You are on CGS' Legacy Site.

    Thank you for visiting CGS! You are currently using CGS' legacy site, which is no longer supported. For up-to-date information, including publications purchasing and meeting information, please visit

    Lesson One – Campus Leadership
    Lesson One – Campus Leadership

    Academic institutions are, by nature, paradoxical beasts. On the one hand, they support pioneering innovations and discovery by faculty and students who are engaged in both research and learning. On the other hand, they can be conservative and bureaucratic, operating sometimes quite effectively and efficiently in maintaining the status quo and in perpetuating sometimes outdated policies and procedures.


    An initiative that proposes to change some of the institution’s most cherished practices, environmental conditions, and myths will meet a sure death without support from the top administrative leadership and the most respected educators and researchers. Having the top administrative and academic leadership supporting these initiatives for change is essential to implementing the following “lessons learned.” However, for these initiatives to succeed, it is essential that they initiate from within the campus community itself, and are not imposed by the upper administration upon faculty and staff.


    Active support from the president and academic vice president or provost is critical. In times of tight financial and human resources on university campuses, successful initiatives that require new resources and energy depend on top-level administrative commitment. Moral, financial, and administrative support for graduate student success and diversity at the highest levels of the university must be visible to the entire community. Support must be available, for example, to ensure that faculty have the time for successful mentoring and receive appropriate acknowledgment and rewards for their efforts. While genuine support at the top administrative levels is critical to long-term success, an intervention aimed at graduate students need not start there.


    Participation from the intellectual leadership among the faculty is essential. Quite often the most distinguished scholars and the most exceptional teachers are less involved with the day-to-day management of the university. Being fully engaged with teaching and research, they have less time for administration, relegating more responsibilities to the deans, chairs, directors of graduate programs, center directors, or leaders of campus governance. Nevertheless, those leading scholars and educators are key constituencies to cultivate, as they can provide a unique level of credibility on campus.


    Therefore, it is important to build a network of some of the campus’ most distinguished scholars—to secure their buy-in and participation in the planning and implementation of a new graduate initiative. These distinguished scholars are nationally recognized senior professors who have compiled a substantial body of research and other exceptional scholarly accomplishments, and bring a cachet and credibility to whatever they do inside or outside the university. One must capitalize on their demonstrated campus leadership, extensive professional networks, and substantial knowledge within their academic disciplines. Customarily they are not the most involved with educational reform, as much of their time is dedicated to research. But it is these individuals who provide important credibility to the change process. They are by far the best role models to share knowledge, experience, and expertise to help graduate students achieve their highest scholarly potential. Getting the leading scholars involved helps to demonstrate to their peers and others in the academic community that fostering student retention and degree completion are worthwhile endeavors.


    Arguments to use in convincing campus administrative leaders and scholars of the critical importance of doctoral student retention are the following:


    The dearth of domestic students completing doctoral degrees in the U.S.—especially in the sciences and engineering—is a matter of national concern. In most major American research universities, a large number of doctoral degrees in the physical sciences and engineering are awarded to international students, some of whom return to their home countries taking their expertise with them or work for America’s economic competitors (NAS, 1995). The pipeline of scientists and engineers will be greatly curtailed if more American students with doctoral degrees in these fields are not energetically recruited, especially women and underrepresented minorities.


    Many universities are dependent upon a steady flow of high quality international applicants. Should this flow be interrupted due to larger world events, academic research could be severely hampered. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. initiated a tightening of visa regulations, with the result that many applicants from outside the U.S. were discouraged from applying to study in this country. A dramatic decline in the number and percentage of international graduate student applicants resulted. While this immediate situation has abated, American universities remain vulnerable to the consequences of larger world events. In addition, other nations are seeking to retain their own graduate students and are competing for an increasing share of the international student population. To avoid sudden shifts in the pipeline of quality graduate students, it is in a university’s long-range interest to cultivate a steady flow of domestic students—including underrepresented minorities and women.


    The continuing failure (across disciplinary boundaries) to graduate a high percentage of entering doctoral students, year after year, points to an institutional culture that demands attention. If departments hold dear to myths of high completion rates among their doctoral students, those myths can by can be exploded by producing reports—department by department—showing actual cohort retention rates, years-to-degree-completion, results from exit interviews of departing students, and graduation rates.


    The money, faculty, and staff devoted to graduate student recruitment, admission, record-keeping, orientation, and classroom instruction are wasted when significant percentages of doctoral students never make it even as far as the candidacy stage, much less to graduation. This inefficiency in managing the success of our recruitment and admission efforts is an enormous drain of university resources.


    The waste of human potential represented by doctoral student dropouts requires our immediate attention. We “woo” to our campuses the “best and brightest,” and then at times do not provide a setting where they can succeed. We entice them to graduate school with assistantships and fellowships, and then we expect them to sink or swim with assistance not fully matched to their needs.


    The retention and success of doctoral students are in the personal best interest of the institution’s academic leaders. Students who are treated well and nurtured effectively are more productive. The time and energy spent by faculty in recruiting and mentoring doctoral students is wasted if they drop out en route to the degree. Campus leaders are in the best position to advance this argument to faculty colleagues.


    Back: Introduction      Next: Lesson Two


    CGS is the leading source of information, data analysis, and trends in graduate education. Our benchmarking data help member institutions to assess performance in key areas, make informed decisions, and develop plans that are suited to their goals.
    CGS Best Practice initiatives address common challenges in graduate education by supporting institutional innovations and sharing effective practices with the graduate community. Our programs have provided millions of dollars of support for improvement and innovation projects at member institutions.
    As the national voice for graduate education, CGS serves as a resource on issues regarding graduate education, research, and scholarship. CGS collaborates with other national stakeholders to advance the graduate education community in the policy and advocacy arenas.  
    CGS is an authority on global trends in graduate education and a leader in the international graduate community. Our resources and meetings on global issues help members internationalize their campuses, develop sustainable collaborations, and prepare their students for a global future.