Monday, September 17, 2012

This article by Associate Provost and Graduate College Dean John Keller appeared as an op-ed in the Sunday edition of the Des Moines Register on March 18, 2012.

Like the rest of the nation, as Iowans, we struggle to understand the landscape of redefining educational paradigms to prepare students for future jobs that will energize our economy. Our process of educating students to meet these challenges is not immune to questions and scrutiny. Meeting these challenges entails defining (and redefining) access to education and providing viable, sustainable, and high-quality programs. 

Our national graduate education organization, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), has recognized this challenge for many years. In 2010, CGS released a summary of a multi-year study of graduate education in the U.S. Next month, it will release another report, pointing to the role of graduate education as a pathway to careers that are of strategic importance to the nation. Both reports note a series of grim challenges, citing a major deficit in the U.S. graduate-level workforce. Once the world’s top producer of highly skilled and educated researchers and innovators, the U.S. now risks losing its competitive edge. 

If you listen to the students attending the University of Iowa, you’ll find that they are asking questions. They want to know how to position themselves for future career success. They want to know how they can help shape the world. They want to make a difference. 

How is the University of Iowa Graduate College helping to meet these challenges? 

Quality, sustainability, and relevance

Graduate education plays a prominent role in the reputation of the university because the Graduate College and our programs collaborate to seek continual improvements that benefit our students. Over the past few years, we reviewed our 100-plus UI graduate programs to assure quality, sustainability, and relevance. 

During this process, we eliminated 25 subtracks and programs, restructured 11, and established 9 new ones. To ensure quality, we set clear goals for our graduate programs. As a result, our programs show improved rates of degree completion and decreased time to degree.  Our students bring millions of dollars to Iowa, having garnered record numbers of external grants, fellowships, and awards. The University of Iowa has won more national doctoral dissertation prizes than any other public institution. 

Positive impact for Iowans

Graduate education enriches the teaching, research, and creative missions in every part of this university. Graduate students and faculty are also active in public service and community engagement in Iowa. Here are just two examples of the benefits for Iowans.  

The University of Iowa’s School of Urban and Regional Planning launched the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities in 2009 to help Iowa communities meet their social, economic, and environmental needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. 

Through this initiative, graduate students have worked with eight Iowa towns (Decorah, Dubuque, Anamosa, Columbus Junction, Wellman, Burlington, Charles City, and Oskaloosa). These UI students are partnering with Dubuque on five sustainability projects in 2011-12, and five more are planned for 2012-13. One such project involves renewable energy asset mapping, with a template to replicate this type of mapping for other Iowa communities. 

The UI’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience established the Iowa Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Registry to help researchers gain information to improve brain-injury patients’ quality of life.

This registry will assist veterans, athletes, and accident survivors who have suffered a TBI. More than 95,000 Iowans are living with long-term disabilities resulting from brain injury – a number greater than the population of a city such as Iowa City, Sioux City, or Waterloo. 

As we reflect on the challenges our nation faces, I am convinced that our graduate students, faculty, and programs hold the creative vision and practical knowledge to help Iowa keep its competitive edge. 

We are preparing our future workforce. Investing in graduate education is investing in Iowa. 

 John C. Keller is the Associate Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate College at the University of Iowa. He is the immediate past-president of the Association of Graduate Schools and former member of the Board of the Council of Graduate Schools.