"In my defense... I saw 'Bring It On'..." -Anonymous Board Writer
Question #92898 posted on 02/03/2020 3:35 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

BYU is classified as an R2 University or, a University with "High Research Activity." Are there any plans for BYU to expand doctoral programs top become an R1 University and be classified as "Very High Research Activity." BYU has great undergraduate teaching programs but I can't help but wonder if BYU graduates are help back in some sense trying to get into graduate schools because BYU is not as highly esteemed as a research institution as other schools.

This also applies to athletics. Basically every Power 5 Team in NCAA conferences are R1 Universities.

Is there a reason why BYU does not want to expand? Or do they but it is going to a long process to expand doctoral programs?

-Interested BYU Student


Dear R2-D2,

BYU is actually really good at producing PhD students at other schools. And by pretty good, Data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates shows BYU is No. 5 among U.S. universities for graduates who went on to earn research doctorate (Source). That's pretty dang impressive. When you consider how few doctorate programs BYU actual has, it makes it even more impressive how many BYU grads go on to get PhD s. 

Also, I can't speak for every program but the BYU Engineering programs are highly respected. I went to a very large research conference this summer and it was fascinating. Other students didn't know about BYU, but the professors at other schools all knew about BYU and thought highly of our programs. Several sub-sections of the conference were dominated by BYU students and Professors.We were also very good at presenting our research, more so than many of the prestigious schools I expected would have good presentations. At pretty much any conference we go to have one of the largest group of students, and we always have the largest amount of undergraduates.

Employers are also very impressed with BYU. I have friends who have worked for Google, Amazon, NASA, Tesla, Space X, Ford, Pixar, etc. The Wall Street Journal found that BYU was the #11 school as chosen by recruiters. (Source

So now we get to the question that, if BYU is so highly esteemed, why aren't they trying to expand? Why aren't they trying to become an R1 institution? R1 Institutions are based on not on quality of research, but rather on the quantity of research. It would take quite a bit of expanding to reach R1 status. I don't speak for BYU, but I see two big reasons why they wouldn't expand.

  1. Provo is already pretty crowded and they've ran out of room. They just bought old Provo High, but after that there's not really anywhere to go. The amount of expansion BYU would need is pretty massive. BYU has 27 Mechanical Engineering Professors. The University of Utah has 44, with another 32 in Biomedical Engineering. To expand outward, BYU might need to double itself, and there's no space for that.
  2. BYU cares more about providing students with a BYU experience. We have a 20-1 student to faculty ratio. MIT is at 3-1, Stanford is 6-1, Duke is 5-1. Getting to those levels would basically require letting only about 20% of the students in BYU, go to BYU, and then focusing more on research. BYU's primary concern is providing a great undergraduate education for as many students as they can. Denying 10,000+ students a year a BYU education to become a "Very High Research Activity" school would not fit with their mission so they will never do it.

That being said, individual programs are expanding doctoral programs. The Mechanical Engineering program has been expanding doctoral programs. I don't think BYU will ever get to R1 status, but BYU does amazing research and produces amazing doctoral candidates at other schools. Prestige isn't everything. While BYU isn't a household name or Ivy League School, it has the respect of other universities and recruiters, and to me that's what really counts.




Dear Aziraphale,

Did you know BYU used to have a graduate economics program? It did, but graduate program was cut because the Econ department decided they wanted to focus on giving really good research opportunities to undergrads, which was harder to do with graduate students in the mix. Reason being, graduate students tend to beat out their undergraduate competitors for research positions (crazy, I know).

The Econ department is a good case study of how BYU wants to primarily focus on its undergrads. Because of this focus, I doubt it will ever try and expand doctoral programs to become an R1 university. And honestly, I think that's just fine. BYU aims to give a stellar undergraduate education, and it does that. There are other universities for graduate education.



Dear interested,

I honestly hope we stay an R2 university. The lack of graduate students means that professors are more focused on undergraduates and pull their research and teaching assistants from the undergraduate population. At most schools you'd have to be a graduate student to even think about landing either of those positions. Because undergraduates at BYU are exposed to research and teaching, it can increase their interest in graduate studies and help them get into top programs. When I was applying for graduate schools, I was shocked to see how well represented BYU students were at basically every top university and how rare it was to have any experience as a teaching or research assistant. I think the political science program much prefers shooting out top researchers who go to nationally acclaimed graduate schools instead of having their own graduate program, which would not be as good, would not be nationally ranked, and would take resources away from undergrads and possible future researchers. I imagine other programs feel the same.

-guppy of doom