Initiatives implemented for post-enrolled graduate students
By Ruth Stevens
Princeton NJ -- A committee charged with looking at issues related to the post-enrollment period for doctoral candidates has recommended a set of initiatives intended to ease the transition and help them finish their degrees.
"The University is committed to the goal of helping students complete their degree within the enrollment period," wrote Provost Amy Gutmann in a memo to department chairs and directors of graduate studies. "The University also recognizes that a sizeable fraction of students do not complete their degree within their enrollment period, and that there is room for improvement in our practices across departments."
The Post-Enrollment Committee was formed last spring at the request of President Tilghman. Members included directors of graduate studies, graduate students and other administrators, including several from the Graduate School.
Gutmann, who chaired the committee, noted that while the time to earn a doctoral degree at Princeton has increased -- as it has at universities across the country -- the amount of time generally remains shorter than at peer institutions. Since the mid-1970s, the average time to earn a doctoral degree in the United States has increased by about 1.5 years. Today, the median time from matriculation to receiving a Ph.D. at Princeton is 6.2 years, compared to a national average of nearly seven years.
Associate Provost Jed Marsh, who served on the committee, attributed the shorter time to degree, in part, to the unique structure of graduate study at Princeton. Graduate programs at Princeton, unlike most other institutions, have a fixed period of enrollment. During that enrollment period, the University provides generous fellowship support and limits teaching requirements in order to facilitate degree completion.
In a recent set of memos to department chairs, directors of graduate studies, administrative offices and students, Gutmann outlined three initiatives directed toward those pursuing graduate degrees.
The publication on the Graduate School Web site of a document about program practices that encourage timely degree completion. These "best practices" include examples from across the University centering primarily on strong mentoring and advising strategies. The document is available on the Graduate School home page at <webware.princeton.edu/GSO/> by clicking on "academic affairs" and then "best practices memo."
"In issuing these recommendations, our hope is to catalyze an open exchange of ideas in the graduate community," Gutmann wrote. "Adoption of these or other best practices by departments and the Graduate School should further strengthen our already admirable graduate programs."
The forthcoming publication of a "post-enrollment handbook" on the same Web site. The book will serve as a single source of information about the post-enrollment period. It is intended to reduce miscommunication regarding policy and procedures and to help students plan for their post-enrolled period.
Marsh compiled the book by contacting every department on campus -- from the library to the Office of Information Technology -- that might deal with post-enrolled students.
The establishment of a new affiliation status called "Degree Candidacy Continuing" (DCC). The status will provide doctoral candidates in their first year of post-enrollment with simplified access to a limited set of University services.
Previously, post-enrolled students were given the opportunity to extend their medical benefits under the Student Health Plan and to have access to the University libraries. However, they obtained access to these and other University services only by contacting individual offices. Now, the post-enrolled students will be issued a University ID card that will act as a passport for access to the libraries, to purchase an athletic facility permit and to obtain a parking permit as well as the opportunity to extend medical benefits.
"I appreciate the initiative of the president and provost in bringing to fruition Degree Candidacy Continuing, which should facilitate the transition from enrolled to post-enrolled status and reduce the disruption in progress toward degree," said William Russel, dean of the Graduate School. "In parallel, the departments will continue examining their programs with an eye toward practices that would bring more degrees to completion during the period of enrollment."
According to Marsh, approximately 190 students this year are affected by the status change, which was made retroactive to Sept. 1, 2002. He expects the number will remain fairly steady at 150 to 200 students each year. He noted that one-quarter to one-third of these students currently complete their degrees within a year.
More information on the new status is available at http://www.princeton.edu/ ~provost/postenrollment.html.
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Editor: Ruth Stevens