We are conditioned to think “undergraduate” when we hear the words “college student.” When we think of growing our university to more ably serve a greater number of students you can feel the predisposition building, we are thinking of freshman or undergraduate transfer students.
Thinking only freshman works well for community colleges, and regional universities, but falls dangerously short of mission attainment when thinking “public research university.” We need to covet the best graduate students and recruit like our collective lives depended on them.
More students are not the issue – more excellent students are, and at least one in four must be in graduate programs. This is not a comfortable thought for many, but we should get used to it if we want a truly great research university that serves Southern Illinois best.
Such a perspective elevates, not diminishes, the importance of undergraduate education.
Many forces impact our ability to attract the brightest graduate students. Stipends, insurance benefits, tuition waivers, and other forms of financial support are important to effective results. However, if the University’s response to the challenge stops there, a key ingredient of graduate student life is lost.
Graduate students come to the university, in almost all cases, to become members of the academic community, if only for a brief period of time. Limiting graduate students to teaching additional sections of lower division course work, while potentially beneficial for institution and student alike, may be shortsighted in the long term evolution of graduate programs and general university excellence.
Quality is evidenced in many ways but for scholarly enterprises – like our university -quality is measured by significant, peer reviewed and recognized, intellectual work. Research, creative activity, service for purpose, moving the social fabric further and higher in a way that it is widely recognized, builds reputation. Reputation is fertile ground for growth. In a business like a university people vote with their feet and follow academic reputation. Nothing else really works.
A significant barometer of the quality of peer reviewed work is research funding from the best federal agencies, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, are two examples.
There are clubs to which universities belong based on how much peer reviewed, federally funded, research they attain. Our University joined the $20 million club a few years ago. It is a good one. Only a few hundred public and private research universities make the grade of procuring more than $20 million in federal funding.
This is a high water mark for Southern as it indicates a level of excellence in intellectual work not common. We have beaten the national averages in research growth and are gaining ground. This progress fuels economic development activity, new business start-ups, and perpetuates our ability to attract better faculty, and better graduate students. There are no short cuts, no programs, no end-arounds when it comes to a research university’s reputation. It is all about quality measured by peers, and graduate students are a key ingredient.
Henry Rosovsky, former dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard said it plainly, “Graduate students are the faculty’s young disciples who ensure the continuity of learning”.
Southern will only increase in stature as it recognizes and values graduate students as intellectual soul mates, and one of the pillars of excellence at our university.