President Elson S. Floyd

Perspectives

Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. and Howard Grimes, Ph.D. - 1/5/11

A Growing Graduate School

(This Perspectives column is signed jointly by President Elson S. Floyd and Howard Grimes, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.)

During a budget crisis, it is vital for any institution to maintain a sharp focus on its long-term priorities. As a university, we should protect the programs and funding that must remain in place for us to emerge with our strategic plan intact.

For Washington State University, our graduate students are vitally important to our strategic plan and we constantly seek to improve both the support packages for our students and the quality of their programs. It has been clear for some time that, if we are to be one of the nations premier land-grant research universities, we will need to attract and retain more top-quality graduate students. That effort is well underway.

In fall 2010, WSU saw a 5.5 percent increase in graduate student enrollment, advancing a trend that has seen graduate student enrollment growth of 3-4 percent annually in recent years.

This growth is attributable to a collaborative university-wide recruiting effort and to the hard-earned reputation for research excellence of many of our faculty members. The best graduate students want to work with the best minds in their chosen fields.

Despite this record of progress, rumors are circulating that the university is contemplating cutbacks in support for graduate students in fall 2011. While the universitys budget for the upcoming biennium is still to be determined in Olympia, and the overall level of reductions that WSU will face will not be known for several months, we want to assure those who have heard these reports that we are not contemplating cuts in graduate student support.

To verify the plans of individual colleges, the Graduate School did an informal email survey of deans in early December and found, in case after case, that they have no plans to reduce support for graduate assistants within their colleges.

This continued support is very much in line with long-term trends at WSU. From fall 2006 to fall 2010, the combined FTE of graduate research and teaching assistants in academic areas university-wide rose from 529 to 598 and the total payroll for those positions went from about $7.1 million to about $8.7 million.

This four-year period encompasses a time of unprecedented budget cuts for the university as a whole. Despite this, we have maintained a strong focus on our strategic goals for our graduate programs and our students.

In addition, this fall WSU adopted an improved health insurance program for graduate students, the Graduate Student PASS Program, which was discussed in an earlier Perspectives column /perspectives/082510.html. That program increased health benefits while decreasing costs.

Our strategy to attract and to retain the best graduate students is clear. It is working and it will remain in effect.

We have every expectation that, when the university emerges from this budget crisis, a vibrant and growing Graduate School will be a cornerstone of excellence as we build for the future.

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