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American Journal of SociologyThe lessons Ehrenberg and his colleagues draw from the successes of the program seem like common sense until one considers how many departments fail to follow them.
— Steven Brint
Despite the worldwide prestige of America's doctoral programs in the humanities, all is not well in this area of higher education and hasn't been for some time. The content of graduate programs has undergone major changes, while high rates of student attrition, long times to degree, and financial burdens prevail. In response, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1991 launched the Graduate Education Initiative (GEI), the largest effort ever undertaken to improve doctoral programs in the humanities and related social sciences. The only book to focus exclusively on the current state of doctoral education in the humanities, Educating Scholars reports on the GEI's success in reducing attrition and times to degree, the positive changes implemented by specific graduate programs, and the many challenges still to be addressed.
Over a ten-year period, the Foundation devoted almost eighty-five million dollars through the GEI to provide support for doctoral programs and student aid in fifty-four departments at ten leading universities. The authors examine data that tracked the students in these departments and in control departments, as well as information gathered from a retrospective survey of students. They reveal that completion and attrition rates depend upon financial support, the quality of advising, clarity of program requirements, and each department's expectations regarding the dissertation. The authors consider who earns doctoral degrees, what affects students' chances of finishing their programs, and how successful they are at finding academic jobs.
Answering some of the most important questions being raised about American doctoral programs today, Educating Scholars will interest all those concerned about our nation's intellectual future.
"The lessons Ehrenberg and his colleagues draw from the successes of the program seem like common sense until one considers how many departments fail to follow them."—Steven Brint, American Journal of Sociology
"The future of Renaissance scholarship . . . depends upon the recruitment and training of graduate students in an improved and efficient system. The Mellon Foundation invested in that admirable and necessary business and the results, harder to achieve than was at first expected, are produced and honestly analyzed in [Educating Scholars] . . . essential reading for all involved in the enterprise."—Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance
"In covering a wide spectrum of important practical aspects of degree completion, this book is valuable for all those who are involved in doctoral programs either as supervisors or as decision-makers and administrators. More broadly, it comprises extremely useful material for those affected by, interested in, or aspiring to effect change in postgraduate studies in the humanities."—Marianna Papastephanou, European Legacy
"Administrators and faculty in doctoral programs in the humanities would do well to read this book. Likely many of the conversations they have had regarding improving their own doctoral programs will be represented in the pages. But the book's utility goes beyond the humanities. . . . Educating Scholars can help departments and doctoral programs of all stripes reconsider what is known about graduate education and provide important context for the conversation around improving the experience for all involved."—Jeffery Bieber, Journal of Higher Education
The right combination of money and policies can make real progress in reducing the time to degree for earning humanities doctorates, but the six-year humanities Ph.D. is probably not in the cards. Those are among the key findings of one of the most ambitious efforts ever to reform the humanities Ph.D., as discussed in one of the most thorough (and frank) evaluations of such an effort. . . . [Educating Scholars] closes by noting that 'intensive critical attention' to graduate education has been shown to make a difference in completion and time to degree. And the book notes just how formative graduate education can be: 'The education scholars receive stays with them; its influence flows into their teaching and research and finally to the successive generations of their students.'
— Scott Jaschik
Gratitude is mostly due to the ways in which the Mellon grant impelled change. Signing on to the Mellon grant required faculty to reconsider their collective responsibilities and forced them to devise new requirements and monitoring procedures. Although impressionistic evidence will be cited, faculty and students will easily attest that the cultures of their graduate groups have changed with new expectations and sense of mission. -Graduate dean of a participating university in 1996
When I began my grad career, there were formal steps early in the program, but there was no further program designed to encourage students to make progress in dissertation writing or to prepare them for professional work. The department began to have a more consistent program for encouraging progress in the early '90s. Perhaps a response to a Mellon Foundation grant. -Student in English who began graduate school in 1985 and left in 2001
In 1991, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation launched what would become the largest effort ever made to improve graduate education in the humanities in the United States. The Graduate Education Initiative (GEI) was "to achieve systematic improvements in the structure and organization of PhD programs in the humanities and related social sciences that will in turn reduce unacceptabl[y] high rates of student attrition and lower the number of years that the typical student spends working towards the doctorate." At the time, the humanities were, it is fair to say, uneasy not only because their central intellectual presuppositions remained in contention but also because their standing in American universities was uncertain.
