Strategic Plan for Reshaping Graduate Education


Executive summary

From its fourth strategic plan, OSU’s mission statement is

As a land grant institution committed to teaching, research, and outreach and engagement, Oregon State University promotes economic, social, cultural, and environmental progress for the people of Oregon, the nation, and the world.

Graduate education contributes substantially to this mission. In response to the calls in SP4.0 to “Diversify our research portfolio and strategically build our graduate programs”, this strategic plan was developed during the 2019-20 academic year through extensive campus engagement. As the pandemic unfolded, the Graduate Education Strategic Planning Committee re-evaluated the five main themes that emerged and concluded that all five were at least as salient as before, and in some cases, the pandemic made the changes we envisioned even more urgently needed.

Oregon State University will

  • Creatively expand our support for students
  • Strengthen core competencies and transferrable skills
  • Promote interdisciplinary opportunities
  • Innovate how we reach and serve
  • Pursue a robust portfolio of graduate programs

Focus on DEI: Enhancing diversity and inclusion are of paramount importance and imbue each of the actions.

At a time of profound change, this plan capitalizes on OSU’s advantages and calls for reshaping our graduate education enterprise for a bold course through an uncertain future. This strategic plan is for the entire graduate education enterprise at OSU: the Graduate School, the graduate programs and their home units and colleges, supportive units on campus, and OSU’s superb faculty. The leadership of initiatives described here will generally be a partnership between the Graduate School and the colleges. In this document, the term ‘we’ refers broadly to the collective efforts of groups of stakeholders in OSU’s graduate education community: college and unit leaders, program directors, graduate faculty, graduate students, the Graduate Council, and others.

Main themes

Creatively expand support for students

OSU strives to support the whole student. A recent National Academies study (1) found that “graduate students are more stressed and in ways that are qualitatively different from those of previous generations” and recommended that universities become more graduate student-serving by, among other things, ensuring they receive mentoring to understand their career options and promote their future success. A recent survey of OSU graduate students ascribed their main sources of anxiety to uncertainty regarding financial support, a desire for a stronger community and inadequate mentoring systems.

OSU supports graduate students through offices like the Graduate Writing Center, Statistics Consulting, Counseling and Psychological Services; events like Grad Welcome Week, Grad Inspire, and Grad Appreciation Week; career development opportunities like Aurora and the Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching, and more.

To support students also means to equip their graduate advisors for success in selecting, training, and mentoring their students and connecting them with resources as needed.

Focus on DEI: This first theme promotes inclusion by

  • Encouraging all graduate faculty to participate in CIMER culturally aware mentorship training
  • Continuing to build financial support to attract and retain students from underrepresented groups
  • Promoting community and wellness practices and pursue career development consistent with their career goals
Aim: Improve mentoring, inclusion, and self-care to promote academic success.
  1. Advance effective mentorship

    Partnering closely with colleges and the Office of Faculty Affairs, the Graduate School and academic leaders will engage faculty in a culturally aware mentorship training, and inaugural trainees train their peers in best practices for mentoring graduate students, in partnership with the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experience in Research (CIMER (2)). By 2025, all faculty who wish to advise graduate students will be trained to effectively mentor graduate students. New graduate students will be urged to create their own mentor maps (Figure 1 - Earth Science Women's Network mentoring map).

  2. Promote a culture of wellness and inclusion

    From prospective students to alumni, OSU grad students will know we take wellness seriously. We will keep wellness top of mind by speaking about it frequently, inviting and honoring stories of triumph over adversity, and equipping our community for success at OSU and the workplace. We will promote community by facilitating the purposeful gatherings of graduate students.

  3. Build financial support

    A full portfolio of financial support will include high-profile recruitment-oriented fellowships, emergency support for financially distressed students, and retention and completion awards.



