(Reprinted from the May 2012 issue of GradEdge)
Graduate deans report that their top pressing issues in 2012 are about recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management, according to the Council of Graduate Schools’ (CGS) annual Pressing Issues Survey. Each year, CGS asks graduate deans at member institutions to identify the three most important or “pressing” issues or challenges they currently face. The findings from this Pressing Issues Survey inform CGS about the concerns of graduate deans and help to shape sessions at Summer Workshops, Annual Meetings, and other forums, as well as future best practices projects. The survey has been conducted annually as part of the CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey, Phase I: Applications since 2004 and through the CGS membership survey and other surveys in prior years.
The 2012 Phase I survey was sent to the 500 U.S. colleges and universities that were members of CGS as of January 2012. A total of 242 institutions responded to the survey, for a response rate of 48% (Bell, 2012). About 91% (221) of the Phase I survey respondents wrote in one or more pressing issues in response to this open-ended question, and the analyses below are limited to these 221 respondents. They included 147 doctoral institutions, 58 master’s-focused institutions, and 16 institutions classified as baccalaureate or specialized in the 2010 basic Carnegie Classifications. Sixty-nine private, not-for-profit institutions responded to the Pressing Issues Survey, along with 152 public institutions. By geographic region, 60 of the responding institutions were in the Midwest, 49 were in the Northeast, 33 in the West, and 79 in the South. Responses to the Pressing Issues Survey were coded into broad categories. Since respondents were able to write in up to three pressing issues, the percentages sum to more than 100%.
The top pressing issue identified by graduate deans was recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management, mentioned by more than half (58%) of all respondents (see Table 1). Within this category, respondents mentioned managing declining or growing enrollments, competition for prospective graduate students, challenges in attracting a diverse applicant pool, challenges in recruiting international students, and recruiting quality graduate students, among other concerns. Respondents from master’s and specialized institutions were more likely to mention recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management than graduate deans from doctoral institutions (68% vs. 54%), and respondents from private, not-for-profit institutions were more likely to indicate that this was a pressing issue than those at public institutions (65% vs. 55%).
Graduate student financial support was the second most commonly mentioned pressing issue, with half (50%) of all respondents saying this was a concern. This category includes health insurance for graduate students, as well as direct support through assistantships, fellowships, etc. Graduate deans from doctoral institutions were more likely than those from master’s and specialized institutions to indicate that graduate student financial support was a concern (53% vs. 45%). Respondents from public institutions were more likely to note graduate student financial support as a pressing issue than respondents at private, not-for-profit institutions (53% vs. 45%).
Graduate program financing, dealing with budget cuts, and issues related to state economies and the national economy ranked third (36%). Respondents from doctoral institutions and master’s and specialized institutions were nearly equally likely to mention this issue, as were respondents from public institutions and private, not-for-profit institutions.
General management and administration issues ranked as the fourth most pressing issue this year (28%). Within this category, respondents mentioned implementing new technology systems, changes to policies and procedures, and changes to the structure of the graduate school, among other concerns. Respondents from doctoral institutions were more likely to mention general management and administration issues than graduate deans from master’s and specialized institutions (30% vs. 24%), and respondents from private, not-for-profit institutions were more likely to indicate that this was a pressing issue than those at public institutions (32% vs. 26%).
The percentages of respondents who mentioned the remaining pressing issues are shown in Table 1. Student support and services (24%) includes advising and mentoring, professional development for graduate students, mental health counseling, career advice, and job placement assistance, among other concerns. All issues related to program quality; the evaluation, assessment, or review of graduate programs; accreditation; and student learning outcomes were grouped together as program quality, evaluation, assessment, and review (16%). The category of faculty and staff issues (11%) mainly includes responses about the challenges of dealing with faculty and staff shortages, primarily due to budget cuts. Issues surrounding retention, completion, attrition, and time-to-degree (11%) are also grouped together, as are responses related to developing or eliminating programs (9%). The category of leadership and advocacy (7%) includes responses related to promoting graduate education and communicating the value of graduate education to internal and external stakeholders, among other related issues. Finally, all responses related to program delivery, including the delivery of online, distance, interdisciplinary, and joint and dual programs are grouped as program delivery (7%).
