US: New book probes PhD programmes in the humanities

A new book from Princeton University Press, Educating Scholars: Doctoral education in the humanities, finds that not all is well with doctoral programmes in the United States. "The content of graduate programmes has undergone major changes, while high rates of student attrition, long times to degree and financial burdens prevail," according to the abstract.

The book by Ronald G Ehrenberg, Harriet Zuckerman, Jeffrey A Groen and Sharon M Brucker reports on the Graduate Education Initiative (GEI), launched by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation in 1991 and aimed at improving doctoral programmes in the humanities and social sciences. Over a decade, the Foundation provided nearly US$85 million through the GEI of support for doctoral programmes and student aid in 54 departments in 10 leading US universities.

Educating Scholars, says the abstract, "reports on the GEI's success in reducing attrition and times to degree, the positive changes implemented by specific graduate programmes, and the many challenges still to be addressed.

"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 programme requirements, and each department's expectations regarding the dissertation. The authors consider who earns doctoral degrees, what affects students' chances of finishing their programmes, and how successful they are at finding academic jobs.

The authors: Ronald G Ehrenberg is the Irving M Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute; Harriet Zuckerman is senior vice president of the Andrew W Mellon Foundation and professor emerita of sociology at Columbia University; Jeffrey A Groen is a research economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics; and Sharon M Brucker is a project coordinator at the Survey Research Center of Princeton University.
More on Educating Scholars on the Princeton University Press site