During the preceding decades, from the mid-1960s onward, "theory" in its many varieties had flourished in many fields of the humanistic disciplines and had also found advocates in some of the social sciences as well. Only departments of history, philosophy, and the "hard" social sciences remained relatively immune to these developments. Debates continued about the contributions various theoretical perspectives made to the interpretation of texts and evidence and the epistemological and political issues they raised. Inevitably, they also centered on the place of theory in graduate education, on what the humanities were for, what students should know, what skills they should command, and whether "the canon" should survive and if so, how it should be constituted. In the process, the graduate curriculum grew and became more diverse, not only in response to the succession of new theoretical perspectives being introduced but also because a multiplicity of new subject matters had emerged. By 1991, however, contention had mostly abated, although the objectives of humanistic inquiry and what students should be taught remained undecided.
In the preceding decades, other significant trends were also discernible. Interest in the humanities among undergraduates, as gauged by the percentage of students majoring in these fields, had dropped to a low of about 10 percent in the mid-1980s and rebounded very mildly to 12 percent in 1990s. The number of PhDs awarded in the humanities had fallen steadily from a high of 4,873 in 1973 to a low of 2,749 in 1988, a reduction of 49 percent in 15 years. At the same time, intense competition for resources in universities required that graduate programs justify their value and utility. The humanities had a particularly difficult time satisfying demands that they prove they had both.
Educating Scholars recounts the history of the GEI and seeks to gauge critically how effective it turned out to be. Intended as a prototype, the GEI was both a social experiment and a major research project. The GEI was not an effort to change the content of the curriculum. Nor was it an attempt to increase the number of students who took graduate degrees. It was decidedly not an effort to change faculty members' views about their disciplines or their research.
Rather, the GEI had other objectives, as the language of that official press release indicated. It sought specifically to improve the effectiveness of graduate education in the humanities, that is, to use available resources in such a way that larger numbers of scholars would be educated in briefer periods of time while maintaining or even improving the quality of the education being offered. Two measures of effectiveness, attrition rates and the average time it took for students to get the PhD, were selected as key indicators.
Over a 10-year period (1991-2000), the Foundation provided over $58 million to 54 humanities departments at 10 major universities to support the departments' efforts. An additional $22.5 million was provided to these universities in the form of endowment and challenge grants as the GEI ended to help them sustain the progress that had been made with the help of GEI grant funds. Including funds the Foundation provided in the form of planning grants and grants for data collection and data management, all in all the Foundation devoted almost $85 million to supporting the GEI.
As we describe the GEI's successes and its failures, the influence of larger forces at work in graduate education at the time (and now) will become clear. The faltering job market and competition among departments for gifted students both affected the outcomes of the GEI. Inevitably, Educating Scholars is also a tale of unanticipated consequences that emerged as the intervention unfolded. Because the students who were the focus of the intervention would go on to lives after graduate school, the book also describes the careers new PhDs made as they began work in the academy, and it follows the histories of those who left graduate school without earning degrees.
This chapter first lays out the history of the Graduate Education Initiative, its rationale, and how it came into being. It reviews other interventions now under way and other research on related matters. Then it turns to the principal findings of our research, and finally it describes the plan of the book.
THE GRADUATE EDUCATION INITIATIVE: ITS HISTORY, RATIONALE, AND DESIGN
Worries about an array of issues in graduate education, including its slow pace, were brewing long before Bernard Berelson began research in the 1950s on the "controversial" state of American graduate education. The questions he addressed ranged from the fundamental, that is, what graduate education was for (to prepare teachers or researchers), to the more advanced, including the quality of institutions producing PhDs, the purposes of the dissertation, and the reasons why students take so long to earn their degrees. He also sought to determine whether there were going to be enough PhDs to teach the oncoming waves of students likely to enroll in colleges and universities in the future.
