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Increase in doctoral graduates puts UNT on the map

Increase in doctoral graduates puts UNT on the map

August 28
01:16 2014

Dalton LaFerney/Senior Staff Writer

A record-number 230 Ph.D. students graduated in August from UNT for the 2013-2014 academic year, marketing the university’s reputation as one of the up-and-coming major research institutions in the nation.

The university has aimed its future priorities at becoming a Tier-One program, and has in-creased the number of doctoral graduates each year since 2008.

“One of the signs that a university is beginning to have a good scholarly reputation, and one of the ways you get better-known as a major research university is to place Ph.D. students into high-level positions around the country,” UNT President Neal Smatresk said.

Smatresk said the university is doing so, but the school’s reputation will take a multi-year effort.

“You don’t just graduate a good crop this year and say, ‘Done, you have a good reputation,’” he said.

Building reputation 

The Texas Higher Education Coordination Board (THECB) has set 200 doctoral graduates per year as one measure of a research university in Texas, said Mark Wardell, dean of The Tou-louse Graduate School.

For Smatresk, a key component of developing a national reputation is placing students in Tier-One institutions post-graduation like Harvard or Stanford, he said.

“My job is to make sure we have great mentors who are putting our students in strong research positions to become national thought leaders in their subjects,” Smatresk said.

There are different factions of doctoral students. Some students who get Ph.D.s in local consumption—which are jobs like educational leaders—go out and work with the local school systems to help them get better, which is a good thing, Smatresk said, because “we are putting people into positions in this region.”

Fewer Ph.D. grads go to work in the local economy. Instead, they often get jobs with companies like Motorola or Texas Instruments.

“The vast majority of Ph.D. students institutions produce do not stay here, which is something that is understood at a national level,” Smatresk said. “Instead they’ll go off and get hired up by colleges and universities around the country.”

Overworked and underfunded

Ph.D. students require a lot of time from the professors who teach and mentor them. Some of the departments at UNT face financial crises and staffing obstacles that present management conflicts.

“It’s hard work,” said Simon Andrew, doctoral program coordinator for the public administration department. “There’s a lot of work involved supervising students. It is also very important that we as a faculty do not stop studying, because we engage ourselves in doing research as well as encouraging our students to be engaged in the work we are doing.”

As the university has limited resources, Smatresk said it must focus on building stronger pro-grams before adding new ones.

“Not all programs are equal,” he said. “So for programs that are producing good numbers of Ph.D. students, and placing them well, the university will continue backing them and funding them, and those should be a priority. I call it watering the green spots.”

On the list of improvements some departments seek are increased scholarships, better institutions and more faculty members.

“We are trying our best with our limited resources,” Andrew said, whose program ranks eighth nationwide in city management. “Currently they’re [UNT] doing quite well, but, for example, we only have 12 funded students. We have to have eight or nine students in the program, but some students come to the program without scholarships.”

Andrew said when his department started to revamp, the faculty consulted Mark Holzer, now the dean of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University. He advocated that the socialization process was important to the growth and maturity of doctoral students and a common area for students to study and collaborate is needed.

“Like Google, the students need a place where they can work, play and study all in one place—so you become more creative,” Andrew said. “And at this level, you want the Ph.D. students to be creative.”

For the program to be visible on a national and international level, the departments encourage students to travel. However, without funding, it’s a nearly impossible feat. They also recruit international students into the program.

“The whole question is, ‘How much revenue do we have, and where is the best investment?’” Smatresk said.

UNT’s military history program is ranked among the top 10 programs nationally. Students graduating from the program are being placed at the highest level in places like West Point. That, according to the university, is a reflection of a high-quality program.

Department assessments 

In order for the university to decide where to invest, each program must be evaluated once every seven years by THECB, Wardell said.

Two prominent faculty members from Tier-One institutions outside the state interview faculty and students during the visit. After the interviews are conducted and the data is collected, the reviewers produce an assessment report of the program, which is later discussed by the department chair, provost and college dean in order to determine a plan of action for the program.

“All Ph.D. programs are expected to continually make quality improvements,” Wardell said.

UNT is expected to continue the trend of an annual increased output of doctoral students, and changes will be made accordingly to ensure the university’s reputation and brand flourishes, Smatresk said.

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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