The rank order of the top three pressing issues was the same for respondents from doctoral institutions as it was for respondents from master’s and specialized institutions (see Table 1). In both cases recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management was the top issue (54% and 68%, respectively), graduate student financial support was ranked second (53% and 45%, respectively), and graduate program financing, dealing with budget cuts, and issues related to the economy ranked third (37% and 35%, respectively). Respondents from doctoral institutions were more likely than respondents from master’s and specialized institutions to mention student support and services (31% vs. 12%), but they were less likely to mention faculty and staff issues (7% vs. 18%).
The findings for respondents from public institutions and private, not-for-profit institutions also mirrored the overall findings, with recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management; graduate student financial support; and graduate program financing, dealing with budget cuts, and issues related to the economy as the first, second, and third most pressing issues, respectively (see Table 1). However, respondents at private, not-for-profit institutions were more likely than those at public institutions to indicate that recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management was a pressing issue (65% vs. 55%) and that student support and services was a concern (32% vs. 21%). In contrast, respondents at public institutions were more likely than those at private, not-for-profit institutions to cite graduate student financial support as a pressing issue (53% vs. 45%).
Recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management was the top pressing issue identified by graduate deans at institutions located in all four regions of the United States (see Table 2). The percentage of respondents indicating this area as a pressing issue ranged from a low of 53% of respondents in the South to a high of 67% of respondents in the West. Graduate student financial support was the second most pressing issue across all four regions, with about half of all respondents in each geographic area indicating that this was a concern. Graduate program financing/budget/economy was the third most pressing issue for respondents from the Midwest, West, and South, while general management and administration issues ranked third for respondents from the Northeast. Respondents from the Northeast were also most likely to mention issues related to student support and services.
Articles in previous years about the Pressing Issues Survey have provided an examination of the changes in pressing issues over time. Over the past several years, however, there have been variations in coding among researchers, as well as variations in the broad categories used to group issues, meaning that such an examination of changes over time is inexact. Rather than presenting rankings of pressing issues categories over time, it is better to simply touch on the issues that remain among the top concerns of graduate deans each year.
Two broad topics in particular have been mentioned frequently by graduate deans over the past several years: graduate student financial support and recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management. In most recent years, these have been among the two most pressing issues faced by graduate deans. Issues related to graduate program financing, dealing with budget cuts, and the economy have also been mentioned frequently by graduate deans, particularly in the last four years. General management and administration issues have also been cited as concerns in recent years, but given the wide variety of issues that are typically grouped within this category, the specific challenges have varied from year to year.
The results of this year’s Pressing Issues Survey reveal that the majority of graduate deans view recruitment, admissions, and enrollment management as their top concern, as they face issues related to managing declining or growing enrollments, competition for prospective graduate students, and challenges in attracting a diverse applicant pool, among other concerns. They also remain concerned about graduate student financial support and about graduate program financing, dealing with budget cuts, and issues related to the economy. The latter is often reflected in other broad categories as well, with respondents mentioning concerns about the effect of budget cuts on other aspects of graduate education, including recruiting budgets, personnel, and program delivery. Overall, the results of the Pressing Issues Survey reveal the continued focus of graduate deans on recruiting, enrolling, and financially supporting high quality graduate students; on offering high quality graduate programs that produce graduates ready to meet the demands of the 21st century global economy; and on providing students with the necessary support to ensure their successful completion.
By Nathan E. Bell, Director, Research and Policy Analysis, Council of Graduate Schools
Bell, N.E. (2012). Findings from the 2012 CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey, Phase I: Applications. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.
As the national advocate for graduate education, CGS serves as a resource for policymakers and others on issues concerning graduate education, research, and scholarship. Based in Washington, DC, the organization provides its members with regular updates and analyses of legislative and regulatory proposals and policies that affect graduate education.
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