Build core competencies and transferrable skills

Graduate degrees historically connoted a high level of specialization, normally attained soon after college, for a specific and permanent career. Now, though, a large majority of graduate degree holders change careers at least once, sometimes rendering the specialized training insufficient. Noting this mismatch between workforce demands and higher education supply, the National Academies report (1) urges universities to rethink graduate education to train students more broadly as well as deeply, in order that they may succeed at careers that have not been invented yet, to innovate education to keep pace with the evolving demands of the marketplace for versatility and ‘intellectual mobility’, and to focus on the future needs of the students rather than the value of the student to the university in supporting its teaching and research missions.

Workers increasingly seek retraining or new training later in their careers. (For OSU, these nontraditional learners have fueled the demand for Ecampus courses and programs.)

Core competencies include discipline-specific knowledge and skills, transferable or professional skills, and translational skills, defined as the interaction of discipline-specific and transferrable skills. Discipline-specific skills — or rather, general skills with discipline-specific context and characteristics — include research methods and software used in that field, incorporation of citizen science, science policy, risk, compliance, theory, assessment, reflective practice, and ethics. Transferable skills relevant to academic jobs include grant writing, college and university teaching, communication with academic and non-academic audiences, and research design and management. Broadly transferable skills include working on diverse teams; a deep understanding of how diversity strengthens teams; and an awareness of challenges to inclusion like implicit bias, critical thinking, digital and data literacy, innovation and entrepreneurship, interview techniques, and handling stressful situations including conflict.

Transferrable skills are essential because they

  • Ensure intellectual mobility, which will help meet changing demands of the economy for skilled workers and keep the graduate relevant as the workplace changes
  • Enhance innovation, entrepreneurial endeavors and commercialization
  • Are an essential part of higher education’s value proposition

Focus on DEI: This second theme supports OSU’s DEI goals by providing opportunities for all graduate students to understand and live DEI.

Aim: Create and market a portfolio of learning opportunities to boost transferrable skills to enrich our graduates' lives and increase their employability.
  1. Determine key transferrable skills

    Identify the most important categories of skills that our graduate students will need in the workplace.

  2. Inventory and communication

    Create and distribute an inventory of existing offerings and training that develop the key transferrable skills.

  3. Pursue value-enhancing investments

    Identify gaps and determine which would be most cost-effective to fill, offering the greatest benefit in creating the "whole" student.

  4. Teach diversity and inclusion

    Ensure our graduates are culturally literate, understand systemic racism and how to combat it, and are prepared to be good partners in a diverse workplace.

Figure 2. Examples of transferable skills - The European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers.



Promote interdisciplinary opportunities

It is sometimes said, “universities have departments, but the world has problems.” Many of today’s most pressing challenges are best met through the convergence of disciplines through the arduous task of blending perspectives, insights, and data. Many faculty and students cite OSU’s ease of interdisciplinary collaborations as a significant reason they chose to come here. Interdisciplinary programs can draw top students, forge partnerships among faculty, and emphasize the university’s growing strength in areas that do not fit neatly in a department. The Water Resources program is a highly ranked, mature example, and the Robotics program is a more recent example that was launched only five years ago and was ranked #4 in the country.

By developing and fostering an institutional structure and culture of problem-centered interdisciplinary research and education, we will strengthen our reputation and impacts on a global scale, increase sources of funding for interdisciplinary studies and collaborations, and attract and retain the best scientists and graduate students.

As we confront the challenges of working at the intersection of disciplines, OSU also seeks to work at the intersection of epistemologies, e.g., Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

Aim: Strengthen our current interdisciplinary efforts and strategically target the growth of interdisciplinary opportunities.
  1. Promote interdisciplinarity

    Effectively communicate the value and successes of interdisciplinarity.

  2. Create a new interdisciplinary program

    The Graduate School, in partnership with deans and other campus leaders, will invite faculty proposals for a new interdisciplinary graduate program or creative expansion of opportunities for interdisciplinary learning in areas of strategic value to OSU.

  3. Support student-driven interdisciplinary projects

    Groups of students could propose year-long collaborations that lead to shared chapters of their dissertations or theses.



Innovate how we reach and serve

OSU is among the top tier of universities offering online graduate programs. Our Ecampus distance learning enterprise is ranked #5 in the nation, the sixth year in a row in the top 10. Evidence suggests that its size, R1 status, and reputation for quality online programs place OSU among a select few universities positioned for future growth in online education.

