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Grad school offers more information

As the Graduate School continues to look at ways to reduce attrition rates, graduate school officials have signed off on a pilot program that will evaluate attrition rates in late-year students and students who leave before the end of their third year in graduate school.

Debra Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools--a consortium of graduate schools nationwide--met this fall with Duke administrators to discuss attrition and also to help assess Duke's role in reversing the negative trend. Administrators said that as a result of the meeting, they hope to be able to increase the availability of information for prospective students.

Lewis Siegel, dean of the Graduate School, said the main goal is to provide as much information as possible about graduate programs. He said the University is the first private institution nationwide to provide this level of transparency for students.

"The Duke Graduate School is in the leadership, nationally, in looking at Ph.D. attrition rates," Stewart said. "They have been very innovative in putting this information down on their web page."

"Students want to have information about the program as well as [about] students in the program," she said. "They want to know the likelihood of completing the degree."

Early attrition, which constitutes about two-thirds of the entire attrition rate, presents a more serious problem than attrition later in the doctorate process, Siegel said. After three years, students who do not want to be in the program will not gain anything from sticking it out, he added. Often, the school will give those students a masters degree for their work.

"Deans will say that any dropout rate is bad," Siegel said. "They would say that is it terrible for students and a waste of time and resources.... The faculty convinced Debra that it was not such a bad thing though. It's a chance for students to get their feet wet."

Stewart said some attrition will always be expected as students question their motivations: "The objective should not necessarily be so strict that schools only want students in the programs until they graduate or die."

One aspect of the program will include meetings between Siegel and the heads of each graduate department, and will focus on eight factors related to attrition, from student selection to advising.

"Once we gather this information, we will bring the similar disciplines together in order to facilitate discussions," Siegel said. "Maybe the ones with higher attrition can learn from the ones with lower attrition."

Stewart said that as information is collected, the Council of Graduate Schools will begin the Ph.D. Completion Project, bringing together deans of graduate schools from around the country, as well as several students who have either completed graduate school, who are working on their doctorates or who have dropped out of programs.

"Duke will be one of those schools that we will put in a leadership position," Stewart said.

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