Magazine article Liberal Education

The Disconnect between Graduate Education & Faculty Realities

Magazine article Liberal Education

The Disconnect between Graduate Education & Faculty Realities

Article excerpt

IN 1993 THE Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) launched the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program because we thought there was a serious need to improve the way graduate students prepared for an academic career. The nearly exclusive emphasis on research in traditional doctoral programs was, we believed, not adequate. Knowing a specialization and how to conduct research is a necessary but not sufficient condition to get a job as a faculty member and to do it well. Because most faculty teach and advise students, teaching and learning should be a central component of graduate preparation. And because professors, like other professionals, share responsibility for governing their organizations, we believed that graduate students should learn about the academic profession, colleges and universities as organizations, and relationships between professors and their institutions-in short, about academic citizenship.

Those of us who developed the PFF program could find little research or empirical evidence for our beliefs. Indeed, when compared to undergraduate education, I discovered that in doctoral education:

* The scholarly literature is thin.

* Few empirical studies are available on best practices or factors associated with student success and failure.

* Institutional research to track the progress of graduate students and make changes in programs is very limited.

* Studies of alumni are few and graduate programs are deprived of a feedback loop to know how their programs relate to the actual careers of their alumni.

* There is little innovation or rigorous assessments to test alternative educational practices.

* Because doctoral education is decentralized it resembles a "cottage industry," in which each faculty member establishes his/her own rules, little collective learning occurs, and minimal centralized standards or guidelines are available.

The contrast with the richness of resources for understanding undergraduate education is striking. For undergraduate education there is substantial scholarly literature about good (and poor) practices and about multiple kinds of educational innovations and experiments. Recent years have been a particularly fertile time for re-thinking traditional practices, assessing student learning outcomes, and introducing educational innovations to improve the education of undergraduates.

But the situation regarding graduate education is starting to change. Several studies relevant to doctoral education have been completed and others are in process. Collectively, they are painting an empirical picture of the need for PFF programs that earlier we could only intuit. This essay surveys these recent studies and summarizes their results, as they convey a research-based need for the kinds of innovative faculty preparation programs we have been nurturing for several years.

Studies of the Graduate Student Experience

Chris Golde and Timothy Dore (2001) surveyed doctoral students in eleven arts and sciences disciplines at twenty-seven universities. They drew two important conclusions.

The data from this study show that in today's doctoral programs, there is a three-- way mismatch between student goals, training, and actual careers... . Doctoral students persist in pursuing careers as faculty members, and graduate programs persist in preparing them for careers at research universities, despite the well-publicized paucity of academic jobs and efforts to diversify the options available for doctorate-holders. The result: Students are not well prepared to assume the faculty positions that are available, nor do they have a clear concept of their suitability for work outside of research. (5)

Fifty-four percent of the graduate students reported a "very strong" preference for a position in a large research-oriented university, a like number preferred a liberal arts college, and 44 percent wanted a comprehensive university. …

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