NRC Assessment

Participation in the National Research Council's assessment is already helping the University of Minnesota's efforts to enhance graduate education.  As a major U.S. research university, the University of Minnesota is part of the National Research Council (NRC) assessment of research doctoral programs. The NRC released its third assessment on September 28, 2010. 

A total of about 5,000 programs in 62 NRC-defined fields at 212 universities participated. To be included, a field must be offered through at least 25 universities and must have had at least 500 Ph.D. graduates in the five years before 2004-05.  At the University of Minnesota, 69 programs in more than 50 of the NRC fields participated. See a summary of University of Minnesota data (PDF).

What will we learn?

The purpose of the assessment is to help research universities across the country improve the quality of their programs and to improve the nation’s research capacity. It also aims to provide valuable information for the public and for prospective graduate students who are evaluating their options.

Participating universities are able to compare their own programs, as well as compare their programs with counterparts at other universities. The findings will also be helpful in evaluation of investments and efforts to improve the quality of doctoral education.

What’s new?

This assessment differs substantially from previous NRC reports and comparison will be impossible. First, the methodology is entirely different. The NRC reports published in 1984 and 1995 relied heavily on reputational surveys; for the current assessment, a new, more data-driven methodology was developed. The NRC identified 20 variables to indicate quality of a Ph.D. program, and it surveyed programs, faculty, and students. The data are grouped in three clusters:

  • research activity (publications per faculty member, citations of faculty members’ publications, the percent of core and new faculty holding grants, and awards per faculty member)
  • student support and outcomes (percent of students funded fully for their first year, percent of students who complete in a given time period, median time to degree, placement in academic positions including postdoctoral appointments, and tracking of graduates’ employment outcomes)
  • diversity (gender and previous underrepresentation in doctoral education of students and faculty; percentage of international students)

Second, the assessment reports each program’s results in a range, not in a single ranked number.

Third, coverage in the new survey was broadened to include more agricultural and biomedical sciences and other new interdisciplinary fields. Professional fields such as education, business, and social work remained excluded.

Finally, the data are not current. They were collected for the 2005-06 academic year and years preceding it. The time required to analyze and report the data using the new methodology means that the results  yield benchmarks rather than current program descriptions. Faculty, students, curriculum, and other components may have changed significantly for any given program. This factor may be especially true for programs at the University of Minnesota, which was in the early stages of strategic planning implementation in 2005-06.

About the NRC

The NRC is affiliated with the National Academies. It is the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, providing services to government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. It is administered by the two academies and the Institute of Medicine.


For more information about the University of Minnesota’s participation in the NRC assessment, contact the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Karen Hanson, at 612-625-0051, or the Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education, Henning Schroeder, at 612-625-2809.

Media inquiries should be directed to the University News Service at 612-624-5551 or