The New Graduate School
Is a bachelor’s degree enough, today? It has been said that a basic undergraduate college degree is the modern equivalent of a high-school diploma, given the state of our current economy and job market. While this is a debatable idea, and it may be true or not true based on your specific field of study, the reality is that a master’s, an MBA, or a Ph. D will bring you more opportunities for employment as well as better pay.
Locally, our colleges are well-equipped to address the needs of those looking to do graduate research, and each on is able to bring their own unique qualifications and history to the table. For the potential grad student looking in Duluth and Superior for a place to do their studies, there are options. It just depends on how you’d like to do that work.
“At UW-Superior, much of the graduate research is ‘action research,’” says Suzanne C. Griffith, Ph. D, who is Professor of Educational Leadership and Coordinator of First Year Seminars at the school. “We want it to be relevant, to be connected to what is actually happening in the field, and to address issues that the student or others in the profession have to address regularly. Days of doing research that led to a thesis that sat on a shelf are behind us. It should lead to improved practices, policies, and procedures that are of potential use beyond this specific situation. We want it to be similar to the kind of problem-solving they will need to grapple with in the field. It isn’t something one does just in graduate school —it ought to carry on to actual practice in the field.”
UW-Superior is fine place to undertake such a project because of the personal attention they give to students, Griffith continues.
“Because of our size, those faculty who work with graduate students see these projects as opportunities to keep a hand in the field, as well as guide the student in his or her professional development,” she explains. “We welcome their tackling old problems or new areas, because, through the process, we learn new material and can pass that on to other students as examples of the relevance of action research. At the same time, it allows us to pass on our insights to someone who will be potentially serving in the field for years to come.”
Griffith points to the Wisconsin college’s new library as being an invaluable resource for grad students, saying that it “provides immediate access to the entire UW System — including theses and dissertations — in its collection,” she says. “The students give me feedback all the time on how helpful the library staff is when the student hits a snag in search for appropriate research.”
In Duluth, The College of St. Scholastica has four graduate programs – Education, Health Sciences, Nursing, and Business & Technology – that are attended by approximately 1000 students. (Surprisingly, this comprises about one quarter of their student body.) And, like UW-Superior, they are focused on a less thesis-centric learning experience.
“The idea is that it’s applied,” says Beth Domholdt, EdD, Vice President of Academic Affairs at the school. “You’re not in an ivory tower studying something obscure. You’re looking at important problems that Nurse Practitioners or Information Management Specialists or teachers are facing in their everyday world. We try to do it in ways that make their findings very usable.”
Domholdt says that St. Scholastica is more of an “applied” college in general, and they are more attuned to those who would be, say, a physician instead of a biochemist. “That’s sort of the distinction,” she says of the school, “are you going to graduate school to prepare you for a specific profession, or are you going to prepare yourself as a researcher in a specific discipline?”
Timothy Holst is Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Graduate Programs at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and, as such, he’s deeply involved with the large college’s “25 to 30 graduate programs, depending on how you count.” But while the school is the largest and offers the most graduate programs in the area, UMD shares the view of its smaller counterparts that much of graduate education isn’t limited to the thesis paper, and that each field demands different attention.
“In English,” he says, “you might do a lot of reading. The scientist or chemist will do a lot of experimentation, the social worker will go out in the field and perhaps do some surveys.” Holst says. “It varies from discipline to discipline.”
As with the other colleges, too, their vision for graduate education includes many facets. There are usually high-level courses involved with acquiring a graduate degree. “Our minimum requirements are thirty credits, of which ten are for writing the thesis,” Holst says.
It’s clear: while the thesis remains important, it’s just a component of graduate work, rather than being the main thrust of it. Things have changed. Depending on your pursuit, you could find yourself in a gravel pit studying rocks, buried in tomes of poetry, or countless other scenarios, no matter the area college you choose. So, if you decide to attend graduate school in the region, to use that bachelor’s degree as a starting point rather than an ending point, there are myriad options. And it doesn’t just mean endless pages of blank Word documents. Not anymore.