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Evaluating Doctoral Programs

National Research Council releases assessment of nation's doctoral programs

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September 30, 2010

The National Research Council this week released its assessment of the nation’s doctoral programs, including 31 programs at Northwestern University. 

The study examined nearly 5,000 doctoral programs at approximately 200 institutions. It is the first study of its kind since the NRC’s previous one in 1995 and is designed to provide a comprehensive, quantitative look at the country’s doctoral programs. Northwestern collected and contributed data on its programs in 2006 and 2007 for the report. 


“I’m happy to say that the rankings largely affirm what we already know about our graduate programs at Northwestern – they are quite strong, among the best in the country,” said Simon Greenwold, interim dean and senior associate dean of The Graduate School. “Of course, we have to be mindful that the report gives a limited and somewhat dated view of program quality.  Some of our programs have changed considerably since the data were collected.” 

The NRC study includes statistics on research activity (including faculty publications, citations, grants, and awards), student support and outcomes, diversity, and overall program quality. It was the third such survey conducted by the National Research Council, and the most comprehensive. Unlike previous reports, the study does not provide any absolute numbered rankings of programs, but gives a range of possible performance ratings based on the weighting and analysis of 20 variables.  Details on the study’s rankings and methodology are available at http://www.nap.edu/rdp/.

“We’re pleased to have participated in this survey and welcome the opportunity to join the national discussion about what constitutes high quality graduate programs,” said Greenwold.  “Graduate schools nationally have lagged behind other schools in collecting information about themselves and sharing that information with peers and the public. 

“One of the most beneficial aspects of the NRC assessment is that it forced all of us to get in the data game and be accountable for our outcomes, and it will assist us in the continued analysis of our programs,” he noted. “In addition, the results provide a valuable source of information for prospective students selecting the doctoral program that is right for them.” 

The Graduate School collects and publicly posts updated statistics for academic programs on many of the variables used in the NRC study, including admission, enrollment, attrition, completion rates, graduates, time-to-degree, and placement.  Northwestern’s graduate school is one of few that make up-to-date program and student outcome data available to the public.  To access current Graduate School statistics, as well as the NRC rankings of all the Northwestern programs included in the study, go to http://www.tgs.northwestern.edu/pgm_stats/.