The Graduate Education Initiative (GEI) discussed in Educating scholars: Doctoral education in the humanities was focussed on improving graduate education.
Two important premises of the project were that improvement would involve reducing time-to-degree (TTD) and both reducing and shifting attrition among entering cohorts (so that less people dropped out and those that did dropped out earlier). Driving these premises lay the startling statistics about TTD and attrition in Humanities PhD programmes: about 50% of entering students left their programmes before completion, and about 1/2 of those who stayed failed to complete their degree by the end of their seventh year (the mean TTD across departments was 7 years, 3.5 months).
Speeding up time to degree, however, brings with it potential costs as well: perhaps humanities graduate students are taking so long to write their dissertations because the work is intrinsically time-consuming, or because they are concentrating on quality over speed, or because they are writing articles and otherwise polishing their resumes in preparation for the job market. Does speeding up TTD at the cost of these activities improve graduate education?
Educating scholars: doctoral education in the humanities has an interesting set of chapters addressing the question of what happens to PhD students after they leave their programmes, with or without a degree.
The study of focussed on graduates of prominent departments in ten elite universities who were in programme in the period between 1991 and 2001 and so is looking at both a fairly strongly marked class of student and a strongly marked time period: the students they are following had what they describe as high “departmental prestige” when they entered the job market; and, while predictions of the faculty shortage in humanities that in part prompted this study (4) never actually appeared, their subjects do appear to have graduated into an academic job market that was more open than that immediately before or afterwards.
So with all these provisos in mind, what happened to the students? A number of sets of figures stand out.