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Graduate Students Drive UC research, Help Keep Top Faculty

July 9, 2010

The University of California attracts the top graduate students
in the United States, but vital research programs could be hampered
in the future if the university can’t continue to draw the best
students because of funding challenges.

“UC is one of the leading academic research enterprises in the
world, and graduate students play an important role in conducting
the research,” said Steven Beckwith, UC vice president for research
and graduate studies. “They spark ideas, make discoveries, enrich
the arts and work to solve some of society’s most pressing problems
as they work at the cutting edge of knowledge.”

UC leads the nation in drawing high-quality graduate students to
its 10 campuses, according to the Biennial Accountability
Sub-Report on Graduate Academic and Professional Degree Students,
which will be presented to the UC Regents on July 15. In 2009, UC
had 7 percent of all the graduate students in the United States,
but they won 20 to 30 percent of the most competitive and
prestigious fellowships in science, arts and humanities.

UC remains highly desirable to graduate students. Applications
to UC academic graduate programs rose 5 percent annually from
2000-09 compared with 3.5 percent at other top research
universities, according to the accountability sub-report. In
surveys, UC graduate students rated their UC and their non-UC top
choice schools equally high on reputation, research interest and
caring environment.

But those same surveys rated UC less favorably on the amount,
type and duration of financial support as well as on the
availability of affordable housing.

“Responses to this survey suggest that admitted students feel
that the financial support for UC is not sufficient given the high
cost of living at many campuses,” the report stated.

“Surveys of students and anecdotal evidence from faculty and
students suggest that additional funding will be required to
attract the highest quality graduate students to UC doctoral
programs,” said Beckwith.

If the top graduate students shun UC for greener pastures,
research programs would not be the only ones to suffer. Recruitment
and retention of the best faculty could be severely hampered, too.

“Top faculty come to UC for many reasons,” said UC President
Mark Yudof. “The eminence of the department matters, but they would
not come to a place without vibrant graduate programs and without
outstanding graduate students.”

“Graduate students are really the lifeblood of the university,
from visual arts to philosophy, to engineering to the sciences and
everything in between,” said Kim Barrett, dean of graduate studies
at UC San Diego. “As faculty, we benefit from their creativity and
the ideas they bring into the laboratory and classroom.”

Over the years, graduate students have played a key role in UC’s
research success and building California into a technology and
cultural leader. UC graduate research helped spawn the
biotechnology industry, and former graduate students have led the
development of other industries, including electronics,
pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, nanotechnology and the special
effects industry, among others.

In addition to mentoring undergraduate students, many UC
graduate students also go on to become university educators.
One-fourth of all UC and California State University faculty
received their Ph.D. from a UC graduate program.

“Given the important role that graduate students play in the
research and education mission of UC, we will always monitor the
quality of students recruited and act swiftly to correct any
downward trend,” said Beckwith.

Other data in the report include:

  • In fall of 2009, UC enrolled 31,337 academic degree students
    and 17,337 professional degree students.
  • As the public institution with primary responsibility for
    granting doctoral degrees in California, UC awarded 63 percent of
    all academic doctoral degrees in the state. California led the
    nation with 5,923 doctorates awarded in 2007-08.
  • UC Berkeley produced more Ph.D.s than any other U.S. university
    in 2007-08.
  • Although applications to UC academic graduate programs
    increased annually by an average of 5 percent from 2000 to 2009, UC
    allowed enrollment to increase by only 1 percent each year.
  • UC’s admissions rate of 19 percent was lower than the average
    32 percent rate for research universities in the United States,
    underscoring UC’s selectivity compared to other institutions. UC’s
    percentage of admitted students who enroll at UC (43 percent),
    however, lags behind the average of other top U.S. research
    universities (57 percent). This may be due to lagging graduate
    student support and higher costs of living at some UC campuses,
    noted the report.
  • Ethnic diversity among UC academic graduate students has
    increased 2.3 percent over the past seven years, and enrollment of
    underrepresented minorities is, on average, higher at UC than at
    other top private or public U.S. universities. Still,
    Chicano/Latino academic graduate student enrollment of 7 percent
    and 3 percent for African Americans lags severely behind
    California’s population percentage for those two groups.