Updated August 2021
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.
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
Ex Officio Members
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.
Provide academic student services and foster connections to campus partners and resources.
Promote graduate student connections across disciplines and support all graduate community members.
Recruitment & Admissions
Oversee and maintain the online admissions application system and admissions policies and procedures for 124 graduate programs.
Oversight and guidance on issues related to graduate student funding.
Offer over 40 professional development workshops in collaboration with internal and external partners.
Provide a wide spectrum of resources to help students navigate and build the skills and competencies to be successful throughout their graduate career.
Support educational innovations and creation of new graduate programs.
Gather and use data on students and graduate programs for evidence-based decision-making and planning.
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.
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.
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.