AUSTIN, Texas—The National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) received a $30,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to expand a groundbreaking Web-based survey effort aimed at evaluating and ranking doctoral departments based on student perceptions of educational and professional development practices.
NAGPS will expand the “Grad School Survey,” first developed by Geoff Davis and Peter Fiske, which attracted more than 6500 respondents from some 400 university departments across the United States in the spring of 1999.
Results from the preliminary survey, which was aimed at science and engineering graduate students, will be released Nov. 12 at The University of Texas at Austin and will be available online from that date at http://www.phds.org. The expanded survey effort, “The Doctoral Program Survey,” is aimed at current and recent doctoral students in all fields, including social sciences, humanities, arts, engineering and sciences.
The survey instrument will be available at www.survey.nagps.org from Nov. 12 through March 3, 2000. The survey is fundamentally different from earlier studies on doctoral education in that it will make data on educational and professional development practices publicly available at the level of individual programs, rather than aggregating over entire disciplines or institutions. It also will allow departments to be ranked based on these criteria. Results will be publicly released on the web at www.survey.nagps.org on April 1, 2000.
The survey covers numerous aspects of graduate education, including faculty mentoring, career guidance and placement services, teaching and professionalism, curricular breadth and flexibility, departmental climate, time to degree and overall student satisfaction — primarily at the departmental level. It is based on reforms that the Association of American Universities and the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, among others, recommended to improve graduate education.
Funds from the Sloan Foundation grant will support a website, survey.nagps.org, additional publicity measures and enhanced analysis of the survey data. With the publicity generated by the results of the initial survey and the funding from the Sloan Foundation, the number of students completing the survey should increase, further strengthening the validity of its results.
While many higher education associations, universities and government committees have agreed in recent years that doctoral education in the United States is in need of reform, changes have been slow to occur at the level of university departments. NAGPS believes that the public availability of department- level data (based on student responses) will encourage departments to implement much-needed changes and provide data needed for the ongoing national discussion of doctoral education
It also will allow prospective students to consider the experiences of current and former graduate students when selecting a program for graduate study. Students and others also will be able to create individualized rankings, based on those educational practices and criteria they value most.
Graduate student response has been positive. Adam Fagen, a doctoral candidate in molecular biology and education at Harvard University, believes the survey is valuable because it “provides an inside look at what’s happening in departments across the country. It allows you to see how the student experience in your department stacks up against others in your field.”
The survey will be administered by the non-profit National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. Representing nearly 900,000 graduate and professional students on 200 member campuses, NAGPS is dedicated to improving the quality of graduate and professional student life in the United States by actively promoting the interests and welfare of graduate- and professional-degree-seeking students.
Debbie Davis, president of NAGPS and a graduate student in the social sciences at the University of California-Irvine, believes that “the Doctoral Program Survey will help students and other interested parties promote changes in their own departments and as such, it is quite important.”