Graduate program rankings bring benefits

Twenty-eight programs in the USF Graduate School have been featured on the U.S. News and World Report’s 2012 list of America’s Best Graduate Schools, an accomplishment that could benefit the University on multiple fronts.

USF Graduate School programs have made similar lists before, such as a report from the National Research Council released last year that evaluated programs over the course of three years, said associate dean of the Graduate School Richard Pollenz.

Based on the history of prior accomplishments, Pollenz said the U.S. News and World Report ranking, which was published in Tuesday’s edition of the publication, may bring recognition and potential students to the University, as well as provide students a better chance at “getting in to top colleges and top jobs in the private sector.”

“Ten years ago we had 25 percent less graduate students than we do now, significantly less programs and everything else,” Pollenz said. “If you went back 10 years and said, ‘Is the program a higher quality now than 10 years ago?’ I think the answer would be, ‘yes.'”

The timing of the U.S. News and World Report list, which evaluated more than 1,200 graduate programs across the country, according to it’s website, could also help secure state funding for the USF System as evidence behind USF lobbyists’ arguments for the New Florida Initiative, Pollenz said.

The initiative, which is meant to use universities as instruments of economic development and job growth, according to its website, calls for state legislators to make substantial investments in state universities – investments they may be more inclined to make if they were going to nationally ranked programs.

“These (graduate program) rankings are affirmation of the outstanding scholarship, academic excellence and global engagement conducted by USF’s faculty and graduate students,” said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox in a press release from the University. “It is because of the innovative research and service performed by our top-rate professors and talented students that USF is in the forefront of the creation of new jobs in support of Florida’s future economic growth.”

Higher education budgets proposed by both the Florida Senate and House of Representatives currently feature significant cuts that could eliminate “1 to 10 percent of (USF’s) base budget,” USF Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said during a Faculty Senate meeting last month.

If passed, Associate Vice President of Government Relations Mark Walsh said, the New Florida Initiative would,”provide base budget increases for all USF System campuses.”

The rankings also validates goals listed in USF President Judy Genshaft’s Strategic Plan, a proposal issued in 2007 that aimed to elevate USF’s national reputation as a research university by 2012.

The plan cites the promotion of research and graduate programs, as well as “improvement in the scope and quality of graduate programs” as major priorities USF would pursue over the course of the plan. Yet other goals listed in the plan, such as the “recruitment and retention of world class faculty,” and “cultural and ethnic diversity and inclusion,” have been achieved through the Graduate School’s rankings on lists similar to the U.S. News and World Report’s.

“We’ve seen a relatively strong increase in international applications and a lot of the international students look very strongly at rankings in terms of making their decisions. So the fact that USF is showing up with a lot of good programs is a very good thing for us,” Pollenz said. “We saw an increase of around 15 percent in the number of international applications that we had from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011. We are seeing this influx. Whether it’s directly related to (rankings) as opposed to some of the other recruiting efforts we’re doing, we can’t say.”

Pollenz also said national rankings help to draw in internationally renowned professors and secure more funding for the Graduate School.

“When you bring in someone with a national reputation, a student may come in to work with a specific professor … so it kind of starts spiraling in a positive way,” he said. “A lot of these rankings do have a tie to how much money is being received by grants for faculty. We’ve had this really stratospheric increase in the number of grants that have come in to the university and that has led to increased visibility.”

Pollenz said the new ranking “confirms our national reputation more so then really establishing it.” The U.S. News and World Report only evaluated graduate programs that returned a questionnaire sent out to top universities, he said, and based their rankings off of the information those schools provided.

“You just have to take these rankings with a grain of salt,” he said. “It’s going to take us probably another couple of decades before we can get this continuity … but we’re all heading in the right direction and this is very good for us because we can now hold this up and say, ‘Hey, if you like rankings and that’s what you’re going to base grad school decisions on, we can supply that for you.'”