Archive for Sunday, October 17, 2010

Group releases report on KU doctoral programs

Complicated data, rankings leaves officials confused about what evaluation means for university

October 17, 2010


Kansas University officials are using a mound of new data on the university’s doctoral programs to improve its offerings.

The National Research Council released its much-awaited report at the end of last month, comparing schools’ doctoral programs. It compared several thousand programs in 62 academic fields. KU had 41 programs rated in the report.

But the data and rankings are so complicated, KU officials are taking their time in digesting it.

Even the rankings aren’t distilled down to a single rank — NRC officials decided to broaden their rankings into different categories since its last report in 1995, and offered a range of ranks within a 90 percent confidence level for each program instead of a single figure.

“We’re all struggling and looking at it and scratching our heads and saying: ‘What does this really mean and how can we use it?’” said Ken Audus, KU’s dean of its School of Pharmacy.

Still, some of the ambiguity is by design, said Sara Rosen, dean of graduate studies.

“I think that the NRC did a good job of not allowing anyone to come up with an absolute ranking of programs,” she said.

Still, the report is useful because of the vast array of data included in it, she said. Though that, too, has some shortcomings — much of the data are at least five years old, and some are as old as 10 years, Rosen said.

“It’s five years old, which makes it even more challenging for us,” said Jill Hummels, a spokeswoman for KU’s School of Engineering. “So much has changed since that data has been collected. It’s not reflective of where we are now.”

It’s probably best viewed as a snapshot in time — and points the way for KU to track its own data better, Rosen said.

Rosen said KU’s getting better at tracking its data, and the university has highlighted a few areas of focus moving forward:

• Faculty research productivity — be it journal articles, citations, books or performances, KU wants to get a better sense of the output of its faculty.

• Profiles of KU’s graduate students — including measures like GPA, GRE scores and diversity.

• How graduate students are progressing — not just how long does it take a doctoral student to finish a degree, but also measures such as dropout rates, and how long students take to reach certain milestones, such as beginning a dissertation.

KU is undergoing a strategic planning process where it will attempt to establish measurable goals and results tied to the data the university is tracking, Rosen said.

Improving the school’s graduate education will improve other areas of KU, too, Rosen said.

Successes like a recent $22 million grant for KU’s department of special education aren’t possible without solid graduate student backing, she said.

“The research that happens on a research campus is tightly related to graduate education,” she said.

KU will be looking to improve in certain areas, too, through the planning process, primarily in finding ways to bring in more funds to support graduate students, she said, through grants and other funding sources.

The information in the NRC report is available to the public online at, and KU’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning has made other KU-specific information available at


ashmole 7 years, 7 months ago

There are not easy one-number rankings in this data (you can't say KU English is the 75th best English PhD in the nation) but you can use the data to look broadly and comparatively at how KU programs stack up. In general, the data reveal that most KU PhD programs are in the third or fourth quartiles nationally - that is, closer to the bottom of the pile than the top. Studying the data closely and finding ways to improve KU incrementally is the responsible thing to do. That doesn't get around the fact that KU's programs are generally far from excellent.

Graczyk 7 years, 7 months ago

These rankings also do not take into account the areas of concentration of the faculty. My program at KU is not one of the sexy ones nationally, but no other programs have the particular set of concentrations that this one does.

If you want to do what I want to do, then you come to KU or a handful of other schools - most of which are not the usual suspects.

Still, they could be more selective about some of the students they admit to the program. Some simply are not ready.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 7 months ago

These "boutique" programs are where KU gets the best rankings. One needs to carefully consider these (such as public admin and special education), as there are but a handful in the country. Easier to be #2 in Speech Language and Hearing when there are only five programs against which you are considered.

English, history and chemistry have hundreds of programs against which they are considered, so it is tougher sledding.

Alycat 7 years, 7 months ago

Where are you getting your information from, YWN? There are over 200 Graduate programs in Speech-Language Pathology, not to mention Audiology (over 100). KU's #2 ranking is very impressive...don't downplay it.

equalaccessprivacy 7 years, 7 months ago

No capable scholar should ever have to wade in the sea of corruption and uncaring inhumanity that is KU, even if they decide that a field like their own doesn't require a degree from a pedigreed school. Get rid of the KU HR anti-diversity hatemongers!

sad_lawrencian 7 years, 7 months ago

I second that. KU's graduate programs leave a lot to be desired, at least in the fields I'm familiar with.

valgrlku 7 years, 7 months ago

It should also take into account WHY it takes x amount of time to get from A to B during the doctoral work/dissertation process - not just how long it takes to do so. Some people I know have wanted to move through their programs quickly (or, at least, in an appropriate time frame) but have faced funding issues, faculty disengagement, and a sheer lack of advising/mentoring during the programs. Responsibility lies with both students and faculty.

Add to that the issue of some departments not offering the required courses needed to graduate (or only offering them 1x a year or two). Issues surrounding scheduling of comprehensive exams, proposal approvals, and timely writing feedback also often unnecessarily delay the process. I'd be interested in seeing how may students leave their programs without graduating due to such issues.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 7 months ago

Agreed. Many KU faculty are disengaged from graduate education and research and make lousy mentors. The real travesty is that KU has allowed these faculty to do this and hasn't held them to higher standards.

With the current "research engagment" focus, we will see if Vitter and Gray-Little put some teeth into holding faculty and administrators accountable for their performance.

LogicMan 7 years, 7 months ago

While rankings of Ph.D. programs are likely important, I see much more press nationally and locally on undergraduate rankings. KU's student population is much higher at undergraduate than graduate, so shouldn't their improvement efforts be proportional?

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