Faculty task force examines howto best finance graduate programs

by Jerret Raffety

Rising education costs and shrinking financial support from the state has caused University faculty members and administration to look at ways to change graduate programs.

In January, a task force of 12 faculty members and officials released recommendations about how to best finance graduate programs, but they still remain steps away from implementation.

According to the report, graduate programs are finding money harder and harder to come by, and one task force member called the situation a “financial crisis” at the University.

Victor Bloomfield, vice provost for research and interim dean for the Graduate School, said finding new ways to finance graduate programs is an important step to improving the situation.

The report outlines 10 recommendations for financing graduate education at the University.

To increase funding sources, task force members recommended requesting an additional $5 million for graduate fellowship programs in the University’s two-year budget request to the state and organizing a major fund-raising campaign.

Task force members also suggested ways to spend money more efficiently. Those options included shrinking enrollment sizes, shortening program lengths, limiting administrative procedures and possibly closing or merging some programs.

E. Thomas Sullivan, executive vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, will consider the task force’s recommendations. But even if the steps are approved, how the changes will happen is undetermined.

Bloomfield said, “Approval is only the first step; the real question is, how do you implement them?”

It is expected that Sullivan would create more task forces to follow through with the changes, Bloomfield said.

Sullivan could not be reached by phone for comment, but his assistant said, “We consider it a high priority to recruit the best graduate students, and funding is a large part of this.”

Bloomfield said the University does not know when the suggestions could be implemented.

Some faculty members also said they believe lack of funding limits recruiting the best graduate students.

“We’re getting excellent applicants, but at the same time, they’re getting excellent offers from other schools,” said Claudia Neuhauser, director of graduate studies for the department of ecology, evolution and behavior.

Unless funding levels change, Neuhauser said, she is concerned her program might not be able to provide the same level of fellowships, financial support and salaries for graduate students.

The January report is a start, but officials must also analyze finances in individual colleges, she said.

“(This) report takes a 30,000-foot view of graduate education at the University,” Neuhauser said. “There’s a difference between a report that applies to all programs and a report that provides specific solutions for all programs.”