU Boulder is a leader in providing innovative graduate education to prepare students for a comprehensive range of careers that have a profound impact on the world.

Strategic Imperative One: Access, Inclusivity & Community

Foster an inclusive and equitable campus climate to ensure a thriving and diverse graduate student community.

  • Recruit and retain a diverse graduate student body.
    • Provide incentives for departments to expand their outreach and recruitment of students from groups that are underrepresented in graduate education.
    • Increase the percentage of the dean's time dedicated to outreach with other Colorado higher education institutions.
    •  Expand relationships with minority-serving institutions across the country.  
    • Increase the number of current students transitioning from master’s to doctoral degrees.
    • Partner with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement (ODECE) and the senior vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion to:
      • Better support and expand research programs dedicated to the recruitment of students from underserved populations.
      • Expand recruitment weekends, such as the Colorado Advantage program, that target underrepresented populations beyond the STEM departments.
      • Provide additional opportunities for underrepresented graduate students to connect and network across all disciplines.
    • Partner with International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and other units to provide expanded academic, social and professional development support for our international student community. 
  • Implement targeted measures to improve campus climate for graduate students.
    • Improve and expand mental health services for graduate students. 
    • Invest in professional support positions to assist with resilience, conflict mediation, and navigating graduate school responsibilities and requirements. 
    • Create new opportunities and incentives for faculty advisors to seek professional development on maintaining positive advisor-advisee relations.
      • Broaden services and reinforce best practices in advising and mentoring.
      • Partner with the Center for Teaching & Learning to offer holistic advising workshops.
    • Invest in online mentorship platforms that increase success in matching graduate students with mentors and provide continuous support for the relationship.
    • Improve alumni-student connections.
    • Create first-year graduate student experience module
    • Create more opportunities for social connection and professional development, and additional extracurricular support services. 
    • Create a “home” that would provide space for Graduate School staff and affiliated centers, resources and support services dedicated to graduate students, and professional and community-building activities.

Strategic Imperative Two: Student Success, Career Outcomes & Impact

Provide comprehensive student support to recruit, retain and graduate scholars prepared for a range of career paths and positive societal impact. Transform the supportive relationships, roles and interactions that shape graduate student success, promoting a more human-centered approach to graduate education.

  • Improve financial support structures for graduate students.
    • Adapt graduate appointments to emphasize enhanced advising, a mentored teaching/research experience and timely degree completion.
    • Restructure fellowship funds to better support recruitment and time-to-degree goals.
    • Provide standardized incentives and support for students on externally funded fellowships and training grants.
  • Create and expand opportunities and offerings that align the objectives of academic programs with student career aspirations. 
    • Expand the scope and reach of career, teaching and professional development programming to ensure that students achieve their academic and professional goals. 
    • Improve understanding among both faculty and students about diverse career pathways and opportunities.
    • Enhance pathways within doctoral programs for students headed to nonacademic careers, including alternative coursework and thesis options
    • Encourage the recognition of faculty whose students achieve a broad array of career aspirations.
  • Improve communications with stakeholders and build Graduate School visibility.
    • Improve communications with campus partners about Graduate School initiatives and opportunities.
    • Improve communications regarding trends and changes in the national and international educational landscape, including related public policy.
    • Strengthen the partnership between graduate students and the Graduate School (GPSG, etc.).
    • Increase awareness of scope and impact of graduate student research and creative work.
    • Build connections with outside stakeholders and potential employers.
      • Reconstitute the Graduate School Advisory Council. 
  • Employ data and evidence-based assessment to continuously improve campus climate and program success for graduate students. 
    • Implement a regular cadence of graduate student climate surveys. 
    • Implement exit surveys for all students leaving graduate programs prior to completion.
    • Establish core metrics for graduate program assessment and develop a dashboard for open sharing of program successes and challenges. 
    • Work with campus leaders to incorporate more holistic graduate program assessment into department performance reviews. 

Strategic Imperative Three: Educational Innovations

Advance graduate education to anticipate the needs of a rapidly changing world. Look to the future with flexibility and nimbleness.

  • Strengthen multidisciplinary education and degrees and create new in-demand interdisciplinary degrees and certificate programs. 
    • Promote cross-disciplinary collaboration in the creation of new offerings and provide guidance and assistance throughout the proposal process.
    • Help programs update existing degree curriculum to allow greater flexibility and breadth in graduate training.
    • Reduce barriers for students to pursue interdisciplinary experiences and degree credentials, including graduate certificates and digital badges.
  • Reimagine graduate programs to broaden access and decrease cost. 
    • Increase access to graduate programs by improving infrastructure and support for current and future online and hybrid degrees.
    • Enhance pathways to graduate programs from undergraduate populations.
      • Promote new and expanded Bachelor’s-Accelerated Master’s (BAM) programs.
  • Promote additional and continued innovation in graduate offerings.
    • Create new in-demand and impactful master's degrees. 
    • Develop a framework outlining the process and policies for creation and implementation of new degrees.
    • Improve campuswide incentives and support models for new master’s and professional degrees.
  • Improve processes and support that facilitate academic student success.
    •  Invest in or prioritize the use of technology to improve the experience of students, staff and faculty and to reduce inefficiencies in administrative resources.