Deep Bench

CAES' robust graduate programs strengthen the research enterprise

In 2016, the University of Georgia launched an initiative to increase graduate enrollment using incentives to encourage the university’s schools and colleges to grow their graduate programs. New funding opportunities, interdisciplinary programs and professional development opportunities have been offered to encourage an invigorated focus on graduate programs.

Since then, graduate program enrollment has taken off in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, increasing from 467 graduate students in fall 2015 to 589 in fall 2018, exceeding expected growth in number of students and timeline.

Josef Broder (BSA – Agricultural Economics, ’71), associate dean for academic affairs at CAES, said that the growth in graduate programs can be credited to both the university’s willingness to financially support more robust graduate education programs and the faculty’s commitment to positive change. The college’s graduate faculty have leveraged the university’s additional funding to develop needed graduate-level programming that benefits the students, the college and the industries graduates are joining.

“You can’t attract the highest-caliber students without competitive funding, and this has allowed that,” Broder said. “Our faculty know what it takes to attract students academically; we need to be able to offer competitive assistantships.”

While it is important to offer assistantships that are attractive to prospective graduate students, it is equally crucial to educate those students to enter a market that is prepared to receive them.

“We were not just growing programs to increase the number of students,” said Doug Bailey (BSA – Horticulture, ’80), assistant dean for academic affairs at CAES and former head of the CAES Department of Horticulture. “We did not want to generate graduates with nowhere for them to go. As the agriculture industry gets more sophisticated and technical, the demand for graduate-prepared agriculture job candidates goes up. There are jobs for them.”

While the same opportunities have been offered to all of UGA’s schools and colleges, “there has been a lot of creativity at the department level to make the most of the additional funding available,” Bailey said.

“Many faculty members did not have large enough grants to fund a full assistantship, but if they could come up with half of the funding, then this would fund the other half. We’ve been very creative as a college — the faculty in getting grant money and the administration in leveraging these additional institutional funds — to achieve this growth,” he added. “Our college is unique in that most of our graduate students have some level of funding, which waives tuition for the student.”

Because the funding model rewards each school and college with increasing funds each year the graduate program grows — through enrollment, the number of graduate-level or summer-semester hours taught, and the number of faculty-taught hours — graduate program growth becomes self-fulfilling.

This is important for CAES because the number of graduate students a school has can lead to improved rankings and enhance reputation. Because CAES is already recognized for its programs, funding enables the faculty to successfully recruit students nationwide.

“As the availability of four-year programs in the state expands, we have to push growth in our graduate programs, as we have the infrastructure, expertise level and capacity to teach at a higher level,” Broder said.

The college’s Department of Food Science and Technology is highly ranked internationally and receives more than 100 applications each year for its master’s and doctoral programs, according to Department Head and Professor Rakesh Singh. Incentives offered by the university help strengthen the department’s ability to attract the best graduate students to its programs by offering competitive assistantships to candidates deciding between CAES and other institutions.

“Often top students receive multiple admissions to different programs. If we can offer them assistantships up front, we can attract the students we want to our programs. Because external funding levels go up and down year by year, without this initiative we would not have money at the table to offer these top students,” Singh said.

Allen Moore, associate dean for research at CAES, said the success of growth in graduate programs has a positive influence on all levels of education within the college.

“By developing strong graduate programs, we strengthen our undergraduate programs because of the breadth of training we are able to provide,” said Moore. “When you strengthen your research program, you have undergraduates interacting with graduate students in labs and classes. If you go to any other university without a research program, you can still learn the same subjects — the difference here is you are learning from the people who are creating new knowledge on the subject.”

By Maria M. Lameiras

Artwork by Katie Walker
Composite illustration by Katie Walker