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In Pursuit of the PhD

In Pursuit of the PhD

William G. Bowen
Neil L. Rudenstine
Julie Ann Sosa
Graham Lord
Marcia L. Witte
Sarah E. Turner
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 468
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  • Book Info
    In Pursuit of the PhD
    Book Description:

    What percentage of graduate students entering PhD programs in the arts and sciences at leading universities actually complete their studies? How do completion rates vary by field of study, scale of graduate program, and type of financial support provided to students? Has the increasing reliance on Teaching Assistantships affected completion rates and time-to-degree? How successful have national fellowship programs been in encouraging students to finish their studies in reasonably short periods of time? What have been the effects of curricular developments and shifts in the state of the job market? How has the overall "system" of graduate education been affected by the expansion of the 1960s and the subsequent contraction in enrollments and degrees conferred? Is there "excess capacity" in the system at the present time? This major study seeks to answer fundamental questions of this kind. It is based on an exhaustive analysis of an unparalleled data set consisting of the experiences in graduate school of more than 35,000 students who entered programs in English, history, political science, economics, mathematics, and physics at ten leading universities between 1962 and 1986. In addition, new information has been obtained on the graduate student careers of more than 13,000 winners of prestigious national fellowships such as the Woodrow Wilson and the Danforth. It is the combination of these original data sets with other sources of national data that permits fresh insights into the processes and outcomes of graduate education. The authors conclude that opportunities to achieve significant improvements in the organization and functioning of graduate programs exist--especially in the humanities and related social sciences--and the final part of the book contains their policy recommendations. This will be the standard reference on graduate education for years to come, and it should be read and studied by everyone concerned with the future of graduate education in the United States.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6247-4
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    WGB and NLR
  6. CHAPTER ONE Introduction and Principal Findings
    (pp. 1-16)

    At the doctoral level, the preeminence of this country’s programs of study, viewed in terms of both quality and scale, is widely accepted and perhaps even taken for granted. Incontrovertible evidence is provided by the large (and rising) number of students from other countries who elect to study for doctorates here. In 1989, 6,590 doctorates were awarded by U.S. universities to non-U.S. residents.¹

    Still, all of its accomplishments notwithstanding, graduate education in the United States is far from any ideal state. Nor would anyone claim that its prospects and future role are well understood or assured. The recent Hearings on...

  7. Part One: Trends in Graduate Education

    • CHAPTER TWO Recipients of Doctorates
      (pp. 19-40)

      For a combination of cultural, political, and economic reasons, the United States has always invested heavily in education atprecollegiate levels. While there were well regarded colleges in colonial America (usually affiliated with churches and religious organizations), higher education was not given as much emphasis here as in some European countries until the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when it became a premier “growth industry” in the United States.¹

      Today, the achievement of this country in providing postsecondary education for unusually large numbers of its citizens (and, especially in recent years, for citizens of other countries) is recognized throughout the...

    • CHAPTER THREE The BA-PhD Nexus
      (pp. 41-55)

      Against the descriptive backdrop of Chapter Two, we now consider a central analytical question: What combination of factors led to such sharp swings over the postwar years in the overall number of PhDs conferred within arts-and-sciences fields?¹ There has been surprisingly little analysis of the factors responsible for both the post-World War II expansion and the subsequent, unprecedented contraction. Careful analysis of the anatomy of these dramatic changes in the number of doctorates conferred is both interesting in its own right and helpful in assessing the responsiveness of graduate education to changing conditions in academic labor markets. This is a...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Graduate Programs: The Dual Questions of Quality and Scale
      (pp. 56-79)

      The wide fluctuations during the postwar years in the number of doctorates conferred have been accompanied by a broader set of fundamental changes in the system of graduate education. In effect, a new structure has been created. This new structure reflects dramatic increases in the overall number of degreegranting programs, major reductions in the proportion of degrees conferred by highly rated programs, and especially rapid increases in the number of small programs.

      From a national point of view, this transformation—in all its dimensions—raises inescapable questions concerning the nature of the system as a whole. How many strong centers...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Evolution of Selected Tier I Programs in the EHP Fields
      (pp. 80-102)

      This chapter, which concludes the discussion of broad trends in graduate education, is very different from its predecessors. The last three chapters explored aspects of the overall system of graduate education. In order to complement that analysis, we now shift the focus to internal developments that are generally visible only at the level of the individual graduate program.

      The objective here is to provide a reasonably coherent sense of how selected graduate programs have evolved from the early 1960s through the 1980s. Attention is focused on changes in the number of courses offered, the number of faculty engaged in graduate...

