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University preparing for new grad program rankings

by Karen A. Grava - February 21, 2006

Every 10 years since the 1930s, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences has ranked graduate programs at colleges around the country.

But the rankings have not been done since 1992, and the new rankings – due out in 2007 – will be based on a completely new methodology.

That methodology isn’t fully formulated yet, but it is already clear that the assessment will not rely solely on reputational rankings done by faculty leaders around the country, as in the past. Instead, the rankings will rely on surveys of faculty and graduate students, and statistics reported to the federal government, says Janet Greger, vice provost for strategic planning and a member of the panel designing the assessment.

During the next few weeks, the panel will determine how the assessment will proceed at UConn. By fall, surveys for faculty and students in at least five disciplines will be sent out for completion, she says.

The rankings – funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health – are used by faculty and students to distinguish between programs at colleges or universities.

This time the survey will include areas, such as agricultural programs, that have not been included in the past, Greger says. And for the first time, data from national sources will be analyzed as well.

“We are putting more emphasis on valid statistical analysis of programs,” she says.

Greger says the rankings can indirectly affect which institutions get major federal grants: “The influence is there.”

UConn is already gathering data to help with the assessment, says James G. Henkel, associate vice provost for graduate education and research. “We are trying to prepare for all possible scenarios at this point. Right now, our biggest task at hand is aligning faculty in the disciplines.”

While UConn keeps track electronically of graduate students’ major advisors, it has not kept the names of every person on their doctoral committees in electronic form. For this project, however, all those names are important, and Henkel has begun to compile the data.

The rankings have been done since the 1930s, but early on were done only for liberal arts programs. They were based on having faculty leaders around the country rank each of the programs.

It has always been difficult to break into the top ranks, Henkel says, and often the best programs – not surprisingly – are those with the biggest budgets and the most faculty.

Programs that have graduated at least five Ph.D. candidates in five years are eligible for ranking, and that applies to more than 40 programs at UConn, Henkel says. “Virtually all programs at UConn meet the minimum criterion.” But he notes that some – such as nursing, education, and fine arts – are not assessed by the NRC.

Henkel adds that the point of the rankings isn’t only to attract the best faculty and students. “The rankings really help us improve our doctoral programs,” he says.

“The bottom line is that they result in improved doctoral education nationwide.”

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