Two reports have hit the news recently concerning enrollments and attrition in Ph.D. programs, focusing on gender and ethnicity. The first, titled “Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 1997 to 2007″, takes data on applications and enrollment in graduate programs to find trends in the growth and success of such programs. The second, “Ph.D. Completion and Attrition: Analysis of Baseline Demographic Data from the Ph.D. Completion Project”, studies ten- and seven-year Ph.D. completion rates of different demographics. Both reports were done by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).
The first report used surveys from 683 colleges and universities to study graduate school enrollment and degrees awarded. The study found that the number of doctorates conferred in 2007 rose 9% from the year before, and rose faster for women than men. Enrollment rates also jumped, growing faster for U.S. minorities than for White, non-Hispanic students.
“The increase in doctorates awarded, particularly in key fields, is a necessary step in producing the highly qualified workforce required to enhance U.S. competitiveness,” said Debra W. Stewart, CGS President. “While the increased representation of minority students is another encouraging sign, we must continue to expand the domestic pipeline to ensure that America has the talent pool it will need in the 21st century global economy,” she added. (link [PDF])
The second study, using data submitted by 24 institutions for 12 academic years, found that completion rates in Ph.D. programs varied greatly based on gender, ethnicity and citizenship. Men tended to finish doctoral programs more quickly and in higher numbers than women; international students finished far more quickly than domestic students; and White students had the highest completion rates of all other ethnicities, followed by Hispanic Americans, Asian American, and African Americans. However, women and African Americans had higher completion rates in Humanities.
The cumulative ten-year completion rates for the racial/ethnic groups vary widely across broad fields (see Figure 3). African Americans and Whites complete at the highest rate (60%) in the Life Sciences. White students also complete at the highest rate in Engineering (60%), five percentage points ahead of Hispanic Americans and seven points ahead of Asian Americans. Asian Americans (53%), Hispanic Americans (53%), and Whites (52%) complete at similar rates in Mathematics & Physical Sciences. African American students have the highest rate (52%) in the Humanities, followed closely by White students (51%). White students complete at the highest rate (57%) in Social Sciences, two percentage points ahead of Hispanic Americans. (link [PDF])
The study was Phase I of the Ph.D. Completion Project, which aims to address the issues surrounding Ph.D. completion and attrition. Phase II will utilize exit surveys of students to discover the causes behind the attrition rates and develop possible interventions.
Taken together, the two reports suggest that while the number of minorities entering graduate programs is increasing, there is a need for programs to help retain students. The Chronicle of Higher Education writes that minority students are “academically and, in some cases, culturally unprepared for the demands that will be placed on them”. Inside Higher Ed provided a few strategies for increasing completion rates, which included giving students more information about what grad school will be like before they enter as well as help with dissertation writing and providing family leave time.