High quality doctoral education at the University of Michigan is a source of enormous institutional pride for Ph.D. students, faculty and the University. As proud as we are of our many successes, we are still troubled by the fact that only two-thirds of the Ph.D. students who begin doctoral study actually receive their degrees from the University.

The Rackham Graduate School believes this number could and should be higher.

In partnership with school and college graduate programs, we are pursuing a number of practices and policies designed to improve the institutional support Ph.D. students receive as they work toward degree completion. The new continuous enrollment policy, which will require programs to register all Ph.D. students for fall and winter terms beginning in Fall 2010, is one such effort. The proposed policy will provide substantial benefits to students and their programs, including year-round, uninterrupted access to University services.

The policy will also require that graduate programs regularly confirm that students are making good progress toward their degrees and provide an opportunity for programs to address obstacles and offer support to students. Most importantly, the policy fosters strong connections between students and their program or department. Research shows — and student surveys echo — that these are critical factors in students’ successes.

Development of the new policy occurred over the last two years and benefited greatly from numerous conversations and meetings with students, faculty, program directors and chairs. The first step toward implementation occurred on Dec. 10, 2008 with the approval of the Rackham Executive Board. The next step will occur this summer when the schools and colleges identify funding to pay tuition for the additional terms of registration required by the policy so that students won’t have to pay more tuition. Identifying funding is one prerequisite for policy implementation.

As we move ahead with plans to put this policy into effect in the Fall 2010 semester, there are several objectives that must be met.

We recognize that Ph.D. students must pursue their research in Ann Arbor and abroad as necessitated by their individual scholarship. We will ensure that funding is in place for the University to pay tuition for students making good progress and whose scholarly work takes them away from Ann Arbor.

Funding must be in place to support students in those fields of study — like Near Eastern Studies and Anthropology — that require extensive fieldwork or language study, as well as for fields of study in which Ph.D. students complete their degrees more rapidly.

We want to be clear that the faculty members who know the students and their work will be the ones making key decisions about students’ progress. We will also ensure that current Ph.D. students are not disadvantaged by the transition to a new set of rules. Rackham is working with each school and college to develop a funding plan to cover these goals.

College of Engineering Dean David Munson is confident that tuition support will be available for Ph.D. students whose tuition is not paid by grants or fellowships. “We believe that continuous enrollment will benefit students in the College,” he said. “Funding will be available to support students making progress to degree in Engineering, and we are committed to providing that funding.”

LSA Dean Terrence McDonald confirms that LSA will work with Rackham and the Provost to provide tuition support for students who are making satisfactory progress to degree but do not have fellowship or teaching support that will pay their tuition. He said, “We think continuous enrollment will be good for graduate students in LSA because it supports stronger connections between students and their programs, and as a result more Ph.D. students will complete their degrees.”

For more details on the proposed policy see: http://www.rackham.umich.edu/policies/continuous_enrollment/.

Peggy McCracken is the Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Initiatives for Rackham.

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