Summary

In 1998, the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) launched a program of Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE).1 These were “grants to institutions with PhD-granting departments in the mathematical sciences to carry out high-quality education programs, at all levels, that are vertically integrated with the research activities of these departments.”2,3 The goals of the program as initially enunciated were as follows: “(1) to prepare undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows for a broad range of opportunities available to individuals with training in the mathematical sciences; and (2) to encourage departments in the mathematical sciences to consider a spectrum of education activities and their integration with research.”4 To date, more than 50 departments at 40 institutions have received VIGRE awards.

At NSF’s request, in 2007 the National Research Council (NRC) appointed the Committee to Evaluate the NSF’s Vertically Integrated Grants for Research and Education (VIGRE) Program to conduct an assessment of the VIGRE program, examining its goals, design, monitoring, and achievements and making recommendations for improvement. (The study charge is given in the Preface.) In order to carry out its charge, the committee relied on the following varied sources of information:

1

The title of NSF’s program was originally Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE). Subsequently, in NSF literature and elsewhere, it has been referred to as Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education (VIGRE), or just by the acronym VIGRE.

2

From the first program solicitation: “Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE),” NSF 97-155, available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1997/nsf97155/nsf97155.htm. Accessed June 12, 2009.

3

Except where explicitly noted, this report uses the terms “mathematics” and “mathematical sciences” interchangeably. They both include pure mathematics, applied mathematics, and statistics.

4

See NSF 97-155.



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Summary In 1998, the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) launched a program of Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE).1 These were “grants to institutions with PhD-granting departments in the mathe- matical sciences to carry out high-quality education programs, at all levels, that are vertically integrated with the research activities of these departments.”2,3 The goals of the program as initially enunciated were as follows: “(1) to prepare undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows for a broad range of opportunities available to individuals with training in the mathematical sciences; and (2) to encourage departments in the mathematical sciences to consider a spectrum of education activities and their integration with research.”4 To date, more than 50 departments at 40 institutions have received VIGRE awards. At NSF’s request, in 2007 the National Research Council (NRC) appointed the Committee to Evalu - ate the NSF’s Vertically Integrated Grants for Research and Education (VIGRE) Program to conduct an assessment of the VIGRE program, examining its goals, design, monitoring, and achievements and making recommendations for improvement. (The study charge is given in the Preface.) In order to carry out its charge, the committee relied on the following varied sources of information: 1 The title of NSF’s program was originally Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE). Subsequently, in NSF literature and elsewhere, it has been referred to as Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education (VIGRE), or just by the acronym VIGRE. 2 From the first program solicitation: “Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE),” NSF 97-155, available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1997/nsf97155/nsf97155.htm. Accessed June 1 2, 2009. 3 Except where explicitly noted, this report uses the terms “mathematics” and “mathematical sciences” interchangeably. They both include pure mathematics, applied mathematics, and statistics. 4 See NSF 97-155. 

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 EVALUATION OF NSF’S VIGRE PROGRAM • NSF data:5 — The requests for proposals (RFPs); — Data contained in proposals submitted by departments in the mathematical sciences; — Reports from NSF site visits to the departments that submitted proposals; — Results of NSF proposal review panels; — Annual reports submitted by awardees; — Reports from NSF 3rd-year site visits to awardees, which provide input into decisions on whether or not to continue grants into the 4th and 5th years; — Final reports submitted by awardees; • Enrollment data and information on degrees awarded, which are collected by the American Math - ematical Society; • Information collected by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics through its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS); • Information collected by the committee: — The information from a conference call conducted with members of VIGRE site-visit teams; — Presentations at full committee meetings; and • A survey conducted by the committee of all PhD-granting mathematics, applied mathematics, and statistics departments in the United States. Chapter 1 defines the committee’s interpretation of its charge, its sources of information, and the scope and approach of its evaluation. Chapter 2 documents the wide range of concerns that contributed to the creation of the VIGRE program, as reflected in a series of high-level reports published between 1994 and 1998. These reports provide a context for understanding and evaluating the VIGRE program. Chapter 3 describes the VIGRE award process and reviews the progression of VIGRE goals from the inception of the program until the present, indicating that although the core goals have remained con - sistent over time, the program’s emphasis has changed, as have goals outside the core. In Chapter 4, the committee reviews NSF’s administration of the VIGRE program, and in Chapter 5 the committee uses information generated from its data sources and its own expertise to review the achievements of the program. In Chapter 6, on the basis of its review of the VIGRE program and its accomplishments, the committee develops nine recommendations, which it presents below in this Sum - mary and which are discussed more fully in Chapter 6. Recommendations 1 and 2 respond to the committee’s first charge, to review the goals of VIGRE, and to its third charge, to draw conclusions about the program’s achievements. The committee finds that, although some clarification is needed, the goals of the program are worthwhile and the VIGRE program is an appropriate way to foster those goals. Impressive examples show that VIGRE has had a meaningful impact on the educational programs of departments, leading to the kind of systemic change called for when the program was conceived. With the changes described in this report, VIGRE will serve a valuable purpose that is consistent with its original design. Recommendation 8 is in response to the second and fourth charges, to evaluate current practices for steering and assessing VIGRE and to develop plans for future data-driven assessments and collection. 5 The committee regrets that the committee itself was not allowed access to some NSF source documents, such as proposals submitted to the VIGRE program and reviews of departments with VIGRE grants. Conflicting requirements exist between the NSF, whose policy is that these documents not be made public, and the NRC, which is required by law to make public most documents received by a committee in the course of a study. Although access was allowed to NRC staff, who reviewed and summarized some of these documents and provided some statistical analysis, direct access by committee members would have aided the committee in formulating conclusions and recommendations.

