Data Sources: Highlights from the 2017 CGS Pressing Issues Survey

    Hironao Okahana, Assistant Vice President, Research & Policy Analysis


    The CGS Pressing Issues Survey is an important vehicle for the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) to stay apprised of the key priorities for our member deans. The 2017 survey was administered to all 485 graduate deans or equivalent at CGS member institutions based in the U.S. and Canada via email between February 1 and February 17, 2017. The response rate was 42%, with 205 institutions recording their survey responses. The survey asked a range of questions regarding priorities for graduate deans, graduate schools, and their home institutions for the upcoming twelve months, as well as observations of graduate application trends. This article provides insights into three key areas: graduate application trends, advocacy, and diversity.


    Graduate Application Trends


    International Application Trends
    Nearly one half of graduate deans at U.S. doctoral universities (48%) indicated they are seeing downward changes in international graduate applications this year, compared to the last application cycle. A little over one-third (37%) indicated they are seeing no substantial change. In contrast, only one quarter of U.S. master’s colleges and university graduate deans observed substantial downward changes in international graduate applications. Of those graduate deans who indicated downward changes in international graduate applications, the majority (53%) attributed the shifts to “Other Factors.” Many wrote in concerns related to the current political climate and immigration policies. Though only seven Canadian institutions responded to this survey, all seven graduate deans at these institutions indicated upward changes in international graduate applications with some attributing the increase to recent U.S. policies.


    However, at this point, it may be premature to attribute the downward trend of international applications entirely to the recent immigration executive orders. CGS previously reported a 1% growth in international graduate applications between Fall 2015 and Fall 2016 and attributed some of this decline to economic factors. Also, while some may link this to the November election results, the recent immigration executive orders were not issued until the Fall 2017 application cycle was well underway. Much uncertainty remains with pending court cases, and a clearer understanding of the impact on international graduate admissions will be seen in admission yield rates, visa issuance statistics, and matriculation rates for the upcoming Fall semester and beyond. Nevertheless, a chilling effect has been felt across the graduate education community, and CGS remains concerned regarding the potential adverse impact of these policies.



    Doctoral & Master’s Application Trends
    Overall, the vast majority of graduate deans observed no change (38%) or upward change (36%) in master’s applications. A little over one-fourth of graduate deans (27%) reported a downward change in master’s applications compared to the last application cycle. Though graduate deans at U.S. doctoral universities were more likely to report downward changes in master’s applications (30%) than their counterparts at U.S. master’s colleges and universities (21%). The majority of U.S. doctoral university graduate deans (51%) observed no substantial changes in doctoral applications compared to the last application cycle.


    More than three out of four graduate deans (77%) at U.S. master’s colleges and universities indicated they will very likely be providing leadership in graduate enrollment management in the next twelve months. In contrast, only 57% of graduate deans at U.S. doctoral universities plan the same, and nearly one out of ten (9%) indicated they are not likely to provide leadership in this area. The number of graduate program offerings seem to remain on a growth trajectory. More than eight out of ten graduate deans reported their institutions will very likely (57%) or likely (25%) create one or more graduate degree program in the next twelve months. Nearly two out of five (38%) graduate deans indicated their institutions are not likely to eliminate one or more graduate degree program in the next twelve months.


    Advocacy and Public Affairs

    Compared to other key priorities, such as resource acquisitions and graduate enrollment management, communicating the public benefit of graduate education to broader audiences did not emerge as a top issue for graduate deans. Less than one half of graduate deans surveyed (47%) indicated they are very likely to communicate the public benefits of graduate education to broader audiences, although 35% said they are likely to do so. However, a more striking finding is that over one third of graduate deans at U.S. doctoral universities (35%) and U.S. master’s colleges and universities (34%) reported that their offices are not likely to proactively reach out to their Congressional representatives. This response may be, in part, a result of organizational structures at CGS member institutions. Many, particularly large institutions, have separate external relations/government affairs offices that serve as designated points of contact with policymakers and other external audiences.


    However, given the current political climate toward federal funding support for graduate education, humanities, and science, this is a critical time for our community to organize and make its voice heard.  If not able to directly engage legislative representatives, graduate deans can still provide resources on the importance of graduate education to their university officers, who subsequently can use those materials with external stakeholders and policymakers. CGS offers many resources graduate deans can use to engage in advocacy efforts, including examples of advocacy materials developed by their peers. We encourage graduate deans to engage both on-campus and external stakeholders of graduate education. In addition, CGS invites member institutions to share stories about innovative and exceptional graduate students and alumni via #GradImpact. This project provides our community with an opportunity to demonstrate that graduate education matters not only to degree holders, but also to the communities where they live and work.



    Diversity and Inclusiveness

    Diversity and inclusiveness for graduate students remain one of the top priorities for graduate deans. Nearly two-thirds of graduate deans (65%) indicated they will very likely promote diversity and inclusion in the graduate student body in the next twelve months. Also, eight out of ten indicated that their institutions will very likely (44%) or likely (36%) adopt new student recruitment strategies to enhance diversity and inclusiveness. The sentiment was particularly strong at U.S. doctoral universities, as 72% of graduate deans reported they will very likely promote graduate student diversity in the coming year.


    In contrast, less than one third of graduate deans (31%) indicated they will promote diversity and inclusiveness in graduate faculty in the next twelve months, with 18% of them noting they are not likely to do so. This, perhaps, is in part because few graduate deans have direct involvement in faculty recruitment and hiring decisions, as those functions are primarily handled by other units (e.g., individual departments, faculty affairs offices, etc.). However, there are opportunities for graduate deans to actively influence faculty recruitment and hiring practices. Moreover, efforts to facilitate diversity and inclusiveness in the professoriate go hand in hand with our efforts to increase diversity in the graduate student body. For example, with funding support from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Alliances for Graduate Education and Professoriate (AGEP), the Big Ten Academic Alliance, which includes several CGS member graduate deans, has developed case-studies and facilitation guides on unconscious bias during the hiring process. At the upcoming CGS Summer Workshop, there will also be a session on strategies for improving diversity in the STEM professoriate, which will feature some key takeaways from the recent CGS AGEP National Forum.


    The full results from the 2017 CGS Pressing Issues Survey will be made available later in the spring. In addition, findings were discussed in a CGS Webinar, “Top Issues and Priorities for Graduate Deans,” on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, and the webinar recording will be available here. We encourage member deans to continue to examine key priorities on their campuses and how they align with those identified by the larger community. We hope that you will let us know how CGS can remain a go-to resource as you seek to address the pressing issues graduate deans face.




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