A major objective of the Washington State University Graduate School has been to increase the number of Ph.D. students enrolled and graduating in Pullman. Recent data compiled by the Graduate School show a shift in that direction. However, the figures also show a decline in the total number of graduate students — master’s and Ph.D. degree candidates — enrolling at WSU Pullman in the past year. And that concerns Graduate School Dean Howard Grimes.

“We have to be looking long-term,” he explained. “If we don’t enroll those students now, they won’t be graduating from WSU four or five years from now. We must become known for graduating solid Ph.D.s if we want to improve WSU’s reputation as a research university and further build our national reputation.”

The Ph.D. growth is good news, he said. While the 5-year average number of new Ph.D.s who enrolled in Pullman from 1998-2002 was 150, the number for fall 2004 was 191. That was up from 187 new Ph.D. candidates enrolled in fall 2003.

“This is a signifi cant increase in our Ph.D. student enrollments from several years ago, and the trend this past year is again in the right direction,” Grimes said.

Which is better than the decreases seen for all graduate students combined at WSU Pullman this fall. While the five-year average for newly enrolled graduate students was 483 for 1998-2002, it had grown to 596 for fall 2003. However, that dropped to 591 for fall 2004. Similarly, total graduate student enrollment (not only those newly enrolled)shows a 5-year average of 1,856. That grew to 2,002 for fall 2003, but fell to 1,980 students this fall.

Grimes especially is dismayed for two reasons:

• In 2003-2004, WSU received more than $151 million through competitive grants and contracts, an increase of 21 percent over 2002-2003. More money for research should translate into more opportunities for professors to include graduate students, and especially Ph.D. students, in that funded work. However, investment in research assistant positions instead dropped by almost 5 percent.
• The 5 percent growth goal the Graduate School set for 2004-2005 did not seem unrealistic and is a necessary target to reach the appropriate graduation rates in future years. WSU did not, however, show this growth and indeed moved backwards this past year in total graduate student enrollment on the Pullman campus.
Although disappointed, Grimes isn’t stymied. The Graduate School has been marketing WSU graduate programs and is preparing even more materials to debut at the height of recruitment season, late this year and early in 2005. And the school plans to work with deans and chairs to identify how the colleges and departments are/are not increasing their graduate student numbers and how to make improvements.

Grimes identified grant-writing faculty as an integral part in the effort to increase Ph.D. graduates and thereby increase WSU’s national standing.

“Our reputation is tightly linked to graduating high quality Ph.D. students who see future success. And their success is linked to their productivity as students and research assistants here,” he said. “So, as we continue to grow competitive in research, we must invest some of the grant money we receive in our Ph.D. graduate students.”