Berelson's study was in a sense a grandparent of the GEI research. More directly ancestral was an important study of the current and future supply of PhDs by William G. Bowen and Julie Ann Sosa, Prospects for Faculty in the Arts and Sciences, published in 1989. Based on a careful analysis of evidence-including trends in faculty retirement, class size, and doctoral production-they projected a severe shortage of doctorate recipients in the arts and sciences who would be qualified to teach in the nation's colleges and graduate schools. This shortage would be caused, they said, by a large number of anticipated faculty retirements, increases in college enrollments, and the rising nonacademic employment of new doctorate recipients. Moreover, Bowen and Sosa projected that the shortage would occur in all arts and science fields and would become serious in the humanities by the end of the 1990s.
In 1988, Bowen became president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which had a long-standing interest in the humanities in higher education. Hence it was not surprising that he and Neil L. Rudenstine, then the executive vice president of the Foundation, would begin to think about how it might assist programs of doctoral education in the humanities and how the projected shortage of PhDs might be alleviated. To get a better fix on the state of graduate education, they undertook a detailed analysis of PhD production in the United States in the arts and sciences and their component fields. This resulted in a second important book, In Pursuit of the PhD.
Bowen and Rudenstine observed that the humanities, in comparison with the sciences and social sciences, were plagued by especially high attrition rates, which approached 50 percent or more, and by especially long time-to-degree (TTD), a shorthand term for the interval between the time students begin degree programs and the time they complete their degrees. (See Chapter 2 and Appendix C for various ways of measuring TTD.) By the late 1980s, median registered TTD in the humanities had risen to approximately nine years, even in some of the most highly regarded programs in the nation.
High attrition rates and long TTD in the humanities, they concluded, resulted in part from the inadequate financial support graduate students received. They also concluded that simply increasing available funding was not likely to help much. Careful research on the outcomes of major multiyear national fellowship programs-including those sponsored by the Danforth Foundation, the National Defense Education Act fellowship program, the National Science Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, as well as the Mellon Foundation itself, all of which were focused on assisting individual graduate students with predictable long-term support-demonstrated that these programs had markedly "limited success ... in reducing attrition and time-to-degree." Put simply, despite these programs being highly competitive and supporting students with exceptionally impressive academic records, fellowship recipients did not have appreciably higher rates of completion than their classmates, nor did they have substantially shorter TTD.
Other major fellowship programs provided funding not to students but to universities. These programs included the Ford Foundation's ambitious effort, begun in 1976 at six universities. It aimed at instituting a four-year PhD program, but it failed to produce the intended results at four of the six universities, and even at the other two the achieved reductions were slight. These findings were sobering and led Bowen and Rudenstine to think that neither funding students individually nor turning money over to universities without involving departments was a successful recipe for improving doctoral education in the humanities.
Their research also revealed that the scale of university departments, that is, the number of students in annual entering cohorts, significantly affected completion rates and TTD, independent of the financial assistance students received. For example, fellowship recipients who studied in smaller departments were on average more likely to complete their degrees and to do so more quickly than recipients of the same fellowships who studied in larger departments. Such differences were not attributable to differences in the quality of faculty in larger and smaller departments.
The importance of scale implied much about the significance of departments in graduate training-for example, the connection of scale with the vitality of graduate-student life and the attention students received. In addition to scale, Bowen and Rudenstine's research pointed to the importance of departmental organization and culture. Among the obstacles for students, they cited unclear expectations about how long it "should" take to earn the degree, the absence of timetables, a proliferation of course options, elaborate and sometimes conflicting requirements, intermittent (or insufficient) advising and monitoring, and, in certain disciplines, disagreements among faculty members about epistemological fundamentals and thus about what doctoral programs should teach. If a serious attempt were to be made to increase the effectiveness of graduate programs, more financial support would be needed, and departments would need to reconsider the design and organization of their doctoral programs. These conclusions resulted in the GEI being focused on departments-a major departure from both individual fellowship support and support given to universities.
