Report of the Task Force on Graduate Education

Executive Summary and Recommendations

Background and Purpose

Between Spring 1997 and Fall 1999, a Task Force on Graduate Education, appointed by the Provost, undertook a study of graduate education at Cal Poly. This undertaking was initiated in response to growing evidence of strong support for graduate programs among selected faculty and the sense within the academic leadership that the University was at a pivotal point in planning the future of graduate education. The report Graduate Education at Cal Poly: Challenges and Opportunities is the result of this two-year effort.

The scope of the study was broad, its intention being to provide an overview of the current status of graduate education. The Task Force did not attempt to review individual programs or provide analysis of all programs. When individual programs or their characteristics were profiled or cited, this was done to illustrate specific points of general interest or to convey some of the diversity of our programs. A primary goal of the study was to gather information from a variety of sources and synthesize it into a comprehensive, integrative picture of graduate education at Cal Poly in the 1990s. An equally important goal was to assess present strengths and weaknesses, identify areas of excellence and discover opportunities for the future, for the ultimate purpose of presenting a blueprint for graduate education in the next decade and beyond.


The Task Force study revealed a university that is experiencing "growing pains" with respect to its role in graduate education. Many graduate programs have achieved levels of excellence that are surprising considering the general ambivalence of the university toward graduate education. Others continue to struggle. The difference appears to be in the level of commitment of individual faculty and departments to their programs. The operant principle seems to have been "where there’s a will, there’s a way". This bottom up support for graduate programs, however, has been frustrating for many of the faculty who are involved in graduate education and they would like more support from the administration and more recognition for their efforts. Nevertheless, significant gains have been made over the past 10-15 years, and a significant cohort of faculty are eager to develop graduate programs that will enjoy the same reputation for excellence as Cal Poly’s undergraduate programs.

The study also revealed a wealth of opportunities for Cal Poly to develop new graduate programs, or strengthen existing ones, in areas that are consistent with our polytechnic focus and that would address needs of students, employers, industry and the State of California without duplicating programs available elsewhere. Opportunities were also identified to develop new post-baccalaureate programs, apply new modes of delivery, and reach out to new student populations.

Of particular significance to the Task Force was the discovery that many of our accepted premises about graduate programs (enrollment trends, quality, cost) were erroneous, but had been perpetuated by our failure either to look beyond superficial data or even to question the premises in the first place.


Based on its study, the Task Force has developed five major recommendations as well as 31 strategies for implementing them. Responsibility for implementation of these recommendations reaches to every level of the University, from individual faculty and staff to department chairs and directors of administrative offices; from academic deans to the Provost, vice presidents and the President. The recommendations and proposed strategies for addressing them are presented below as "strategic goals", whose achievement will enable Cal Poly to assume a position in graduate education that is appropriate to its academic reputation, the talents of its faculty and its mission as the preeminent polytechnic campus in the CSU.

Back to top

Strategic Goals for Graduate Education at Cal Poly

GOAL 1: Fully integrate graduate education into all facets of university life and activities.

Strategies for Goal 1:

  1. Make graduate education a significant component of strategic planning.
    • Review and revise strategic plans of all colleges and units, both academic and administrative, to ensure that graduate programs and students are appropriately addressed.
    • Develop a specific strategic planning component for graduate education for each college and the UCTE and a university-wide plan that supports the college/UCTE plans and also addresses campus-wide goals.
    • Assess progress toward meeting these goals on an annual basis.
  2. Develop effective means of communicating the institution's vision and plan for graduate education throughout the campus.
    • Issue periodic statements from the President and Provost, and the Dean of Research and Graduate Programs, on topics related to graduate education.
    • Include more articles in Cal Poly Magazine and college newsletters on graduate programs and the achievements of graduate students.
    • Develop a promotional brochure on graduate education at Cal Poly.
  3. Appoint graduate students to more campus-wide committees.
  4. Require ASI to support graduate student activities in proportion to their representation in the student body.
  5. Review position descriptions and recommendations on hiring, tenure and promotion of faculty to ensure that participation in graduate education is given appropriate recognition and weight.
  6. Review position descriptions and search committee recommendations in the hiring of administrators, including deans, associate deans, academic department heads, and all managers/department heads in the university's major administrative divisions (academic affairs, administration and finance, student affairs, advancement) to ensure that they are aware of Cal Poly's vision and plan for graduate education and are fully committed to assist in implementing them.
  7. Review evaluations for promotion and merit pay of incumbent administrators to ensure that they meet or make progress toward meeting graduate education goals appropriate to their functions and responsibilities.
  8. Include graduate educational needs and goals in fundraising efforts.
Back to top
GOAL 2: Develop assessment methods and measures for determining progress in meeting established goals for graduate programs, e.g., creation of new programs, growth of existing programs, increase in quality/number of applicants, increase in overall enrollment, efficacy of administrative and support services.