Our ability to meet changing demands for how, when, and where students learn is critical to sustaining and growing our educational reach in Oregon and beyond and to serve underserved communities and people. This means that we must equally value and ease the accumulation of educational components into effective levels of knowledge and training for our students.

Aim: Expand for-credit learning opportunities, building on OSU’s academic strengths and its award-winning Ecampus platform.
  1. Immediately pursue expanded Ecampus offerings

    Leverage OSU’s advantage in online education by fast-tracking current course and program offerings and vigorously advertising.

  2. Beyond degrees

    Increase offerings of certificates and other sub-degree modules, and explore ways to leverage existing programs and degrees.

    Revise the accelerated master’s platform and explore 3+2 and 4+1 possibilities within and beyond OSU.

Focus on DEI: Holistic admissions increases the diversity and quality of graduate applicants.

  1. Holistic admissions

    The Graduate School will continue to lead graduate programs toward using holistic admissions, an approach that rigorously assesses the whole student.

  2. Cut red tape for students

    Following the success in converting the Program of Study form to a digital process, the Graduate School will develop digital processes for all remaining forms.

  3. Support the development of dual-degree programs

    The Graduate School will develop a handbook or best-practices document to streamline the process for faculty wishing to develop new partnerships with universities in Oregon and beyond.



Pursue a robust portfolio of graduate programs

Thoughtfully choosing the right mix of academic programs is essential to an institution’s financial and academic health. Coasting along does not lead to excellence. A portfolio approach combines bottom-up leadership — in which faculty will continue to propose new programs — with a strategic consideration of the OSU’s overall program offerings and its competitors, marketplace and workforce needs, and emerging directions.

Aim: Assess current programs and opportunities to strengthen our portfolio.
  1. Develop criteria to define a strong program

    Select relevant metrics for assessing all programs.

  2. Take stock of existing programs

    Systematically analyze all degree-granting graduate programs.

  3. Identify growth opportunities

    Look for value and relevance and consider multiple measures of demand.

  4. Increase institutional flexibility

    Seek ways to make it easier for programs to change courses, plan of study, and name of the degree.


About this strategic plan

Committee members:

  • Jennifer Alix-Garcia, Head, Department of Applied Economics
  • John Becker-Blease, Chair of Graduate Council and Associate Dean, College of Business
  • Mina Carson, Professor of History and past president, Faculty Senate
  • Kimberly Herb, Business Oregon
  • Jonathan Hurst, Associate Professor of Engineering, and Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Agility Robotics
  • Steven Mana’oakamai Johnson, Ph.D. student, Geography
  • Randy Rosenberger, Associate Dean, College of Forestry
  • Brent Steel, Professor and Director of the graduate program in public policy
  • Philip Mote, Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School

The strategic planning committee formed during the fall quarter of 2019. During the winter quarter of 2020, five public engagement sessions and two online questionnaires gathered input from OSU’s graduate education community. The five themes above emerged from the workshops and questionnaires in January, were refined in February, and developed into a draft plan that was shared initially with College Deans and Graduate School leadership. At a virtual retreat in early April 2020, we re-evaluated the plan in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

OSU context and the national and international forces changing graduate education

Goal #1 of OSU’s latest strategic plan, SP4.0, is preeminence in research, scholarship, and innovation, to establish OSU as a leader in:

  • Conducting research, producing knowledge, and generating innovations that contribute to addressing global grand challenges, particularly in our signature areas
  • Training the next generation of scholars
  • Contributing to the economic development and prosperity of Oregon and beyond

Under the research preeminence goal, the plan for OSU to be distinctive among other universities for its

  • High level of collaboration and global focus
  • Faculty engaged in public scholarship and outreach.
  • Graduate and professional education that leads to diverse and rewarding careers
  • Enduring partnerships with government, industry and other universities
  • Policies and systems supporting innovation and entrepreneurship

Strong graduate programs contribute to the university’s research productivity, the advancement of knowledge and deep critical thinking, and the reputation and rankings of the university. Graduate students are integral to advancing OSU’s teaching, research, and engagement missions and invigorate faculty with their questions and fresh perspectives. They become innovative and productive workers in the public and private sectors, translating university research and training into the engine of economic growth.

