Graduate Student Orientation: Applying CAS Standards to National Practices

Article excerpt

The thirteen CAS standards and guidelines for student orientation were applied to the results of a nationwide study on orientation practices by graduate schools. Results indicate that most of the practices adhere, in varying degrees, to the standards. Two of the standards were not applicable to graduate student orientation programs.

New graduate students often face many of the same issues and concerns as undergraduates, including anxiety about a new environment and the need to feel welcomed by their institutions (Boyle and Boice 1998; Roscnblatt and Christensen 1993). They are challenged further by having to fit into the culture of their disciplines (Golde 1998; Tinto 1993; Weidman, Twalc, and Stein 2001). Attention to their needs has grown in the past few years with recent studies focused on ethnic diversity (Isaac, Pruitt-Logan, and Upcraft 1995), attrition (Golde 2000), retention (Washburn 2002), student services (Vlisides and Eddy 1993), and on another vital component, graduate student orientation.

Researchers have analyzed the orientation activities offered by academic departments (Miller, Miles, and Dyer 2001; Taub and Komives 1998) or those provided campus-wide (Barker et al. 1997). In 2002, Poock examined orientations offered by the academic department, by the graduate school, and then by graduate schools nationwide (Poock 2004). Together, the current research offered a better understanding of what was going on around the country. The next step, then, was to evaluate the effectiveness of these practices against a national standard.

In this analysis, the results of a nationwide survey of graduate student orientation practices conducted by the U.S. member institutions of the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) (Poock 2004) were compared against national standards developed by the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) in The Book of Professional Standards for Higher Education (CAS 2001). The CAS standards and guidelines were chosen because they "have utility for institutions of all types and size and provide criteria to judge the quality and appropriateness of student orientation programs" (CAS 2001, p.221). However, the Council's thirteen standards, comprehensive in many respects, did not entirely address the unique nature of graduate student socialization and orientation.

For the CGS survey, the highest ranking officials at all 446 member institutions were sent an individual e-mail and a follow-up message. They were directed to an online questionnaire, which a total of 191 participants completed, resulting in a response rate of 43 percent. For the purposes of their study, graduate students were defined as those in master's or doctoral programs (not first professional programs such as J.D., M.D., etc.). Orientation was described as "any efforts...to assist incoming students making the transition to graduate education. Orientation is limited to campus-wide activities and not activities that may be offered by an academic or administrative unit that are not available to all incoming graduate students (e.g., those offered by the Department of History or School of Business)."

Each of CAS'S thirteen standards and guidelines, many abridged because of their length, are bulleted followed by an assessment of nationwide graduate student orientation practices, most of which met the standards. However, not all the CAS standards were addressed in the CGS survey, and some were not consistent with the organizational structure of most graduate schools.

1 Mission-The mission of the student orientation program must include facilitating the transition of new students into the institution, preparing them for its educational opportunities, and initiating their integration into its intellectual, cultural, and social climate.

Of 191 CGS respondents, 72.8 percent offered campus-wide orientation sessions to their incoming graduate students. This may suggest that over a quarter of the respondents did not. …