Lesson Five – Monitoring Graduate Student Progress
    Lesson Five – Monitoring Graduate Student Progress

     

    Regardless of how decentralized the administration of graduate education and research may be, a system of monitoring graduate student progress is critical to assuring that the graduate experience is successful across all graduate programs. This can be done through an annual report (by program) of student progress and degree completion.

     

    University-wide records and reporting can benefit the creation and maintenance of an academic environment that fosters diversity and student success in several ways:

     

    Department or program anecdotal examples of success and failure often do not match reality. Faculty perceptions of the demographic composition of their students, the extent of student “stop outs” and “drop outs,” and the effectiveness of certain mentors should be challenged by institutional data. The performance of faculty members who regularly mentor and appear successful but whose students never or rarely complete their degrees is often hidden by the failure to view students’ graduation rates by mentor. Programs that boast an extraordinarily high graduation rate typically discount students whose failures fall below the visibility radar.



    The monitoring of students’ academic progress should first and foremost occur at the departmental or program level so that student, faculty/mentor, and program-wide problems are discovered and addressed early. Each program should establish a mechanism for tracking individual student’s academic progress so that faculty and mentors are aware when a student is floundering academically or has failed to register for classes one semester. This system would also alert graduate program directors to mentors whose students exhibit unusually high drop out rates.

     

    Significant differences in student completion data by department/program can provide indications of localized departmental problems that can be addressed quietly and effectively. If completion data and time-to-degree are negative for only certain departments, remedies need to be focused and individualized; if the data are negative for the entire campus, the problem is widespread and requires different solutions.

     

    The monitoring of student progress at the graduate school or university level enables diagnoses and interventions to be enacted that address “the forest,” and not simply “the trees.” When viewing the failure of a particular student, it is easy and quite often incorrect to attribute that failure to the student. When viewing the performance—positive and negative—of an entire program, patterns emerge that point to systemic issues. One program may have no more highly qualified students than the next, but the support systems in place lead to consistent student successes. Discerning these patterns is helpful in institutional problem-solving and the replication of successes.

     

    Generating and distributing reports on student progress help move the responsibility for successes and failures beyond the mentor or the graduate program to the larger graduate community. An ongoing centralized “progressions” audit helps to ensure that all graduate students stay on track. If a student begins falling behind members of his/her cohort, the graduate school can bring this fact to the mentor’s attention. There can also be reminders to students of critical filing deadlines and the provision of all necessary forms to complete. If a student misses a deadline, the mentor and graduate program director should petition the graduate school for an extension. When the graduate school monitors the students’ grade point averages, leaves of absences, unauthorized “stop-outs,” and missed deadlines, this serves as a sort of safety net—a sounding of an alarm to the mentor, graduate program director, and student.

     

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