Many graduate students conceive of their time in masters program as indentured servitude or encounter difficulty applying for highly competitive academic jobs. The problems of graduate school are glaring but many innovative individuals and institutions have ideas to spur intellectual development and social responsibility. Increased tax base contribution, more academic transparency, professional development systems and fully utilizing technology available are most commonly cited as ways to improve the experience and results of higher education. Some scholars see the rise in importance of an institution's economic strength over academic achievement as the problem, while others claim it spurs innovative approaches. These debates are especially relevant to pedagogues who want to improve the state of graduate school but may also have implications for applicants and current students who will be the so-called "guinea pigs" in the process. The debate remains contentious but there is growing conviction that graduate education needs a change.
Students in graduate school are concerned about the nature of their ethical commitments as scholars. Many systems leave little room for students to incorporate and develop their unique professional interests. At this point in time, it is necessary to create programs which allow students to explore their values, and secure innovative career paths. Moving away from the concept of universities as educational factories, personal experience and preferences should be incorporated.
At present, graduate school detracts from an individual's ability to ascertain their interests and values. High level degrees such as doctorates, primarily help in attaining jobs in higher education. The difficulty with this is that higher education is a frustrating and difficult career track that pays relatively little. Studying at specialized graduate institutions such as law school, or medical school often incur tremendous debt, while not always ensuring results.
The primary inspiration for graduate school in the educational sector remains increasing international "competitiveness." Organizations which oversee graduate studies are increasingly concerned with maintaining the dominant position of the United States in the global economy. As these concerns rise, policies become increasingly business-centric. This trend detracts from the educational aspect of graduate school, and pushes it ever further in the direction of mass produced aids for the corporate sector.
Graduate school is not working. In an almost narcissistic manner, academia is self-obsessed resulting in social stagnation. Further, the structure of graduate school is practically a pyramid scheme. Taking advantage of the passion and determination of students everywhere, corporations reap the benefits while those responsible for the work receive only degrees. The structure of graduate school is such, that students are pitted against each other, given sub-minimum wage pay without benefits, and made into social outcasts.
The requirements of graduate school are so great that they end up consuming almost every portion of what would otherwise be "free time." While it seems to be begrudgingly accepted, why is it that graduate students have to work constantly? A forty hour commitment is seen as a full work schedule in most contexts, but is considered half-hearted by graduate school standards. Such dedication may be helpful in grooming students for some careers, but is it really necessary?
Students of Harvard's Graduate School of Education fear that the current direction of the institution will damage their professional development. Focusing on results driven management concerns, issues regarding social justice are being ignored. Continuing to move further in the direction of qualitative assessment rather than experience oriented approaches, graduate students are worried that there is less room for their interests. Despite the prominence of educators interested in issues of equity and social justice, few receive benefits such as tenure.
Pressing issues such as the implications of neo-conservative educational legislation, decreasing economic mobility, and the backlash against the progress of women must be analyzed in order to determine ways to improve graduate school. The growth of the American graduate education system as seen in the 20th century, is now declining. Tight budgets and decreased room for tenured professors make graduate school a debatable choice. The futures of graduate students are highly unpredictable and severely threatened by limited resources.
Unions dedicated to the rights and interests of graduate students face a number of obstacles. Often treated as scholastic indentured servants, graduate students face high workloads. A majority of faculty members also show no sign of achieving tenure in their careers. While universities are faced with tightening budgets, they will be looking to stretch fewer employees further. Unions are important in ensuring that the needs of graduate students are being met, and that they are being treated fairly.
Among the many problems with graduate school is its emphasis on simply earning a degree and narrowness of thought. Encouraged by a system which requires students to cater to the interests of professors, many students are not able to follow their interests. Furthermore, graduate students are often seen as a source of cheap labor for universities, They often receive minimal pay and are faced with a tremendous workload. Things do not have to be this way, however. For instance, many graduate students enjoy flexible work arrangements and academic freedom. How can we respond to these issues in order to create a system which fosters intellectual stimulation and discovery?
Are unions for graduate students the right step to take in improving the American university? In 2002 NYU officially recognized a graduate student union, making it the first institution to do so. Shortly thereafter, NYU ended its negotiated contract with the union. Currently, there remains a disconnect between NYU and its graduate students regarding the issue of a union. The question of the role of the graduate student only further confuses the topic, are they to be seen primarily as students, or teachers?
