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 sites.nationalacademies.org/pga/Resdoc/index.htm, and KU’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning has made other KU-specific information available at www2.ku.edu/~oirp/NRC/.