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 SUMMARY The committee found that at VIGRE’s planning stage insufficient thought had been given to data require- ments necessary for evaluation, and it recommends the selection of a small number of benchmarks that can be compared across individual VIGRE projects and over time. Finally, Recommendations 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9 all respond to the committee’s fifth charge, to suggest improvements to VIGRE. Recommendation 1: Continue the National Science Foundation’s program of Grants for Verti ­ cal Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE) but with critical policy and programmatic changes identified in the eight recommendations below. The committee found considerable confusion among potential applicants to VIGRE about the goals and expectations of the VIGRE program. The committee believes that applicants would benefit from increased clarity in the linking of VIGRE program goals with national goals for mathematics and in the criteria for success in both initial and renewal proposals. The committee could find no specific refer- ence in any VIGRE RFP to the scientific quality of proposed VIGRE projects as a criterion for selecting VIGRE awardees. This is a serious omission that needs to be corrected. Recommendation 2: Clarify the goals of the VIGRE program and emphasize scientific quality in making awards. The committee found that to call for the simultaneous occurrence of vertical integration from undergraduate education to postdoctoral research, department-wide change across all subdisciplines, and simultaneous and significant change in a department’s undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral programs is a worthy aspiration for the VIGRE program. It is also a daunting prospect and should not be seen as the only path to achieving the goals of the program. Within the broad goals established for the VIGRE program, providing greater flexibility and scope for local initiative in meeting the goals, similar to the approach taken in other NSF workforce programs, would encourage a broader range of institutions to apply for and participate in the VIGRE program. Recommendation 3: While retaining the VIGRE program’s distinctive focus on projects that span the entire spectrum of educational levels from the undergraduate through the post­ doctoral associate levels, allow greater flexibility in proposal design by encouraging VIGRE projects that address some, but not necessarily all, of the goals of the VIGRE program. The committee views the sustainability of individual VIGRE projects as a serious problem. If a department uses its VIGRE grant and its own energy to develop successful programs that enrich the education of its students, how will those programs be continued after the VIGRE grant has expired? In order to enhance sustainability, the committee suggests a new financial structure for individual grants consisting of an initial 5-year award, followed by a noncompetitive 5-year renewal if the grant is suc - ceeding and if the institution makes a commitment to continue the successful portions of its VIGRE project at the expiration of the grant. Recommendation 4: To ensure the sustainability of an institution’s successful VIGRE­initiated reforms, establish longer­term original awards and renewal awards, and require and enforce institutional support for grantees in the out­years of awards.

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 EVALUATION OF NSF’S VIGRE PROGRAM Developing proposals for VIGRE projects requires a large amount of faculty and administrative time. According to NSF statistics, the declining number of proposals to VIGRE in recent years suggests that the magnitude of the effort to develop proposals is not cost-effective for some departments. In order to decrease the effort required by careful proposal writing and submission, not all of which will be funded, the committee recommends an initial preproposal step. Recommendation 5: Institute a preproposal step into the VIGRE application process. The committee believes that a program designed to increase departmental interaction, communica - tion, and cooperation is ill-served when a significant proportion of the graduate student and postdoctoral population, namely, foreign nationals, is excluded. Recommendation 6: Allow international students and postdoctoral fellows to receive financial support from VIGRE projects. In a nonacademic setting, there is a need for well-prepared master’s- or doctorate-level professionals who can use sophisticated mathematics such as financial mathematics, biostatistics, and a range of areas at interfaces with computational sciences. In Recommendation 7, the committee recommends that the VIGRE program’s scope be expanded to allow support for such efforts. Recommendation 7: Expand the scope of the VIGRE program to include students preparing to apply advanced mathematics in nonacademic settings. The committee found that the VIGRE program was established with no preparation for subsequent program analysis. Planning for specific analyses and for data collection should go hand in hand. There should be continuity of data requests across the duration of an award, if not across the duration of the entire VIGRE program. The committee believes that the requirement for self-evaluation by the awardees should be strengthened in the VIGRE program’s request for proposals. Grantees should be required to conduct process and outcome evaluation linked both to the goals of the VIGRE program and to proposed activities. NSF should develop a consistent evaluation strategy, and grantees should develop appropriate inputs for that strategy. Recommendation 8: Create a rigorous assessment process with a small number of carefully chosen benchmarks for which data can be collected and compared across VIGRE projects on an annual basis. The committee believes that successful strategies to achieve VIGRE goals should be disseminated to all mathematics departments, not just VIGRE awardees. This dissemination should be a component of the VIGRE program, and the committee has suggested several means, such as the maintenance of a VIGRE Web site by all awardees, to accomplish this. Recommendation 9: Develop systematic and highly visible strategies for the dissemination of successful VIGRE projects. Improving the quality of education in mathematics, as in other sciences, involves many issues. This committee is constrained to address only those issues implied by its charge, quoted in the preface to

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 SUMMARY this report; and this constraint, at times, requires interpretation by the committee. Some issues that the committee regarded as beyond its charge are the following: • The mechanics of proposal preparation and submission; • The justification of previous reports and of NSF’s conclusions used to initiate and formulate the VIGRE program; • The process used by NSF to allocate funds among its directorates and programs; • Salaries paid by universities to faculty, postdoctorals, and graduate students; and • The priority given by NSF to this report and to the committee’s recommendations.

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