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Erika Biga Lee
University Graduate School

Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011

'Steps Taken' report marks progress in graduate education

April 14, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University and other institutions of higher education are acting strategically to ensure that graduate education remains a viable option for a growing number of students, said James Wimbush, dean of the University Graduate School.

He addressed the issue upon the release of Steps Taken on The Path Forward, a new report from the Council of Graduate Schools. It details steps that colleges and universities have made to implement the recommendations of The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States, a landmark report issued last year by the Commission on the Future of Graduate Education.

Wimbush was one of three graduate school deans who spoke at the release of the Steps Taken report during a forum on graduate education last week in Washington, D.C.

At Indiana University, he said, "the report motivated us to increase our focus on a number of key areas -- recruitment, completion, and career and professional development -- and we're doing a lot in all of these and other areas, but we gave special attention to completion, and the No. 1 factor that influences it, financial support."

The April 2010 Path Forward report was a result of collaboration by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Educational Testing Service. It called on the federal government, universities and industry to work together to strengthen the future of graduate education.

The new document reviews the impact of The Path Forward one year later and outlines issues and challenges confronting graduate education. It says the report has:

  • Influenced critical decision processes by helping to shape institutional strategic plans and goals for graduate education programs
  • Changed institutional priorities by highlighting the importance of graduate education
  • Created new communication channels, such as catalyzing new online discussions between deans and faculty about graduate education issues
  • Shaped evaluation metrics and affirmed the commitment of graduate deans to developing and using outcome measures and offering more information to students
  • Introduced new programs, particularly professional development programs for graduate students.

Wimbush cited the New Academic Directions project at Indiana University, which examined the institution's academic structure to ascertain if it includes the right mix of academic units and programs along with flexibility and efficiency for training future graduate students and undergraduates.

Findings from the Council of Graduate Schools' Ph.D. Completion Project, he said, show that financial support is the top challenge facing graduate students, followed by advising and family support. He said graduate school officials have significant concerns about the number of students who are having difficulty completing their programs because of inadequate financial resources and debt.

IU has established additional graduate fellowships and deans have targeted fund-raising to the support of graduate education, but federal support is also needed, Wimbush said.

"At a time when we need more people to be pursuing graduate education, the federal government should be enhancing support for graduate education and higher education overall," he said. "The Department of Education's proposal to eliminate the in-school interest subsidy for graduate and professional school students is a concern and the graduate community would like to work with policymakers on ways to address this."

Speakers at last week's forum also included U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop of New York, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Under Secretary of Education Martha Kantor and officials from Educational Testing Service, IBM and IBM Foundation, and Batelle Memorial Institute. The Steps Taken report can be seen at