Funding our Highest Degree

April 15, 2013

Before I begin, I must first acknowledge a lapse in common sense pointed out by alert readers of the previous issue of Provost eNews: North Atlantic cod will simply not grow in the fresh waters of Potter Lake. To make such a thing work, we would have to add all the salt we were planning to save through use of cross-country skis and tire chains, thus compromising our efficiency measures. However, we do take solace in the knowledge that a number calls were placed to KU’s police chief for advice on implementing bans on texting while walking.

In this issue, we turn our attention to Goal 2 of our strategic plan, Bold Aspirations, which focuses upon the integrity of our highest degree — the doctoral degree. The strategies include strengthening recruitment, developing better funding packages, using doctoral student outcomes data to set program standards, and insuring students are placed into appropriate careers.

An implementation committee, led by Thomas Heilke, dean of graduate studies, will issue specific recommendations this summer. In the meantime, I am reporting today on the important aspect of doctoral funding and the findings of the Doctoral Funding Work Group that met last year. The outcomes of that report are now available on the strategic plan implementation page and the Graduate Studies home page.

Mapping the doctoral funding landscape

The Doctoral Funding Work Group conducted the first comprehensive, university-wide review of how KU funds doctoral education. In addition, the work group compared KU’s funding of doctoral students with that of a select group of AAU peers. The data provide an important snapshot, and I encourage you to review them carefully.

The work group recommended a new KU model for funding doctoral education with these features:

  • more certainty in funding for students through the use of multiyear funding packages;
  • diversity in training experiences for students;
  • identification of new sources of funding.

Establishing this KU model is essential to the other strategies for improving doctoral education:

  • Funding packages encourage us to be intentional about providing diversity in doctoral training by offering both GTA and GRA opportunities.
  • Having funding packages in place creates a sense of stability, which augments our efforts to reduce the time to degree for our students.
  • A managed time to degree with multiyear funding packages strengthens our recruiting offers to prospective students and improves our rankings with peers.

Our biggest challenge is the wide variance in the funding models across campus, even among departments within the same school or college. Establishing funding continuity will first mean re-envisioning how current funds are used.

While we have increased fellowship funding and are working to increase it further, there is a lot we can do more effectively with our current resources. Most units do not guarantee a set number of years to support a student who stays in good standing. To remain competitive, KU should move further to multiyear funding packages, recognizing that the sources of funding may vary from year to year and may involve funding outside the academic unit.

Departments can look to the dramatic improvement we have achieved in undergraduate recruiting. Central to this improvement is more efficient usage of scholarship funding. The past practice of offering “reward” awards to rising juniors and seniors was not effective for recruiting. By transitioning instead to fund renewable four-year scholarships for entering students, we have increased the quantity and the quality of our incoming undergraduate class. In several schools, this new model can also free up funds to support graduate students.

Departments should also ensure that all doctoral students make at least one grant or fellowship application either before or during their first year. The Graduate Studies web site maintains a comprehensive list of fellowship opportunities.

Other steps being taken by Graduate Studies

Graduate Studies has put or will very soon put several new initiatives into place to support our priorities:

  • Strengthening the pipeline of prospective students being transitioned into program applicants through the use of a Constituent Relations Management (CRM) software package. The CRM is currently being piloted with five units: the School of Engineering, the Self Graduate Fellowship Program, the Edwards campus, the MBA program, and the School of Journalism Marketing Communications program at Edwards Campus.
  • Creating workshops for fall 2013 to provide information and resources to faculty directors of graduate studies (in collaboration with the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences).
  • Working individually with programs whose median time to degree is seven years or greater in order to identify barriers or challenges to timely completion and to determine solutions for decreasing time to degree.
  • Identifying departmental best practices and sharing them with the KU community.

Bits and Bytes

  • The Bold Aspirations Visitor and Lecture Series continues this week with a lecture by Professor Anne Basting of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Professor Basting’s lecture “The Promise of Improvisational Health Ensembles: Stories from the Junction of Arts, Science, and Aging” is Thursday, April 18 at 11 a.m. at The Commons.
  • Registration is open through Friday, April 26 for the KU Center for Technology Commercialization Innovation Fair. The fair is on Tuesday, April 30, from 4–6 p.m. with an awards program at 5 p.m. It is a great opportunity to learn about KU technology, discover opportunities for entrepreneurial collaboration, and network with faculty, students, and company representatives.
  • Congratulations to student Hannah Sitz on being named KU’s 17th Truman Scholar last week. Hannah is from Andover and is a senior in her third year at KU pursuing a double major in psychology and in strategic communication in the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications. She is also co-director of Alternative Breaks. The Truman Scholarship will provide up to $30,000 for graduate school, where Hannah plans to pursue a master’s in public administration.
Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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