College Guide


April 02, 2010 10:00 AM PhD Dropouts

By Daniel Luzer

While policymakers might be forgiven for failing to address this issue, apparently dropouts aren’t just a problem for high schools and colleges. By some accounts, in fact, 30 percent of people who start PhD programs never finish. Some academics apparently find this troublesome. According to an article by David Glenn in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A report that will be released Wednesday by the Council of Graduate Schools highlights some of what the council calls “promising practices” that might reduce attrition rates and average time-to-degree. The report draws on data from more than 20 universities that have taken part in the council’s Ph.D. Completion Project, a seven-year study of doctoral-program attrition—especially the attrition of women and underrepresented minorities.

The report recommends improving faculty mentorship and research experiences, increasing financial support, and creating a better environment for dissertation supervision.

A question curiously unaddressed by the study, however, is why American universities should really bother trying to help more people to complete PhD programs. In fact, the United States has for years produced far more PhDs, particularly in the liberal arts and the social sciences, than there are academic jobs available for them.

Read the Council of Graduate Schools report here.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • tom on April 02, 2010 7:57 PM:

    The issue of PhD "overproduction" is a bit more complicated than that:

  • Joe on April 03, 2010 10:27 AM:

    Thanks, Tom, you beat me to it with the link below. The last paragraph in the above post should read:

    The United States has seen growing demand for PhDs and PhD candidates in the liberal arts and the social sciences, but most of the new positions are teaching assistantships and non-tenure-track positions for people with the doctorate. Academic jobs with full pay and benefits have become increasingly rare, as more undergraduate instruction in liberal arts fields is being led by graduate students and recent Ph.D.s in contingent positions than by tenure-track professors.

    Daniel Luzer, you might find a lot to look into on the issue of the casualization of academic labor. It effects everyone in higher education, not just Ph.D.s looking for jobs.