Senate Source

November 2011


Special Committee Investigates Graduate Student Competitiveness


Sharon Farmer and Rachael Goodhue

The competitiveness of the University’s graduate education enterprise is at risk, and the Academic Senate, through its new Task Force on Competitiveness in Academic Graduate Student Support (CAGSS), is uniquely positioned to help find a solution, says Senate Chair Robert Anderson.


CAGGS was formed in July 2011, after the Regents Finance Committee chair asked the Senate and Administration to report on the University’s competitiveness in academic graduate student support. The Committee includes faculty and graduate students who serve on the Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs (CCGA), the University Committee on Planning and Budget (UCPB), and the University Committee on Research Policy (UCORP).


The Academic Council charged CAGSS with drafting a report that addresses UC’s ability to compete with other institutions for outstanding applicants to academic graduate programs, the implications of recent tuition increases, and strategies for increasing competitiveness.


At the September 2011 Board of Regents meeting, Chair Anderson told the Board that departments are finding it increasingly difficult to make competitive offers of support to both domestic and international graduate students. The longstanding and growing nature of the problem is documented in UCOP’s 2010 graduate student support survey, which shows that the gap between UC’s net average stipend offers and those from top-choice non-UC institutions increased by $1,600 in the past four years, from $1,050 in 2007 to $2,697 in 2010.


Chair Anderson notes that American research universities achieved international prominence by hiring the best faculty in the world without regard to country of origin. The success of this strategy raised all boats, improving the quality of UC faculty and graduate students, both American and foreign-born.


“Faculty almost always choose the institution with the best graduate students,” he said. “Therefore, in order to recruit and retain outstanding faculty, the University must be able to recruit the best graduate students from around the world. Although the current budget situation is certainly a challenge, improving the way we attract and support graduate students has less to do with the budget and more to do with arranging internal policy to provide an equal playing field for the best international and domestic applicants.”


CAGSS’ chair, UC Davis Professor Rachael Goodhue, also chairs CCGA. Over the years, CCGA has sounded the alarm about the decline in UC’s graduate education competitiveness (see its 2005 report, The Decline of UC as a Great International University, and its 2010 White Paper on Graduate Education). The Academic Senate’s 2006 Memorial to the Regents on Non-Resident Tuition for Graduate Students also demonstrated overwhelming faculty support for eliminating non-resident tuition for academic graduate students.


Goodhue says that the information that CAGSS is collecting for its report to the Academic Council confirm that UC’s financial offers are not competitive with those from comparison institutions in terms of the amount or type of support. She agrees with Chair Anderson that UC’s institutional accounting methods, high graduate tuition, and non-resident tuition for Ph.D. students all pose obstacles to recruiting the best graduate students and negatively impact the University’s teaching and research mission.


“The University must work to restore graduate education at UC,” she says. “Since the University hires 20% of its faculty from within UC, attracting the best graduate students worldwide is critical to maintaining our preeminence.”


CAGSS plans to submit a final report to the Academic Council by March 2012. Task force members will also work with the administration in a Joint Task Force on Graduate Education Competitiveness to present the data to the Regents. CAGSS will brief CCGA, UCPB, UCORP, and the Academic Council on its progress at regular intervals.