Graduate students are not oppressed and overworked, as they may claim. Many fail to understand that the role of graduate students is drastically different from that of other full-time staff. Although they may have a fair amount of work, there are other aspects they fail to take into consideration. Often times, graduate students do not face the same pressure to produce research or publish academic papers which are necessary for achieving tenure in most schools. Additionally, graduate teaching assistants are not able to perform at the level of full-time staff such as professors, warranting their lower pay.
The perception of graduate school as a destination is misleading. The economic realities of being a graduate student are hidden, and the job market they face upon earning a degree is not welcoming. A majority of graduate students, within the social sciences and humanities especially, are unable to attain jobs related to their studies. Inherent in the graduate school system is elitism, and exclusion.
The prospect of losing an academic competitive edge in science and engineering may upset many, but is this fear warranted? While many quote data from a study that was found to be inaccurate, the real numbers indicate we are not in such great jeopardy. Per capita, America continues to produce a greater number of science and engineering professionals than either India, or China. Furthermore, the United States continues to attract foreign students in large numbers, despite previous drops.
Often unable to find a job in one place, graduate students rely on part-time employment. Once students successfully earn a degree, their futures are uncertain. Many are unable to attain a full time job in a continually shrinking academic job market. Cuts to higher education have resulted in the "corporatization" of graduate school. Continually, schools utilize graduates as adjunct professors who are then forced to cobble together whatever opportunities they can secure just to get by. The curious predicament many individuals find themselves in require that they change their standards in order to earn a living.
Despite the long absence of "academic" practices and multi-discipline approaches, creativity and innovation are emerging in graduate school. A different approach to learning called "learning backward" asks individuals to first understand what it is they want to achieve. From there, students are to seek the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve that goal. Interest based learning approaches which take into consideration critical thinking and practical application help prepare graduate students for post-grad life.
Intellectual entrepreneurship fosters personal and professional development. Allowing graduate students to create an ethical and professional identity will improve their achievements. Creating "citizen-scholars," those who are devoted to learning about what they deem socially significant, is the key to creating better graduate schools. Traditional attitudes towards graduate school must be changed.
Upon earning a degree, many graduate students are faced with the grim prospect of unemployment and massive debt. The solution to this worry may involve intellectual entrepreneurship. Focused on discovery, accountability, integrative thinking, and cooperation, intellectual entrepreneurs seek to resolve issues which affect them personally. A collaboration between intellectual endeavors and business oriented approaches, this concept addresses the challenges of graduate education in this difficult economic time.
Re-designing PhD programs in order to meet the unique challenges of today is a common concern among universities. Often, this is undertaken in a scattered manner which is unsuccessful in attaining effective change. The lack of uniformity in understanding such a concept prevents useful discoveries. National debate is key in reforming PhD programs.
Recently, economic strength has overtaken research and development in science. Institutions can no longer rely on the sort of funding that had been made available in the past. This means that the academic infrastructure requires fine tuning. In order to realize this fine tuning, it is necessary that organizations of many kinds across the nation heed the call. Research needs to remain innovative and relevant as America seeks to maintain its competitive edge.
Even though many seek to improve graduate education, some attempts may actually be damaging. Solutions which involve increased competition or a reduction in the number of students that can attain a PhD are moving policies in the wrong direction. This is especially true for students of history. It is entirely possible to foster formal relations between institutions which have an interest in knowledgeable individuals and graduate schools. A number of positions which are outside of academia could be ideal for graduate students of history. Further, requiring students to practice diverse skills will make them well rounded, valuable acquisitions for employers.
Departmental goals of completion in conjunction with clear time frames are helpful for getting students through doctoral programs. Most importantly, clarity of expectations dictates student success in graduate school. Programs need to be open about requirements and expectations. Often, departments which check in with students enjoy higher completion rates.
In what ways is it possible to utilize technology in order to counter the decline in American higher education? The future role of IT in maintaining a healthy economy will be beneficial in educational environments. Traditional institutions will be challenged by the highly economical alternatives offered through the Internet if they fail to respond to this change. The structure of higher education itself must change in order to accommodate information technologies.
In order to maintain academic competitiveness in the fields of science and engineering on an international level, it is important to improve graduate education. Significant increases in international scientific development require a response. Creating citizen scholars who are interested in pursuing real world issues and servicing the community should be one such response. Further, an emphasis on inter-disciplinary knowledge and intellectual entrepreneurship will result in greater innovation
Students who attend graduate school expect to remain in academia. Currently, the extreme difficulty in attaining and holding onto an academic job make it an almost impractical goal. Though there is little room to achieve tenure, many students pursue this glorified career path. Informing students of their disciplines and professional options are necessary to ensuring that their professional goals do not atrophy. Professional development seminars are valuable resources for graduate students who receive little career direction.