Total Graduate Enrollment Surges, Quality and Diversity Increase

When it comes to growing its graduate program, the University of Virginia's School of Engineering is No. 1 in the country.

Among the top-50 U.S. engineering schools, as ranked in U.S. News & World Report's annual list of best graduate engineering schools, UVA Engineering has the highest rate of growth in Ph.D. student enrollment since 2015.

UVA Engineering's Ph.D. enrollment jumped to 734 students in 2019 from 456 in 2015. For 2019, the total enrollment of degree-seeking graduate students is 1,057 Ph.D. and master's degree candidates. The growth has accompanied a 75 percent increase in UVA Engineering's sponsored research program from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2019.

The expansion of the graduate program has occurred while the quality of incoming students has remained as high as ever, and while the School has focused on increasing the diversity of its graduate student body. Among the 2019 graduate students, for example, 33 percent are women compared to a national average of 25 percent. UVA Engineering also is the No.1 public engineering school in the nation for the percentage of women who earn undergraduate degrees, among engineering schools with at least 75 graduates.

Recognizing that a thriving graduate program is key to the School’s future, Dean Craig Benson has made increasing the number, quality and diversity of the graduate student body a top priority. Graduate students play a fundamental role in the school’s research enterprise as well as in the education of its undergraduates. In the laboratory, graduate students pursue the research agenda advanced by their faculty advisors. For undergraduates, they serve as role models, mentors and teachers.

UVA Engineering is the top public engineering school in the country for four-year graduation rates for undergraduate students.

As a result, recruiting a larger contingent of diverse, high-quality graduate students can significantly elevate an institution’s value and reputation.

Funding Excellence

Faculty and staff in the School's nine graduate programs, as well as in the online master's degree program and Accelerated Master's Program, are working diligently to lay a foundation for bringing the very best graduate students to UVA Engineering - a charge that includes everything from recruitment and admissions to fundraising and programmatic development.

The School is approaching the challenge collaboratively and from a number of different perspectives.

The first is to ensure that there are fellowships available for every promising candidate. In October 2016, UVA Engineering launched a $6 million Graduate Fellows Initiative. The School jumpstarted the program by allocating $2 million of its own funds, and then secured donations for the remainder.

Typically, graduate student support is built into faculty research grants, and, as a result, faculty members hesitate to recruit graduate students before a grant is approved. Thanks to the Graduate Fellows Initiative, faculty members can offer “safety-net” fellowships temporarily while waiting for their funding gap to close. The safety-net fellowships serve the dual role of ensuring that faculty members secure the most highly qualified students while preserving the continuity of their research programs.

The University has also helped bolster the School’s fellowship offerings. UVA Engineering applied for a Strategic Investment Fund grant from the University to increase the diversity of the graduate student body. In December 2016, the Board of Visitors awarded the School $6.4 million, which is being used to supplement the funding available to support a cohort of diverse graduate students.

Adding to the Value Proposition

Spurred on by the data that most UVA doctoral students pursue nonacademic careers, the UVA Engineering Office of Graduate Programs, led by director Amy Clobes, working with the School's Career Development team led by director Julia Lapan, put together a comprehensive professional development program for graduate students, complemented by the University-wide PhD Plus program.

As part of this effort, the Office of Graduate Programs launched a Graduate Writing Lab, led by director Kelly Cunningham. The lab offers one-on-one consultation on grammar, structure and technical issues that students face as they produce journal articles and posters.