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Faculty encouraged to fill out surveys for national rankings of doctoral programs

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - October 23, 2006

The National Research Council's 10-year review of doctoral programs is underway, and faculty members are being called upon to participate.

The rankings, which will be released next fall, will be determined for the first time on a set of criteria designed to delineate program quality.

Previous NRC rankings of U.S. doctoral programs were based primarily on faculty reputation. The last rankings were released in 1995.

Data will be collected using four surveys that will gather information from individual faculty members and graduate students, as well as from specific programs and the institution as a whole.

"The level of faculty response will be absolutely critical in determining our place in the rankings and our reputation for the long term," says Gregory Anderson, vice provost for research and graduate education and dean of the Graduate School.

"There is great personal incentive for everyone who is contacted to respond."

Fifty-six programs at UConn are involved.

Each program will be ranked relative to other programs in the same field of study.

The program rankings will not be aggregated into an institutional ranking, however.

The NRC's new approach is designed to make the rankings more useful.

Jim Henkel, associate dean of the Graduate School and institutional coordinator of the NRC rankings, says that in the past, the graduate program rankings were useful mainly for "bragging rights."

This time, he says, the intent is to compile a source of information that will be useful for potential graduate students choosing a program.

"The NRC wants to establish a consensus about what makes a good doctoral program," Henkel says, "and what are the measures of quality."

The picture is changing, he adds. Teaching, for example, is much more important in an academic career now than it was previously.

The institutional questionnaire will include such items as the size of the library, key institutional policies, and general statistics on doctoral students. This information is being supplied by the Graduate School.

The program questionnaire seeks data on doctoral programs in a selected set of disciplines. This survey will be completed by staff of the Graduate School, assisted by representatives of the programs.

The programs as defined by the NRC in some cases coincide with UConn's departments; in others, they overlap more than one department, or represent a subset of a department.

The third questionnaire will gather information from individual faculty in the doctoral programs being ranked.

About 800 UConn faculty members will receive an e-mail from the NRC next month, inviting them to participate in the online survey.

The NRC recognizes three categories of faculty at participating institutions: "Core faculty" are current faculty members who were associated with at least one doctoral student as major advisor between summer 2001 and summer 2006.

"Associated faculty" are those who were associate advisors to one or more doctoral students during that period. "New faculty" are those who have joined the University since summer 2003 and are expected to advise doctoral students in the future. Only core faculty and new faculty will be asked to fill out the questionnaire.

"It's very important for everyone who gets one of these questionnaires to respond to it," Henkel says.

"If faculty don't fill out the questionnaire, their publications and citations likely won't count in the assessment, so they are potentially hurting their programs, their departments, and the University by not participating."

The Graduate School is doing what it can to make it easy for faculty to respond to the questionnaire, by supplying to the NRC ahead of time any of the required information that is already on file, in particular the names and completion years of each faculty member's doctoral graduates along with their last known career positions.

Faculty will have the opportunity to update these fields.

A fourth questionnaire will be sent to senior doctoral students later this semester.

Henkel says this survey is experimental, and will not affect the rankings. It is designed to find out what graduate students think is important in a graduate program and how they rate the program they're in, with a view to establishing "best practices." The survey will be sent to students in just five programs - chemical engineering, economics, English, neuroscience, and physics - and only to those who have completed the general exam.

Anyone with questions about the process or how to complete the questionnaire may contact Henkel by phone at 860-486-3620 or via e-mail: james.henkel@uconn.edu.

Henkel says that in the 1995 NRC rankings, some UConn programs placed in the top quartile, some in the middle 50 percent, and a few in the bottom quartile. "This time we're hopeful that our numbers will be good across the board," he says. "Many of our graduate programs have improved a lot over the past 10 years, with substantially increased publications, grants, and quality of faculty - in part because of UConn 2000 and 21st century UConn, and partly because of a renewed emphasis on research and scholarship."

Despite the differences in methodology between the current NRC survey and the previous one, the rankings will offer some basis for comparison, Henkel says. The results will provide a benchmark of the University's progress, he adds, and an indication of what still needs to be done.

Further information is available on the Graduate School's support webpage and on the NRC website.  

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