Monday, November 19, 2007


NAGPS President-Tonia Compton

NAGPS Vice President, Ruqaiyah Rogers (Center) with the Midwest Region Student leaders.

Ruqaiyah Rogers-Vice President- NAGPS.


The 21st Annual Conference of the National Association of Graduate & Professional Students (NAGPS) was opened by Liz Olson, outgoing CEO and President of NAGPS. She welcomed the representatives from the various institutions of higher learning to Austin-Texas and assured them that they would find the conference enriching to their leadership experience.

The theme of the conference was “Advocate, Empower, and Connect: Creating Stronger Graduate and Professional Student Communities”. The theme reflected the renovated mission of the Organization.

On Friday 16th November 2007, the keynote speaker Dr.Raymund Paredes, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education brought home a very touching and challenging real-world understanding of the value of higher education. According to him, the relationship between research and policy is still a nightmare for many faculty members. This needs to change. Faculty need to be empowered on how to convert research into good policy.

According to Dr. Paredes, American society ought to take seriously the fact that only 55% of the students who enroll for graduate education end up completing their studies; compared to other countries, the US ranks 8th or 9th for students completing graduate studies. He goes on to say that whatever your field of interest or discipline, one ought to take into account that all of us are citizens of the world regardless of your background or training thus in order to assume a position of intellectual leadership, higher education must not be eroded in any way.

On Saturday 17th November 2007, Scott Jaschik, editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed, spoke on the social policy and graduate education. According to him, “hard sciences” are a hot issue in Washington DC. The main reason is that many people are looking for ways to “beat” the Asians-the Japanese, Indians, Chinese, and Koreans, etc., who are seen as a threat and a resource at the same time.

Jaschik stated that politicians and lobbyist groups are discussing ways of regulating the influx of foreign students into the US in search of higher education. One group says “let the Asians in so that our laboratories may run well. Foreign talent is needed”. The other group says,” Keep the Asians out of this country so that our own students may get jobs!” Jaschik goes on to say that many institutions of higher learning are reporting that potential international students are being kept out of the country by unfair visa denials.

Interestingly enough, Germany and many other countries in Europe have seen the need to capitalize on the conflict that the US has on this crucial issue and they are changing their policies to attract more foreign students. They are also pumping more funds into their institutions of higher learning in order to regain their academic superiority. For example, Europe is moving toward 3-year degrees on the undergraduate level. This makes the 4-year American undergraduate degree to look too long and a waste of precious time. Australia is accepting students from Europe who have 3-year degrees. Canada has also become aggressive in recruiting foreign students. For example they have removed many unnecessary admission requirements which are still used in the US. The US is faced with a dilemma. As much as it would like to admit the European students who have the 3-year undergraduate degrees, they hesitate to do this because it would mean having to do the same for the Indian students who have 3-year undergraduate degrees.

On the issue of whether graduate students should unionize or not, Jaschik says it is to their advantage to do so and experience has shown that institutions like the University of Chicago offers better terms/benefits to their graduate students because they are unionized. According to him, top universities view graduate students not just as students but also as instructors. They want the best so they invest considerably in them.

During the small-group sessions time, Erick Wolf from the University of Colorado presented a very elaborate report from a survey that he conducted on student insurance health plans offered by various universities across the country. The survey revealed that, compared to many other institutions, the University of Michigan provides really good health benefits.This is a factor that many believe is making more and more students to make UoM their school of choice since health insurance is a critical need to all people in America. UoM has an MD Program and their Insurance is self-managed.

On the final day of the conference, NAGPS elected new officials for the year 2007-2008. The following were elected:

President - Tonia Compton, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Vice-President - Ruqaiyah Rogers, Grand Valley State University
Chief Information Officer - Katie Vahey, University of Colorado – Boulder
Chief Financial Officer - Amy Meyers, Baylor University
Ombudsman - James Hodgson, University of California –Davis
Midwest Regional Coordinator – vacant
South-Central Regional Coordinator – vacant
Northeast Regional Coordinator – Joe Arasin, Carnegie Mellon University
Western Regional Coordinator – Yvonne Dang, University of Nevada- Reno
Southeast Regional Coordinator – Evan Perlman, University of Maryland
Social Justice Coordinator – Alethea Duncan, Duke University
Employee Concerns Chair – Rachel Hansen, Brigham Young University
Human Concerns Chair – Gauthum Pandiyan, Duke University
Legislative Concerns Chair – Chris Wright, Oklahoma State University
Public Relations Chair, Armen Shaomian, University of Miami

The new leadership of NAGPS now has the challenge of not only strengthening their organization by recruiting more members from all the 12,000+ universities and colleges from all the regions of America but also identifying the critical needs of graduate students and working hard to ensure that those needs are met.

NAGPS leaders need to see that both student happiness on campus and later success in the workplace are critical to the economic and academic future of their educational institutions. Satisfied students and working graduates lead to, among other things, individuals who: feel good about themselves and their alma mater; can service their enormous student debt; generate interest in their academic home among prospective students; and become donors.

The other crucial thing that NAGPS leaders will need is to recognize and incorporate into their thinking other key and relevant stakeholders in graduate studies: parents, communities, the government, employers/the job industry, politicians etc. NAGPS leaders will have to prioritize among the stakeholders by assessing both their relative interest in and influence on (power within) graduate education. Satisfying this triumvirate of interests is not simple and requires that the NAGPS leaders change how they approach their day-to-day activities. It is prudent that NAGPS leaders learn how to think more expansively about stakeholders, and then actively incorporate these stakeholders into the corporate decision-making process.

Meeting with leaders of the various stakeholder groups will be critical and it may hold the key to the progress of NAGPS in many ways. Without this, it is going to be another wasted year for this new leaders!

Many graduate students will be looking upon NAGPS leaders to push for the following:

1. Push for a cooperative effort between government, business leaders and universities to boost the enrollment and retention of graduate students especially the underrepresented minorities in graduate programs.

2. Expand federal programs to foster interdisciplinary research.

3. Compete more effectively for talent abroad.

4. Enhance the quality of American graduate education, including reducing attrition and supporting more risk-taking research.

5. Improving visa processes for international students.

6. Increasing federal funding for graduate programs by at least 10 percent at each institution or agency.

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