Water Graduate Degree Program

Much consideration has been given to establishing a water graduate degree program at Penn State, the potential value of which was highlighted by both an internal task force (2013) and an external review (2014). Following the formation of the Water Council in 2018, a faculty committee was formed in January 2019, and given the charge to design and stand up such a program, specifically to be cross-college and interdisciplinary in character. That committee considered alternative programs offered at other institutions across the United States, engaged in discussions with colleagues, and issued its recommendations in January 2020. The committee assessed 22 programs at 17 universities.

The essence of the committee’s proposal is for the Water Graduate Program to take the form of a stand-alone Intercollege Graduate Degree Program (IGDP). The basic structure and design of the proposed program are summarized in this slide deck and this brief video. It should be noted that the committee recognized and discussed at great length the pros and cons of both a stand-alone IGDP and a dual title degree program. Should you have questions about those program options or other issues related to the recommended stand-alone IGDP, please refer to this FAQ or reach out to the Water Council.

The committee’s recommendations do not include program details.  Interested water faculty will have the opportunity to contribute to the final program design, should it advance as recommended. In order to move ahead, we need to determine the level of support Penn State water faculty have for the proposed program and recommended structure (IGDP). To be viable, this recommended program will require significant faculty engagement who view it as an opportunity to enhance their graduate student recruiting, education, and research.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a series of frequently asked questions related to the recommendations that have been put forward for creating a Penn State Water Graduate Degree Program, specifically as a stand-alone Intercollegiate Graduate Degree Program (IGDP).  These FAQs assume you are familiar with the background, process for developing, and basic elements of the recommended program. If this is not the case, you are encouraged to view the 7-minute overview presentation given by Dr. Jack Watson.

  1. To whom is this program open?

    ANSWER The graduate faculty for this program would be formed from all university faculty with interest in the program and who have the qualifications necessary for graduate faculty membership.  These faculty would be able to supervise students in this program. 

  2. Won’t an IGDP steal graduate students from my current graduate degree program?

    ANSWER This is possible, but not certain.  One view is that a Water degree program will attract a different type of graduate student and bring in those who would not otherwise come to Penn State.  Another view is that this degree program would draw students away from existing programs.  It is not really possible to answer this question definitively.  We suggest that if an IGDP Water degree program would best meet the needs of your students, then you should encourage the development of this program and commit to bring students into this program. That an IGDP would increase recognition of the work in Water at Penn State is an expectation of the committee. Please decide as you think is best in light of this uncertainty.

  3. Aren’t IGDPs expensive?  How will it be paid for and who will run it?

    ANSWER We encourage you to answer based on what you believe would be best for your graduate students.  If there is strong support and a clear need for this program, we will do our best to find the necessary financial and administrative support.

  4. When will this program start?

    ANSWER.  The program will begin following the approval of the program by the Graduate Council. Details of the approval process can be found at:

    The very earliest the program would be ready to accept students is in Fall 2022.

  5. What is the difference between a stand-alone IGDP and a Dual Title degree program anyway?

    ANSWER.  An IGDP is an Intercollege Graduate Degree Program that exists as a complete program similar to other programs within the University. The Ecology Program is one well known example. An IGDP is developed by and comprised of faculty from more than one college. An interested student applies and is admitted directly to the IGDP.

    A Dual-Title degree program is a fully integrated program of study that allows a student to define a research problem that combines both a graduate major AND a dual-title field. There are a number of Dual- Title degree programs at Penn State, such as Biogeochemistry, Demography, Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment, International Agriculture and Development Graduate Program, Operations Research, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

    A dual-title area of study cannot exist as a separate (stand-alone) graduate degree program at Penn State. A student interested in a Dual Title program must first apply and be admitted to a graduate major, then subsequently apply and be admitted to the Dual Title program.  This requires that a student’s “home program” be affiliated with the Dual Title program. The student's diploma will carry the name of both the graduate major and the Dual Title offering.

    Some consider a Dual Title degree option to be preferable as it maintains the present graduate degree programs and does not potentially compete with them for students. It also allows a student to receive a degree which lists both the major program area as well as the Dual Title degree.

    Others consider the Dual Title option to be less attractive to a potential graduate student since that student must apply and be admitted to a program which is NOT water focused per se (e.g. Engineering or Forest Resources, as two examples) in order to gain a graduate degree in water.

    IGDP proponents also emphasize that IGDP graduate student applicants interested in water-related research for their MS or PhD likely represent a different pool of applicants, and specifically those interested in both strengthening and diversifying their education, such as a student with a strong background in hydrology who wants both additional hydrology courses and water-related course work in law, public policy, ethics, or other. These proponents also make the point that a newly formed stand-alone water graduate degree program will bring much needed freshness to the Penn State water curriculum.

    Both a stand-alone IGDP and a Dual Title program require approval with details associated with the expectations and course requirements included in the submissions for the approval process.

  6. Was a Dual Title Program considered as an option, and if so, why is the recommendation for a stand-alone IGDP and not a Dual Title?

    ANSWER.  Yes, a Dual Title program was considered and is an option. However, the academic purpose of a Dual Title program differs considerably from an IGDP and a majority of the committee charged to develop a recommendation believe that a stand-alone IGDP is in the best interest of faculty and students at Penn State.  Graduate Council policy does not allow both an IGDP and a Dual Title degree program if they have the same academic content. Based on the recommendation of the committee, we are examining the level of support for their recommendation and the draft IGDP program via this survey.