Howard Grimes, dean of the Graduate School, set a goal of a 5 percent increase in graduate enrollment for this semester and, if you look at the numbers he is most concerned about, WSU nearly doubled that goal.

“I’m very happy with these numbers,” he said, showing a graph of new doctoral student enrollments that have increased from 178 in 2005 to 247 in 2007. The increase from 2006 to 2007 was 21 students, or 9.5 percent.

“Kudos for everybody,” he said. “We’re being successful here and we need to understand that and value that.”

Total graduate enrollment increased only 0.3 percent systemwide, and 3.8 percent on the Pullman campus, but those numbers don’t tell the complete story, Grimes said, because they include master’s programs which have held steady at about 460 students for the past two years.

“We have the right number of master’s degree students,” Grimes said. “It’s stabilized. This is exactly what I want to see.”

The new doctoral students are key, he said, because his goal isn’t just about increasing enrollment. It’s about improving WSU’s stature as a national research university.

“Quality is our primary driver,” he said, “and quality is determined by how well we do with Ph.D. education.” 

Furthermore, to competitively attract the strongest students, he said, WSU needs to focus on the quality of its Ph.D. programs.

Incentives helping
Early indications are that the incentives put in place by the Graduate School are working. These include offering additional state-funded RA positions to departments through a competitive RFP process, returning money to departments that fund additional graduate students on extramural grants (a tuition buy-down program), and guaranteeing tuition waivers for all state-supported graduate students.

Along with that, he said, he’s seen departments working hard on recruiting efforts and using available funds in creative ways to attract high-caliber students.

“To accomplish what we need to accomplish at WSU there isn’t one lever for us to pull,” he said. “There is a roomful of levers that need to be pulled at different times in conjunction with other levers to optimize our efforts.”

Chemistry was one department with a huge increase, admitting 25 first-year doctoral students.

“We’re really proud of the students we have recruited,” said Sue Clark, department chair, “but we’re about halfway to where we want to be.”

Word-of-mouth works
Clark said the state-funded RA positions helped, as did new faculty and increases in research grants.

Jeanne McHale, who heads graduate admissions in the chemistry department, said another reason for the increase is the strength of the radiochemistry program, which has applications to so many pressing problems, from nuclear energy to nuclear waste cleanup to medical technology.

Jill McCluskey, professor and chair of the graduate studies committee for the School of Economic Sciences, said they enrolled 19 new students in their doctoral programs this semester.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are huge, she said, so the committee works closely with alumni, especially alumni now working in academia, to find and recruit strong candidates. Once a strong candidate has been identified, that person is assigned a temporary faculty adviser who calls the candidate and is available to answer questions. That gets more people involved in the process, McCluskey said, and it helps the student feel more connected to the department as well.

SES has developed such strong relationships with certain universities, she said, that it makes it much easier to recruit there.

“I think it is really important to establish a pipeline,” she said