GRIP is different from external review because the department drives the questions. The process is direct and can lead to immediate changes."
-Dr. Melissa Haynes, GRIP consultant and coordinator of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI)
Friday, January 16, 2015

Graduate Review & Improvement Process

Grad Student Circle

Getting students involved in program evaluation

How can student-centered evaluation benefit graduate programs?

A collaboration between the Graduate School and the College of Education & Human Development, the Graduate Review & Improvement Process (GRIP) analyzes student and faculty feedback to measure the quality and effectiveness of University of Minnesota graduate programs.

GRIP collects both institutional data and the perspectives and experiences of students and faculty to improve graduate programs ¬– a different approach from typical external reviews that might only use quantitative data, such as the time it takes for students to graduate. With its focus on student perspectives, GRIP helps programs meet their goals and better fit student needs. Soon, it could be implemented University-wide.

GRIP works with graduate programs to develop and implement tailored evaluation designs that include methods such as focus groups, interviews and student surveys. Outcomes from the evaluations are presented in an internal report. GRIP has found that common concerns from multiple programs include unclear or infrequent communication, department and administrative transparency, access to research and teaching resource, depth and breadth of coursework, lack of diversity of students and/or faculty, advising, and student orientation.

GRIP incorporates program needs and goals to create a focused, action-oriented improvement plan.  Based on evaluation results, GRIP consultants might suggest that the program enhance communication through newsletters and website updates; revise the student handbook; regularly conduct student surveys; connect students' desire to teach with teaching workloads; redesign student orientations; or organize research and writing workshops; or create a student lounge and study space.

"GRIP is different from external review because the department drives the questions," says Dr. Melissa Haynes, GRIP consultant and coordinator of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI). "The process is direct and can lead to immediate changes."

GRIP benefits programs by helping them prepare for external review or accreditation, and provides feedback so programs can better understand how to improve students' academic and professional outcomes. Participants also gain experience with program evaluation and higher education.

"One side benefit is that students learn how to do evaluations and listen to students," says Dr. Jean King, professor in Organizational Leadership, Policy & Development and director of MESI. "GRIP gets students involved in the program evaluation process."

GRIP was created in 2011 by the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy & Development as a response to faculty, staff and students who called for a new model of assessing graduate programs. During its pilot phase, the initiative was featured in Inside Higher Ed. Now going into its fourth year, GRIP has worked with more than 20 graduate programs across various colleges, including Computer Science, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Food Science and Nutrition, Nursing and Anthropology.

As evidence of the process in one department, GRIP helped faculty and students in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction design, implement and analyze a range of student-centered assessments of its graduate program, such as surveys and focus groups. "This data was then analyzed to identify strengths and specific, actionable improvements that are leading to better experiences and outcomes for students," says Kendall King, Director of Graduate Studies for Curriculum and Instruction. For example, one finding from the evaluation was that core course requirements weren't relevant to doctoral students.

In another example, GRIP's work with the Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology's graduate program led to major improvements.  "The benefits were substantial," says professor Richard Brundage.  "One of the key elements was the student-centered evaluation that emerged -- and not just current students, but alumni of the program as well. We had no idea how to initiate and conduct such an evaluation, or how that type of information could supplement other types of evaluation data we were collecting."

The Department of Anthropology graduate program also found GRIP to be very useful. "It demonstrated that...there were some strong divergences in our understandings of various rules, and different sets of presumptions about different key elements of the program," says David Valentine, Director of Graduate Studies.  "One of the most substantial changes that has resulted has been far more specific wording in the graduate handbook." In addition, the GRIP process prompted ongoing conversation between faculty and students about the core curriculum.

GRIP consultants are writing an e-book and two manuscripts for academic journals. They have also presented four times at the American Evaluation Association conference. The team hopes to continue to share the GRIP process and methods with other colleges and nationally through publications. Moving forward, GRIP staff also aim to secure more funding. "We are eager to institutionalize GRIP and make it sustainable," King said.

For more information, visit the GRIP website.

– Lyra Fontaine