  8. Part Two: Factors Affecting Outcomes

    • CHAPTER SIX Completion Rates and Time-to-Degree: Concepts and General Patterns
      (pp. 105-122)

      Graduate education has many “outcomes,” and the decision to focus much of this study on completion rates and time-to-degree implies no lack of concern for the qualitative dimensions of teaching and learning at the graduate level. What graduate students learn is, of course, most important of all—with “learning” understood to encompass not just the substance of particular fields or disciplines, but also ways of forming questions, thinking about issues, and communicating ideas. The process by which students come to understand and master the essential material, methods, and practices of graduate study is by no means easily understood or described,...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Fields of Study
      (pp. 123-141)

      Both completion rates and time-to-degree vary more systematically with field of study than with any other variable. This simple statement has major implications for any study of graduate education, since it stimulates careful consideration of the reasons why these measurable outcomes are so dependent on a student’s choice of subject. What are the key characteristics of various fields of study that affect completion rates and time-to-degree so markedly? Have relationships between fields of study and these measures of outcomes changed over time? Do they differ for men and women? Are fields of study serving mainly as proxies for the availability...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Scale of Graduate Program
      (pp. 142-162)

      When we undertook this study, we expected to find clear differences among fields of study in completion rates and time-to-degree, and the results reported in the previous chapter are surprising only in the extent and pervasiveness of such differences. We also planned from the beginning to compare outcomes for groups of graduate programs, but without nearly as clear a set of expectations concerning these relationships.

      It was quite surprising, then, to discover that completion rates and time-todegree vary as systematically by type of graduate program as they do by field of study. This simple finding—documented in detail in this...

    • CHAPTER NINE Student-Year Cost and Its Components
      (pp. 163-174)

      There are many ways of thinking about the “effectiveness”—or, more crudely put, the “efficiency”—of doctoral programs. Any simple measure is subject to abuse and misinterpretation. Still, there is merit in seeking a way of distilling the various pieces of information about time invested in graduate study into a single composite measure that can be used to compare results across fields of study, universities, and periods of time. The building blocks of such a measure have been described in the previous three chapters, and our objective here is to provide a quantitative summary of the measurable outcomes of graduate...

  9. Part Three: Policies and Program Design

    • CHAPTER TEN Financial Support for Graduate Students
      (pp. 177-195)

      The availability of financial support is often assumed to bethemost important factor in encouraging the timely completion of the PhD—and its absence is widely believed to cause protracted periods of time to be devoted to frustrating (and often ultimately unsuccessful) efforts to obtain a PhD. Reports concerning the state of graduate education invariably cite the precipitous decline in federal funding of fellowships and traineeships as a major cause of the sharp contraction in graduate training that occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s. Looking to the future, and to an anticipated shortage of PhDs in the arts...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN National Fellowship Programs
      (pp. 196-228)

      Concern at the national level for the welfare of graduate education and graduate students almost invariably has been expressed through the development of fellowship programs, either publicly or privately financed. Such was the case during the 1960s, when a shortage of faculty and a more general concern about the adequacy of the nation’s investment in higher education resulted in the creation and extension of a number of large-scale national fellowship programs. While some discussion of the results achieved by these programs has been incorporated into previous chapters, we have not as yet attempted to evaluate overall accomplishments (and shortcomings). That...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Requirements and Program Content
      (pp. 229-249)

      The thesis of the next two chapters is a simple one: The ways in which universities and faculties define and conduct programs of graduate education matter enormously. While external factors such as the state of the academic labor market and the availability of national fellowships exert powerful influences of their own, their effects are mediated through departmental structures and informal modes of decisionmaking. A great deal, in other words, depends upon what happens “inside” particular fields of study, graduate programs, and universities.

      Proving this proposition, and providing documentation that will stand the test of analysis, is difficult. At the same...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Program Design, Oversight, and “Culture”
      (pp. 250-267)

      Doctoral programs do not “run themselves.” Much depends on the care with which they are designed and the expectations that are established concerning the character and quality of work to be done by those admitted. The degree of structure built into the system is also very important. Under this heading, we include the clarity with which guidelines concerning the completion of requirements are communicated, the firmness with which they are enforced (always allowing for the intelligent application of general rules to individual cases), and the extent to which the performance of students and faculty alike is monitored.

      Perhaps most important...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Recommendations
      (pp. 268-289)

      This study has been motivated from the first by a desire to find ways in which the effectiveness of doctoral programs might be improved, but we nonetheless decided at an early stage to concentrate on describing current realities and examining factors affecting measurable outcomes. The need for basic analysis was too great, in our judgment, to permit any other emphasis. When it comes to stating specific policy recommendations, therefore, we find ourselves somewhat reticent.

      Our analysis of government programs and foundation initiatives has been limited to those most directly relevant to graduate education within the arts and sciences. Within the...


    • APPENDIX A The Ten-University Data Set
      (pp. 290-307)
    • APPENDIX B The National Fellowship Data Set
      (pp. 308-321)
    • APPENDIX C Survey of Mellon Fellows in the Humanities
      (pp. 322-346)
    • APPENDIX D Measuring Time to the Doctorate: Reinterpretation of the Evidence
      (pp. 347-359)
      William G. Bowen, Graham Lord and Julie Ann Sosa
    • APPENDIX E Time-to-Degree and Faculty Promotion: A Study of Faculty Promoted to Tenure at Four Universities and Three Colleges, 1980–81 to 1989–90
      (pp. 360-367)
    • APPENDIX F Theory and Its Reverberations
      (pp. 368-377)
    • APPENDIX G Additional Tables
      (pp. 378-425)
  11. Definitions of Frequently Used Terms
    (pp. 426-427)
  12. References Cited
    (pp. 428-436)
  13. Index
    (pp. 437-442)