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### Encouraged by Surging Enrollment, Online Opportunities, and Student Achievements: Graduate Studies Head Shares Optimism


Just prior to the holiday recess, Amanda Godley participated in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., where Maura McCall, a graduate student at the Pitt School of Nursing, was honored with a Distinguished Dissertation Award by the Council of Graduate Schools.

This accolade, bestowed upon recent doctoral graduates who have made noteworthy and innovative contributions to their respective fields, reflects a trend of increasing recognition and achievements that Godley, currently serving as Pitt’s vice provost for the past three years, is witnessing and appreciating.

The event marked the culmination of a year during which over 140 Pitt graduate students were recipients of national or international awards and fellowships.

“I am truly thrilled about the growing acknowledgment our graduate students are receiving,” Godley expressed. “We have a multitude of graduate students achieving awards, national and international fellowships, and scholarships. There seems to be an uptick in both the number of recognitions and the opportunities to celebrate the excellence of our graduate students.”

The recent surge in student accomplishments is just one of the positive developments within Pitt’s graduate programs. Godley, who also holds the role of interim vice provost for undergraduate studies and is a professor in the School of Education, is pleased to highlight an increase in grant funding, notable enrollment growth, and other advancements.

“It’s quite remarkable to realize that three years have already passed,” she remarked regarding her tenure in the graduate program leadership role. “However, it is undeniably exciting.”

Between the spring semesters of 2022 and 2023, thirteen new graduate and professional programs were approved, contributing to a steady rise in enrollment compared to the preceding decade under Godley’s stewardship, which had experienced a decline. Enrollment saw a 1.6 percent increase from spring 2022 to spring 2023.

“We have successfully reversed that trend, and we are enthusiastic about the direction we are heading,” she noted. “We are closely collaborating with the schools and their deans across Pitt.”

In addition to these promising developments, a recent funding grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Centers for Systemic Change will be utilized to enhance equity and inclusion in Ph.D. programs focusing on STEM education.

“We are set to collaborate with 12 departments within the Engineering and Arts and Sciences domains starting in January. Every eligible department expressed eagerness to participate,” Godley shared. “This initiative holds great promise, and we view our efforts to promote equitable admissions and support for underrepresented doctoral students as a potential model that can be expanded University-wide.”

Embracing Ambitions

Acknowledging this upward trajectory, Interim Provost Joe McCarthy commended Godley’s experience, passion, and creativity for steering the graduate program towards a new and exciting direction.

“Amanda possesses a clear vision and is exceptionally collaborative, traits that underpin successful leadership,” he praised. “I am delighted to witness the strategic growth of the graduate studies team and its engagement with individuals and programs across the campus.”

“We have introduced new initiatives such as Pitt2Pitt and enhanced career exploration and support, including graduate career foundations, among others, which directly address the needs and aspirations of our graduate students,” he added.

Apart from the dedicated efforts invested by her and her team, Godley, who joined Pitt in 2002, highlighted the importance of expanding online and hybrid offerings in driving the surge in enrollment figures. Analyzing national data, she noted that “most of our peer institutions were observing enrollment growth primarily in online graduate programs.”

Godley, along with her colleagues in the Office of the Provost, including Audra Longert, the newly appointed associate vice provost for digital education, and the various deans, have been actively promoting the expansion of online and hybrid programs over the past few years. This strategic approach aims not only to boost enrollment but also to enhance access to graduate and professional programs.

“Offering more online and hybrid programs is not just about increasing enrollment; it is also about widening access to graduate and professional programs,” she emphasized. “This flexibility enables students to pursue or advance their careers without relocating or leaving their current jobs.”

The availability of online and hybrid options plays a vital role in workforce development, both at the national and regional levels. “This is an area that excites us greatly,” she added. For instance, the School of Computing and Information’s new online master’s program in data science is designed to be cost-effective with minimal entry barriers, contributing to accessibility, affordability, and workforce enhancement.

McCarthy underscored the Office of the Provost’s active involvement in devising strategies to expand online options, especially catering to the needs of graduate students who often require greater flexibility to balance personal and professional commitments. “Providing quality options is paramount for us,” he affirmed.

Addressing Student Needs

In her initial year in the role, Godley collaborated with various university offices and committees to develop a strategic plan, engaging with stakeholders to understand the desired direction for graduate studies.

“We engaged with diverse members of the university community to comprehend the preferred trajectory for graduate studies—identifying current successes and areas for improvement,” she explained. “Consolidating everyone’s input into a cohesive strategic plan has been instrumental in guiding our efforts over the past three years.”

By exploring innovative approaches to reach prospective students and collaborating closely with the schools to tailor distinct strategies, Godley’s team partnered with the Office of University Communications and Marketing to enhance graduate recruitment efforts. “This collaboration has enabled us to not only market and brand Pitt’s graduate programs collectively but also to support schools that may require additional resources in this area or assistance with market analysis,” she elaborated.

More recently, the team has joined forces with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, which is set to hire recruiters specializing in graduate and professional student recruitment. These recruiters will collaborate with Godley’s office to further enhance the promotion of all programs, both nationally and internationally.

Moreover, the team is responsive to the evolving landscape in graduate education, transitioning from a purely academic approach to incorporating elements such as community building, networking, and professional development.

“Our increased focus on hosting events and providing support for graduate and professional students aligns with the evolving needs of today’s students,” she remarked.

Affordability, Attraction, and Community Spirit

Despite the positive momentum and advancements, challenges persist, particularly concerning affordability and the escalating burden of student loan debt. “This is a prevalent issue not only at Pitt but nationwide,” she acknowledged. “We are actively exploring ways to maintain accessibility and affordability at the graduate level, similar to undergraduate programs. Many of the financial aids available to undergraduates, such as subsidized loans and Pell Grants, are not accessible to graduate and professional students.”

Unlike undergraduate students, graduate students pursuing degrees in fields like social work, physical therapy, or teacher certification do not benefit from the same level of federal financial support. This discrepancy underscores the challenge of making these professions appealing to individuals without imposing significant debt burdens.

Another ongoing challenge that Godley highlighted involves the imperative to support underrepresented graduate and professional students, including those who are first-generation students. “The positive trend of increased accessibility and diversity in terms of socio-economic backgrounds among graduate and professional students necessitates a strategic approach to ensure their success in our programs,” she emphasized.

“We need to consider the support structures required for student success, whether it pertains to academic assistance, mentorship, or fostering a sense of community,” she added. “This challenge presents an opportunity for growth and innovation.”

Reflecting on her transition to Pittsburgh after completing her doctoral studies at California State University–Berkeley, Godley expressed her initial unfamiliarity with the city. However, she has come to appreciate the evolving landscape of both the University and the city itself.

“Pittsburgh has transformed into a hub for technology, culture, education, and healthcare, all while retaining its distinctive character,” she observed. “Having grown up in bustling metropolises, I have come to value the sense of community and cultural richness where even strangers engage in conversations on the bus.”

_Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at_ .

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