Goal #2 is transformative education accessible to all learners. “Using our many locations and online learning platform to maximum advantage in delivering distinctive and affordable education…creating opportunities for lifelong learning at OSU.” Targeted areas of distinction in comparison to other research universities under this goal include:

  • Graduates’ professional success and upward mobility
  • Graduates’ preparation to work effectively in a diverse society and as global citizens
  • Equity in access
  • Delivery of innovative curricula by faculty recognized for teaching and research excellence
  • Deep integration of research and discovery in the learning experience of all majors
  • An emphasis on experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates

OSU’s distinctive strengths include our eminence several research areas and our commitment to both excellence and access. OSU is ranked in the top 20 nationally in forestry, oceanography, agricultural sciences, robotics, and nuclear engineering (3, 4, 5, 6). Our colleges of Education, Pharmacy, and Veterinary Medicine serve Oregon’s specific workforce needs while at the same time strengthening OSU through deep collaborations with other colleges. OSU is known for highly valuing collaboration and interdisciplinary research.

Nationally, several important trends are worth noting. The evolution of graduate education in the 19th through the mid 20th century was focused on specialized training for specific careers: MBA for business, MD for medicine, and Ph.D. for academia, for example. Now, however, a large majority of graduate degree holders change careers at least once, rendering the specialized training less applicable; and demand for postgraduate training in many fields is skyrocketing. From just 2000 to 2017, the percentage of American 25- to 29-year-olds with a bachelor's or higher degree increased from 29 to 36 percent, and the percentage with a master's or higher degree increased from 5 to 9 percent: a doubling in just 17 years (7). In short, graduate degrees are in similar demand today by employers and workers as college degrees were just two generations ago. Online graduate education is growing fast: 44% of graduate students are expected to be enrolled in fully online programs by 2025, up from 36% currently (8).

Ph.D.s were once a near guarantee for a faculty position or research position at a private or government lab. Today, Ph.D.s enter a variety of careers. In NSF’s most recent Survey of Earned Doctorates, only 38% of OSU’s new Ph.D. recipients intended to pursue a career in academia (beyond a postdoctoral appointment), 41% in industry or business, 10% in government and the remaining 11% in nonprofit or other fields. Compared with all US universities, far more of OSU’s PhDs go on to industry. These graduates stay and contribute to the region’s economy: 56% stay in the Northwest vs. a national average of 48% who stay in the region where they earned their Ph.D. (9).

The US remains a primary destination for international students due to US universities’ reputation and the inability of many other nations’ universities to meet the rapidly rising demand for higher education especially in China, Saudi Arabia, and India. However, China’s higher education supply is rapidly catching up with demand. US-China tensions were already depressing applications before COVID-19 and associated travel and visa restrictions. Saudi Arabia is also building out its universities and recently stopped a program that offered a full ride to Saudi citizens studying in the US. Rapidly rising demand in India, Nigeria, and other countries is expected to sustain international demand for OSU graduate education for another decade, greatly assisted by our partnership with INTO OSU, which recruits students from 55 countries.


  1. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018: Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. National Academies Press.
  2. Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER). University of Wisconsin-Madison. Accessed Nov. 20, 2020:
  3. Best Robotics Colleges. Successful Student. Accessed Nov. 6, 2020.
  4. Google Search for colleges & universities. Accessed Nov. 6, 2020:
  5. QS World University Rankings by Subject 2013 - Agriculture & Forestry, Top Universities. Accessed on Nov. 6, 2020:
  6. Center for World University Rankings. Accessed Nov. 6, 2020:
  7. National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Educational Sciences. Accessed Nov. 6, 2020:
  8. Online Higher Education Market Update 2018—Report 1: The National Market. Eduventures. Accessed Nov. 6, 2020:
  9. NSF 2017 Survey of Earned Doctorates. National Science Foundation. Accessed Nov. 6, 2020: