NEAGEP Workshop Looks Beyond GREs for STEM Students

Sandra Petersen
Sandra Petersen

The Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (NEAGEP), a long-standing 15-institution alliance led by Sandra Petersen, veterinary and animal sciences, recently sponsored a workshop “If Not GRE, Then What?” aimed at developing better predictors of graduate academic success in STEM fields.  

The workshop was held on campus Sept. 25-26 and was attended by 56 participants from 25 universities and organizations.

Abby Straus, president of Maverick and Boutique, an Ashfield-based strategic planning and leadership development firm, facilitated the day-and-a-half meeting whichfocused on developing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate admission procedures that do not include the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

Petersen says the goal was to move the national conversation from, “Should we use GRE scores?” to “What would be an effective strategy for identifying students likely to succeed in STEM doctoral programs?” 

She adds, “The workshop addressed mounting evidence that the GRE fails to predict success in graduate school for U.S. STEM doctoral students,” including her own recent study conducted with Patricia B. Campbell of Campbell-Kibler Associates, Groton.

Petersen says, “I think a meeting like this would not have been well received even five years ago. But we found no correlation between GRE scores and Ph.D. completion for women, and a negative correlation for men. It has generated a lot of interest because it aligns with findings of smaller studies done by the University of North Carolina, Vanderbilt and the Educational Testing Service.”  

Shirley Malcom, head of education and human resources programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said “So many in our communities have, for too long, accepted on face value the idea that a few numbers can predict who would be successful in graduate education and who would be a good scientist. Had people looked only at my numbers, I would not have been admitted to anyone’s graduate program. My numbers might tell you a bit about where I had been but not where I was going. Heart and grit may be better indicators.”

Erin Baker, mechanical and industrial engineering, says, “It became clear that the GREs are not predictive of quality in grad school, and so by using them we are missing some of the best students. Due to the professional and effective organization of the workshop, we really came up with a set of actionable ideas. Those of us in engineering are working on getting some of these ideas implemented right away.”  

Petersen says that by the end of the meeting, representatives of a number of programs indicated that they are willing to try the experiment of rank-ordering applicants without seeing their GRE scores, then reassessing the list once they know the scores. 

Campbell said, “The thoughtfulness and creativity of the faculty at the workshop brought us much closer to better predictors of Ph.D attainment. Faculty willingness to test the impact of not using the GRE on who would be admitted is a big step toward developing more appropriate admissions criteria.”