UConn 5-year plan: enroll more graduate students, increase research

A classroom at The University of Connecticut's Storr's campus

(Photo credit: UConn)

A classroom at The University of Connecticut's Storrs' campus

Storrs — The University of Connecticut’s governing board has unanimously adopted a five-year plan that looks to increase enrollment in its graduate programs, boost research spending and set up a system to review faculty performance after they gain tenure.

“It is our road map. Our academic statement,” UConn President Susan Herbst said after the Board of Trustees vote Wednesday.

With 8,000 doctoral and master’s degree students attending UConn each year, the plan calls for increasing spending to help these students afford school and leave with minimal debt.

“We must increase our investment in our best graduate programs,” the 60-page plan concludes. “We lag far behind other leading public institutions in providing graduate and professional students with direct financial support to pursue their research with faculty mentors and advisors.”

University-funded financial aid is nearly nonexistent for students after they complete their undergraduate degrees. This has left students interested in participating in research projects relying on federal grants or scholarships earmarked for certain projects that often don’t cover them through completing their degree, said Sally Reis, the university’s  vice provost for academic affairs.

“We have done a really good job on the undergraduate programs here. We now need to turn our attention to our graduate programs,” Reis said during an interview with reporters after the Trustees’ meeting in Storrs.

Richard Schwab, a professor at UConn’s Neag School of Education and chairman of the Academic Vision Committee that crafted the plan, agrees.

“For graduate school, we just kind of say, ‘You’re on your own,” he said.

Integral to the success of the growth of the graduate programs is an increase in spending on research so these students can participate in research on campus as graduate assistants and fellows, the report finds.

Research spending has also taken a financial hit in recent years, as federal funding for research has declined.

With no idea of whether federal research money will increase, Schwab said UConn faculty must land more of what money is available.

UConn ranked 79th in the U.S. in 2012 in the amount of federal research dollars it received and 80th in what the university spent on research, according to the National Science Foundation

To attract more research money, Schwab said the university must create a system that rewards research among faculty and provides the appropriate amount of leave time from teaching for faculty engaged in research.

“We must develop and invest in increased levels of research development support for faculty,” the plan concludes. “It is critical that we examine faculty workloads to ensure that our faculty can succeed in their areas of strength…  We will support, reward, and demand research excellence.”

Asked what incentives are provided, or should be provided, for faculty to apply for and land more research grants, Reis said academic accolades are important.

“It’s not just financial rewards, it’s academic rewards, too,” she said.

And if the accolades alone don’t work, the plan also calls for setting up post-tenure reviews of faculty.

“Review within Colleges and Schools should not stop at tenure or promotion to full professor; rather, the University Senate should ask Colleges and Schools to create procedures for periodic post-tenure review to ensure continued contribution to the mission of the University,” the plan concludes.

Schwab said the review is not meant to be punitive. “It’s just one piece of an accountability practice,” he said.

More than 300 faculty helped shape to the plan, and officials are determining now the specific actions they need to complete to implement the plan.

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