To improve rankings, college must address research funding


April 11, 2008



The latest US News & World Report rankings of America’s Best Graduate Schools of education have just been released, and the news for our college was rather disappointing. This year, we were ranked 53rd, and even more disconcertingly, we placed behind three other education colleges in Florida—USF, FSU and the University of Miami—all of which tied at 45th. While we can take some comfort in the fact that two UF programs are still nationally ranked in their specialties, Counselor Education (No. 3) and Special Education (No. 4), and that our peer assessment scores were actually higher than the other colleges in the state, we must recognize that other colleges have now caught up to us, and may continue to remain ahead if we do not make some fundamental changes.

Dean Catherine Emihovich
Dean Catherine Emihovich

Reviewing the criteria, it is now clear that the greatest discrepancy in the rankings occurred in the area of research expenditures. Faculty and students may find this discrepancy puzzling, because we have steadily increased the number of funded grant proposals in the past year; in fact, we now have over $23 million in funded research projects. However, the actual amount spent in a given year may be far less, and this is why our total was so much lower than our state peers. One explanation is that they have many funded centers that operate on yearly state contracts, which raises their annual research expenditures higher than ours.

Obviously, the rankings do not capture all the positive aspects of our college, and they fail to acknowledge all the exciting initiatives currently in place to prepare outstanding educators, help schools improve, and contribute to the quality of education in this state. At the same time, we cannot ignore their public relations value in terms of students making decisions on where to attend graduate school, and for this reason, we will need to concentrate our energies this coming academic year on identifying areas where we can improve our research capacity.

One area that will receive increased attention is to secure more state contracts for one-time expenditures, as well as working with other units across campus to help them manage the assessment portion of their research grants. The Office of Educational Research just recently received funds from the Division of Sponsored Research on campus to develop a new evaluation service to assist PIs across campus with meeting their assessment needs. This new service, which will be known as CAPES (Collaborative Assessment and Program Evaluation Services), is designed to provide researchers with access to applied statisticians, program evaluators, survey methodologists and data analysis programmers to help them prepare rigorous program evaluation plans for their grant proposals.

In addition, OER will continue to work with COE faculty to identity several thematic areas where large, multi-unit, multi-disciplinary proposals can be submitted for major funding. One example is the area of early childhood studies, which not only involves multiple programs within our college, but also has the potential to attract faculty from developmental psychology; family, youth and community sciences; nursing; and pediatrics to collaborate on projects designed to address the needs of young children and their families.

In closing this column for the academic year (as our traditional summer hiatus for publishing coE-News approaches), I want to end on a positive note amidst all the gloom of budget cuts and declining rankings, and mention the recent writing contest we held to ask COE and PKY faculty and students to respond to the topic, “What’s good in education.” We received over 27 entries, including one from a practicing educator (and graduate student in our online degree program) in Miami. The winning entry, along with selected others, are to be featured on our Web site this week with a link on our home page.

Even as we grapple with what seem to be intractable problems, it’s extremely important to remind ourselves of why we do the work we do, and I think you’ll find the winning entry to be a heartwarming testament to the power of education to change lives for the better. Our college is strong and vibrant, and next year I anticipate that we will rise again in the rankings as we continue to make significant contributions to educational issues and concern across this state and beyond.

— Dean Catherine Emihovich