Furthermore, these programmatic changes were to be linked to funding decisions, so that students could be considered for funding if they met the expectations their departments had instituted, including time-tables for achieving specified steps toward the degree. Funding was to be "conditional," not guaranteed; competition was to prevail among students. This, it was thought, would motivate all students, even those who failed to receive support.
Taken together, such changes, Bowen and Rudenstine reasoned, could reduce attrition (especially late attrition) and shorten average TTD. These are not simply matters of academic bookkeeping. Rather, high attrition rates and long TTD clearly countered the interests of degree seekers. It was less often recognized that they also countered the interests of universities. In both instances, individuals and institutions were making large investments in graduate education that were not yielding their desired outcomes. With the approval of the Foundation's board of trustees, the decision was made to use Mellon's resources to undertake an intervention that, if it proved successful, might be used by others seeking to improve the "effectiveness" of graduate programs. That the GEI might also increase the number of PhDs who graduated from leading programs would be beneficial as well, since such an outcome would contribute to solving the faculty staffing problem at U.S. universities that was projected to occur at the end of the 1990s. It would be "a sensible way to begin to prepare," and even if these projections did not materialize (and we now know they did not), the GEI would nonetheless have highly positive outcomes. Furthermore, because making significant changes in the academy almost always takes time, it was anticipated at the outset that the GEI would operate for 10 years, that is, unless it became evident after five years that it was going seriously awry.
The Foundation invited 10 universities to participate in the GEI. All were promised annual grants that would be applied to increasing financial aid for students in departments they chose and for other improvements aimed at reducing attrition and increasing completion. For their part, the universities and the departments would have to agree to propose plans for redesigned graduate programs.
The recipient universities were selected using one apparently simple criterion. They were to be the 10 universities that had attracted the largest number of winners of the Mellon Foundation's much-sought-after portable fellowships in the humanities. This single criterion was in fact highly correlated with important institutional attributes. It reflected the preferences of carefully vetted Mellon fellows who, owing to the terms of the fellowship, could choose to go to any university that would accept them, since their tuition and living costs were covered. The fellows' choices were to serve as a "market test." Excellent students would "vote with their feet" and select the universities they considered most desirable for graduate study. The 10 universities were the universities of California at Berkeley, Chicago, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale universities. That these universities were also generally thought to have first-rate faculties, demanding programs of study, and alumni who had contributed significantly to their disciplines was consistent with using the Mellon fellows' preferences in choosing the GEI participants. Although the graduates of these 10 universities (and of the three added for the purposes of having a control group in the study) seemed to constitute a small slice of those earning doctoral degrees in the humanities, this was not the case. These 13 institutions graduated 18 percent of all PhDs awarded in the humanities, far more than their share of the total number of doctoral programs.
Excerpted from EDUCATING SCHOLARS by Ronald G. Ehrenberg Harriet Zuckerman Jeffrey A. Groen Sharon M. Brucker Copyright © 2010 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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List of Figures ix
List of Tables xi
Preface and Acknowledgments xv
List of Abbreviations xix
Chapter 1. Introduction 1
Part I. Data, Methods, and Context
Chapter 2. Data Collection, Outcome Measures, and Analytical Tools 25
Chapter 3. The Departments 41
Part II. Influences on Attrition, Completion, and Time-to-Degree
Chapter 4. The Impact of the Graduate Education Initiative on Attrition and Completion 95
Chapter 5. The Influence of Financial Support 113
Chapter 6. The Influence of Doctoral Program Designs 140
Chapter 7. The Role of Gender and Family Status 156
Part III. Transition from Graduate Study to Career
Chapter 8. Attrition and Beyond 169
Chapter 9. Early Careers 186
Chapter 10. Publications: Patterns and Influences 206
Part IV. Lessons and Findings
Chapter 11. Redesigning Doctoral Programs: Lessons Learned 223
Chapter 12. Principal Findings and Implications 249
Appendix A. Data Collection 273
Appendix B. Questionnaire for the Graduate Education Survey 280
Appendix C. Outcome Measures 300
Appendix D. Methodology 304
Appendix E. Additional Tables and Figures 309