By Dennis Walikainen
Michigan Tech has lofty goals for its graduate educational mission that will improve the overall health of the University, according to Jackie Huntoon, dean of the Graduate School.
"The goal is to have 1,250 graduate students—750 master's students and 500 PhD students—by 2012," she says. "And we can do it with the faculty we have, but we will need more resources."
For one thing, laboratories and equipment are much more expensive now than they were in the past, and at Michigan Tech, that past goes back to 1899 and the first graduate students on campus. "We have bigger needs now, compared to slide rules and transit labs," Huntoon says, referring to old black-and-white photos of less-complicated times.
And graduate education benefits the University in many ways. Graduate students bring the future to undergraduate education, Huntoon says. "Graduate students are the researchers, the future industry leaders, and the future faculty."
The research engine that drives graduate education also positively impacts faculty members, "because the best researchers are routinely the best teachers. They are the ones who write the textbooks that students read." Finally, undergraduates get to work with the latest techniques and equipment.
"If professors don't have time to do research, then they are not keeping abreast in their field, and they don't investigate issues to benefit humankind," Huntoon says. Graduate teaching assistants can help the professors make time for research, she says.
So, how do you grow the Graduate School?
Build on Tech's strengths and offer more-innovative degree programs.
"We can do more with interdisciplinary programs, online degrees, and programs in professional studies, human factors, environment or contract law, life sciences, and social sciences, perhaps. Dual degrees, joint degrees, international opportunities: there are many possibilities," she says.
And, as the graduate school enrollment grows, Huntoon hopes to continue increasing the female and underrepresented minority numbers. Nationally, the enrollment trends for women and minorities are flat or slightly downward. That's disappointing, but Michigan Tech is doing well in a couple of areas. Some 34 percent of graduate students are female, compared to 26 percent of the overall student body. Tech is also doing better than the national norm in retaining its students, approximately 10 percent above the 50 percent national attrition rate.
And another point of pride: "Forty-five percent of our graduate students are international students," she says. "And that brings so much to our campus and community, including a different view of the world."
Growing the graduate program, it seems, is good for us all.