Thursday, November 06, 2008

Ohio State Evaluates its PhD Programs

by Daniel Bennett

The Chronicle reported that the Ohio State University exhibited a touch of pro-activism recently, by completing a year long evaluation of its PhD programs. OSU currently has 90 PhD programs and identified 29 of them as being either high quality or strong, 16 as good, 11 as not assessable due to being new or in transition, 29 in need of restructuring or reassessment, and 5 that are candidates for elimination. The five small programs marked for disinvestment include comprehensive vocational education, soil science, welding engineering, rehabilitation services, and technology education.

OSU decided to pursue the self-study when it found out that it trailed other Big Ten universities in the proportion of new PhDs granted, measured by PhDs per full-time tenure track faculty. The University will use the results of the evaluation as a means of allocating resources, such as student stipends.

The measures used to assess the programs include:
Students' Time to Degree
Students' GRE Scores
Graduate Job Placements
Student Diversity
Share of PhD production
Overall Program Quality and Centrality to the University's Mission
Despite the need for further information, it appears as though the measures are fair and provide an accurate assessment of the programs. Some of the measures are quantitative, but others are subjective and clarification would be nice. For instance, how was job placement evaluated? Is it number of placements, quality of placement, starting salary, or some other measure? Some fields, such as finance, economics, medicine and law, have excellent prospects for work outside of academia. How is this balanced? The program quality component is very ambiguous. What is included in the quality component? As for student diversity, what does this mean? Is the diversity a measure of gender, racial, or ethnic composition, or perhaps specialization? It would seem logical that a program would want to attract the best students without any pre-determined quota system. These are not criticisms, but rather a call for more information.

OSU jumped out in front of the curve in anticipation of the release of the assesment of American PhD programs by the National Research Council, which many universities will use to evaluate their graduate offerings and make adjustments. The results should help to allocate resources more effectively and reduce some costs, and it appears to have been done without the invisible hand of accreditation. This is progress in academia and let's hope that it spreads to other areas of the university and that other universites follow suit. Way to GO Buckeyes!

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