Thursday, January 21, 2016

UK Strategic Plan Seeks to Strengthen Graduate Education

by Blair Hoover

The University of Kentucky aspires to global recognition as a nationally ranked public institution, focused intently on addressing the challenges confronting the Commonwealth it has served for nearly 150 years.

That vision — and how the university will measure its progress — are outlined in detail in UK's 2015-2020 Strategic Plan. The plan was endorsed by the UK Board of Trustees in October 2015, and it outlines five strategic areas where the university needs to continue building upon its progress of the last several years to meet its ambitious aspirations.

One of the cornerstones of the plan is progress in graduate education, where tomorrow's scholars and researchers are nurtured and developed.

"Graduate education is a critical aspect of our identity as a national and global research university," said Susan Carvahlo, interim dean of The Graduate School at UK. "Attracting and training top-quality graduate students allows our faculty to conduct research on a different scale than they could without the graduate component.

"In addition, graduate students entrust their professional development to UK, and we need to make sure we continuously assess our programs to align with the priorities of the professions they will enter."

As specified in the plan, the university's mission for graduate education is "to strengthen the quality and distinctiveness of its graduate programs to transform students into accomplished scholars and professionals who contribute to the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world through their research and discovery, creative endeavors, teaching, and service."

Toward those goals, the 2015-2020 plan proposes graduate education will:
Increase the selectivity of the university's graduate programs.
Provide incentives for top graduate programs through the awarding of block grants.
Increase the number of graduate degrees awarded at the master's and doctoral levels as well as education specialist.
Increase the diversity of graduate students.
"The 2020 goals focus on the national competitiveness and visibility that will bring us strong applicants, on providing them with the balance and the cutting-edge curriculum that they will need for their futures, and on helping them each find the most fulfilling professional path upon graduation," Carvalho said. "The Graduate School is providing assessment data and national benchmarks to ensure that our best graduate programs are on a par with the very best in the nation and the world."

More specifically, UK's graduate programs, according to the strategic plan, must make progress in:
Recruiting and retaining outstanding graduate students from all backgrounds.
Investing in graduate programs that have distinctive synergy with UK’s research priorities and/or whose graduate students demonstrate excellence at the national or global levels.
Elevating the quality and richness of the graduate student experience and increase the national competitiveness of UK’s graduate programs.
Carvahlo considers research and graduate education inseparable and mutually dependent.

"Just as the research informs the graduate training and curriculum, the graduate students accelerate and inform the research. It is no coincidence that our highest-ranked graduate programs are often aligned with our top-ranked research programs," she said.

UK graduates’ future success, especially at the doctoral level, often depends on the rigor of the research program that trains them. And in turn, those graduate students support the success of the grant applications and the implementation of UK research projects.

As a result, the research and graduate education goals set forth in the strategic plan are purposefully very ambitious, Carvahlo said. "We owe it to our present and future graduate students to provide the best training ground for their professional success."

"Each college will work, with the full support of The Graduate School, to develop plans that implement those goals within their own professional contexts, and our shared vision will provide the foundation and the resources to achieve those goals," she said.

The strategic plan in full can be read here. Over the next several weeks, UKNow will be exploring different facets of the plan, focusing on each of the five strategic areas:
Undergraduate student success
Graduate education
Research
Diversity and Inclusivity
Community engagement


MEDIA CONTACT: Blair Hoover, (859) 257-6398; blair.hoover@uky.edu