CEA Quadruples Ph.D. Graduation Rate and Increases Ph.D. Enrollment by 38%

PhD students

The College of Engineering and Architecture (CEA) has seen a 38% increase in Ph.D. program enrollment and a quadrupling of the number of doctoral degrees awarded since 2015. Dean Messac expresses, “We are on track to reach an annual Ph.D. graduation rate of 20 to 25 students over the next three years; and on to significantly higher levels.” He further explains, “This effort is an integral part of our college’s significant increase in national standing, including our historic increase of 66-points in U.S. News & World Report rankings.”

This sharp increase in the number of doctoral degrees awarded can be attributed to a set of strategic decisions implemented in the past three years: (1) increased emphasis on Ph.D. vs. M.S. enrollment; (2) significant resource re-allocation and increased efficiency thereof; (3) increased support for faculty scholarly activities; (4) more stringent Ph.D. admission requirements; and (5) increased focus on retention.

Upon his appointment in the spring of 2016, Dean Messac prioritized providing support to Ph.D. students. Whereas the focus of CEA’s graduate student recruitment and enrollment was on the master’s degree programs, that focus was shifted to the doctoral degree programs. The goal became to recruit students who would matriculate directly into our Ph.D. programs – students who already held master’s degrees. This realignment of graduate program enrollment goals made a direct impact on Ph.D. program enrollment, increasing it by 38%.

This major shift in priorities for our graduate programs necessitated clear departures from past practices. For example, Ph.D. students were only receiving a $12K annual stipend, which was not competitive. There were also no existing faculty incentives to promote growth in Ph.D. research and timely program completion. Dean Messac created a change in policy which provided Ph.D. students with a new annual minimum stipend of $20K. Additionally, a tuition policy change was implemented to always provide Ph.D. students with full tuition coverage, as previously students were often only receiving partial tuition coverage.

Another significant change in policy implemented by Dean Messac involved creating a series of faculty incentives to promote growth in Ph.D. research and timely program completion. For example, an award of $5K is offered to doctoral advisors for every Ph.D. student whom they guide and graduate. Faculty members also receive monetary awards that reflect their research productivity.

These student and faculty incentives not only increased Ph.D. program student enrollment and retention, but also strongly influenced the submission rate of Ph.D.-centric research proposals and receipt of research awards. With the increased focus on securing Ph.D.-centric research awards in the college, faculty members are now better able to support Ph.D. students.

This upward trend in the number of doctoral degrees awarded is in direct alignment with our vision and plan to vigorously elevate the college to greater levels of national standing and recognition.


College of Engineering and Architecture