04 May 2015

Don’t forget who approves new doctoral programs

The University of Michigan has been hosting a series of talks on the future of graduate and postdoctoral training in biology. There is a comprehensive Storify of tweet here.

American discussions about whether there are too many doctoral students and postdocs appear to be very much driven by federal funding agencies, mainly the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Both have an interest because they provide are the source of support (salaries and such) for graduate students and post-docs.

The role of American states in this whole scenario is almost never mentioned.

In Texas, new doctoral programs have to be approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. I have not conducted a survey of all the higher education systems in the United States, but I suspect that there are similar boards in other states.

If there is overproduction of doctorates, the states bear some responsibility for creating new doctoral programs.

While I hear from federal agencies on graduate student and post-doc training quite often, I almost never hear what the states think of all this.This mattere, because each state can have its own higher education agenda. And that agenda may not align with the agenda of the federal funding agencies.

The federal agencies get a lot of attention in this regard because they have money. But there should be a lot more attention focused on what the individual states think on the future of graduates and post-doctoral training. The states should not create doctoral programs at whim then leave them to be funded by federal agencies, any more than institutions should recruit grad students, and send their recent graduates off with little more than, “Good luck with that job hunt!” when they’re done.

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