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NRC report on doctoral programs due out Sept. 28

By Dave Jones on September 24, 2010 in University News

The National Research Council on Sept. 28 is scheduled to release the results of a massive, comprehensive study of doctoral programs across the United States.

"This is a much-anticipated survey and the data will be heavily used to analyze and compare graduate education programs across the country," said Jeffery Gibeling, dean of Graduate Studies at UC Davis, who has served as campus liaison to the NRC for the project.

The next day, Gibeling plans to give a briefing on the results. The briefing, for the chairs of graduate programs and all interested faculty and staff, is scheduled from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Sept. 29 in the AGR Room at the Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center.

People familiar with the study say it does not present a straightforward ladder ranking of programs. Instead, the NRC committee in charge of the survey intends to provide five sets of what the committee calls "illustrative" rankings for each program in the survey.

The five scales include two different rankings of overall program quality, based on 20 variables in three categories: research activity, student support and outcomes, and diversity of the academic environment. Each program also receives a "dimensional measure” in each of the three categories.

Each program in the survey is to be given a rankings range on each of those five measures. For example, a program might rank from 21 to 31 in research activity, from 74 to 87 in student support and outcomes, and from 64 to 77 in diversity, from 28 to 43 on the overall-S scale and from 31 to 54 on the overall-R scale.

This report has been a while coming. Data for the latest survey were collected in 2006; the results are based on data covering the academic years 1996-97 through 2005-06.

The NRC’s previous doctoral program surveys, regarded as the gold standard for comparing programs among universities, came out in 1982 and 1995. In the 1995 survey, four UC Davis programs placed in the top 20 nationally on measures of faculty quality, and 17 of 27 programs earned "distinctive" or "strong" ratings.

The new survey cannot be compared directly with the earlier surveys, because the new one uses a very different methodology, Gibeling said.

For the new survey, the NRC collected information from more than 5,000 graduate programs at 222 institutions in the United States. The study includes 51 UC Davis programs, from agricultural and environmental chemistry to transportation and technology policy.

To be included, programs must have graduated five Ph.D.s in the five years prior to 2005-06. The National Science Foundation plotted each program, in advance, into specific subject fields. In some cases, multiple UC Davis programs fit in the same subject field.

More about the process

Here are some examples of the 20 variables that the NRC used within each category:

Research activity — publications, citations, grants and awards

Student support and outcomes — financial support, time to degree)

Diversity of the academic environment — percentages of female faculty and students, and from minority groups).

Faculty reviewers at institutions across the country assigned weights to each variable, and the weighted data went to NRC statisticians who conducted complex analyses that involved repeatedly sampling and recalculating of rankings.

To calculate the overall rankings, the NRC weighted the data in two ways, one based on a survey of faculty members to ask what they considered important (overall-S), and the other based on regression analysis to figure out the factors that professors considered in ranking a sample of programs in their field (overall-R).


Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,