Strategies for Goal 2:

  1. Devote at least one Deans Council meeting annually to an in-depth discussion of graduate education, including progress in meeting goals and strategic planning in this area.
  2. Request that Institutional Planning and Analysis develop metrics for assessing graduate programs, e.g., enrollment, retention, progress to degree, etc., and that this information be summarized in an annual report.
  3. Request a brief annual report from deans on specific progress in meeting their college's/unit's goals for graduate education.
  4. Regularly survey graduate student satisfaction with their programs, and with administrative and support services.
Back to top
GOAL 3: Provide the necessary resources to ensure the quality of existing and new graduate programs.

Strategies for Goal 3:

  1. Provide and maintain adequate facilities for graduate students, particularly those who also serve as teaching and graduate assistants, for study, laboratory work, computing and interaction with faculty and each other.
  2. Provide sufficient financial support for graduate students through a combination of financial aid, fellowships and scholarships, teaching and graduate assistantships.
  3. Seek fellowship and scholarship support for graduate students through University advancement activities.
  4. Implement out-of-state tuition waivers in accordance with CSU policy to attract outstanding non-resident students and diversify the graduate student body. (Appendix 5)
  5. Develop effective recruiting programs to improve the quality of the graduate applicant pool.
  6. Promote enrollment in under-subscribed programs through aggressive recruiting (at the program, college and university level) and other strategies (distance learning, certificate enrollments) to increase the efficacy of resource allocation in these programs.
  7. Explore strategies to attract and enroll more international students in graduate programs.
  8. Provide incentives to colleges and faculty to enter into interdepartmental and intercollegiate collaborations that result in the development of new interdisciplinary degree programs.
Back to top
GOAL 4: Provide administrative and support services that are accessible to graduate students and recognize the unique demographics and circumstances of this specific student population.

Strategies for Goal 4:

  1. Review the policies and procedures of support units to ensure that they are consistent with academic goals and recognize the unique characteristics of the graduate student population.
  2. Establish a new per-unit fee structure for graduate students.
  3. Review and revise as appropriate the service hours of support units (Records, Admissions, Health Center, Bookstore, Library, Graduate Programs, Financial Aid, and Cashier) so that services are reasonably available to all regularly enrolled students.
  4. Conduct regular surveys of satisfaction of graduate students with the services they receive.
  5. Revise parking policies to accommodate graduate students enrolled in evening classes. (e.g., provide staff parking or another alternative to UCTE students (and others as appropriate) after 3:30 PM).
Back to top
GOAL 5: Pursue opportunities that will allow the growth and enhancement of graduate education at Cal Poly in selected areas consistent with our mission and strategic goals.

Strategies for Goal 5:

  1. Develop new graduate programs in areas of distinctive competency and demand, identified through the strategic planning process.
  2. Develop new interdisciplinary graduate programs across departments and colleges in areas of cross-disciplinary strength, consistent with strategic planning objectives.
  3. Continue to develop new integrated B.S./M.S. (4+1 and 5+1) programs.
  4. Develop technical certificate programs that are responsive to the needs of working professionals, particularly in the local community.
  5. Develop the technologies, policies, and procedures that will facilitate the use of distance/distributed learning.
  6. Develop an efficient, flexible, and entrepreneurial extended education division at Cal Poly that will facilitate the offering of graduate programs to non-traditional students at times and locations that make these programs accessible to them.
Back to top