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Report: Grad school attrition rising

BY MORGAN OLSEN | APRIL 30, 2010 7:30 AM

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With postgraduate education a necessity for top jobs across the nation, universities need to catch up, a national report said.

“The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the U.S.,” released on Thursday, found that while the interest in postgraduate education is up, degree completion is down.

The report comes from the Commission on the Future of Graduate Education in the U.S., a 19-member board of corporate and university leaders.

The national results mirror what officials say is happening at the University of Iowa, where the release of a task-force report on the future of graduate programs identified 14 programs for additional evaluation. Many of those programs had problems with too few students completing degrees or taking too long to finish.

UI Graduate College Dean John Keller estimated applications for graduate-student programs for fall 2010 are up 20 percent from last year. While he said enrollment remains steady, he expects that to change in the coming weeks when more students accept admission offers.

“The interest is definitely there,” said Keller, citing that all 16 students in last fall’s freshman seminar “Grad School: Is It For You?” were interested in going to grad school.

“The problem is that overall [degree] completion is down,” he continued, saying that one reason is because the financial support isn’t available. “Many students can’t stay additional years if there’s no financial support.”

UI Provost Wallace Loh agreed finances are a major reason some students can’t achieve a higher level of education.

“We’re not supporting graduate education efficiently,” he said. “If you have to work part-time waiting tables to keep up with costs, it’s going to take you longer to complete your program.”

Completion rates were a major concern for the report’s authors. Nationally, fewer than 25 percent of graduate students received their Ph.D. within five years, and only 45 percent finished in seven.

Keller, who was in Washington, D.C., when the report came out Thursday, visited with Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, about postgraduate education the UI campus.

In a statement, Loebsack highlighted two points from the report: the national necessity of higher education and the need for excellent postgraduate education.

“The number of U.S. jobs that will require advanced degrees is expected to rise over the next decade, and we must make sure that our workforce is prepared to excel in the industries of tomorrow,” Loebsack said.

The national report shows the attrition rate for doctoral education is as high as 40 to 50 percent.

Some of the main reasons for not completing a degree are change in family status, employment status, job commitments, and dissatisfaction with the program.

The authors called for changes in three areas: university, industry, and government.

Keller agreed a stronger partnership between industries and universities can help. At the UI, for example, ACT, an Iowa City-based testing organization, provides graduate fellowships for underrepresented minorities.

The fellowship gives recipients an annual $20,000 stipend and a full resident-rate tuition scholarship. Keller said this is just one way industries can help students succeed.

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