The Path to the Ph.D.

Measuring Graduate Attrition in the Sciences and Humanities

Ad Hoc Panel on Graduate Attrition Advisory Committee

Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel

National Research Council

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Washington, D.C.
1996



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--> The Path to the Ph.D. Measuring Graduate Attrition in the Sciences and Humanities Ad Hoc Panel on Graduate Attrition Advisory Committee Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel National Research Council NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, D.C. 1996

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--> National Academy Press 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20418 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. William A. Wulf is interim president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. William A. Wulf are chairman and interim vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council. This material is based on work supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 96-67827 International Standard Book Number 0-309-05482-6 Additional copies of this report are available from: National Academy Press 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Box 285 Washington, D.C. 20055 800-624-6242 202-334-3313 (in the Washington Metropolitan Area) http://www.nap.edu Copyright 1996 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America

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--> OFFICE OF SCIENTIFIC AND ENGINEERING PERSONNEL ADVISORY COMMITTEE M.R.C. Greenwood, Chair Chancellor, University of California, Santa Cruz Ernest Jaworski, Vice Chair Monsanto Company (retired) Betsy Ancker-Johnson Vice President, Environmental Activities General Motors (retired) Judith S. Liebman Professor of Operations Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign David Breneman Dean, Curry School of Education University of Virginia Barry Munitz Chancellor, The California State University David L. Goodstein Vice Provost Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, California Institute of Technology Janet Norwood Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute Carlos Gutierrez Professor of Chemistry, California State University, Los Angeles Ewart A. C. Thomas Professor of Psychology, Stanford University Lester A. Hoel Hamilton Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Virginia John D. Wiley Provost Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University of Wisconsin, Madison William H. Miller, ex-officio Department of Chemistry University of California, Berkeley NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF Charlotte Kuh Executive Director Marilyn J. Baker Associate Executive Director

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--> Acknowledgments The OSEP Advisory Committee is most grateful to Charlotte Kuh and Daniel Kleppner for their contributions to this important effort. Special acknowledgment is also extended to Pamela Flattau for formulating the charge to the ad hoc study panel and overseeing the design of the project and to Marilyn Baker for completing the report. Much of the information presented in this report was gathered through work commissioned by the panel. Margaret E. Boeckmann and Dolores L. Burke provided helpful reviews of the literature on graduate attrition and degree completion in the fields comprising the arts and sciences. The late Betty M. Vetter and her colleagues at the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology summarized the nature and contents of various known data bases that have been or might be used to study graduate attrition and degree completion, and George "Erik" Erikson produced a number of interesting tables to demonstrate the potential role of biographical information for enhancing our understanding of graduate preparation in the sciences and humanities. The work of this project was conducted by the staff of the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel whose Executive Director, Alan Fechter, provided helpful counsel. The panel appreciates the work of Patricia Janowski, science writer, who prepared much of the material that served as the basis of this report. We are also grateful to Dimitria Satterwhite, the project's administrative assistant, and to Pamela Lohof for her editorial assistance. Special thanks are given to Sarah E. Turner, Research Associate at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose insights contributed to the deliberations of the ad hoc study panel.

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--> Preface In 1995 doctoral degrees were granted to over 26,000 individuals in the sciences and humanities, but many other individuals who began graduate work with the same aspirations as these "completers" dropped out along the way. There are no national estimates to tell us how many students make the decision each year to cease graduate work, but studies at a few selected academic institutions suggest that as many as half the students entering certain graduate programs do not complete their doctoral degrees. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that the nation is losing many thousands of doctoral students every year through attrition from graduate studies. Some attrition from graduate programs is to be expected, of course, as students discover that graduate study is not for them. However, the departure of so many qualified candidates from doctoral studies represents a genuine loss of talent to society. With some further encouragement, these students might well have completed their doctorates and entered the pool of human resources that we depend upon to sustain our college and university faculties, to advance the frontiers of science and medicine, to fuel industrial development, and to generate a deeper understanding of our cultural roots. In 1991 the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, asked Charlotte Kuh and Daniel Kleppner, two members of its Advisory Committee on Studies and Analyses, to serve as an ad hoc panel to summarize the existing data resources and studies on graduate attrition, with an eye to whether sufficient information is in hand to estimate the magnitude of attrition from graduate education in the sciences and humanities for the nation as a whole. Although the panel members concluded that a system to provide national estimates of attrition would be unworkable, they did identify many useful resources that should assist individual institutions in monitoring and reducing their own rates of graduate attrition. M. R. C. Greenwood, Chair OSEP Advisory Committee

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--> Contents     EXECUTIVE SUMMARY   1 1   INTRODUCTION   3     Changes in the Academic Environment,   3     Transformations in Size and Organization,   4     Concerns about Rates of Attrition and Patterns of Degree Attainment,   7     Origins and Scope of the Study,   8     Organization of this Report,   9     References,   10 2   CURRENT APPROACHES TO THE MEASUREMENT OF GRADUATE ATTRITION   13     The Concept of "Attrition" at the Graduate Level,   13     Contemporary Estimates of Attrition,   16     References,   26 3   IDENTIFYING FACTORS THOUGHT TO CONTRIBUTE TO GRADUATE ATTRITION   29     Interviews with Noncompleters,   29     Longitudinal Analyses of Linked Data Sets,   29     Educational Testing Service,   30     References,   32 4   CONCLUSION   33     ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY   35 APPENDIX A   Data Bases for Studies of Graduate Education in the United States   45 APPENDIX B   Basic Design Parameters of a Longitudinal Tracking System for Doctoral Students   75

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--> List Of Tables 1-1   Number of Ph.D.s Awarded by U.S. Universities (1920-1992) by Reporting Period and Year in which the Doctorate Records File Recorded the First Ph.D. Awarded by that Institution,   5 1-2   Number of Institutions Awarding Doctorates,   6 1-3   Reasons for Attrition at the Doctorate Level,   8 List Of Figures 1-1   Doctorate recipients, total and by gender, 1965-1995,   6 2-1   Median years to doctorate from baccalaureate award, by broad field,1994,   14 2-2   Median years to doctorate from first registration, by broad field,1994,   15 2-3   University of California at Berkeley progression status of 1978-71 02cohorts, as of November 1989,   20 2-4   Doctoral completion rates for the 1978-79 cohort at the University of California at Berkeley, by field and gender, November 1989,   21 2-5   Attrition patterns for the 1976-1978 cohort in three divisions at the University of Pennsylvania, high and low departments, after 6 and 10 years,   23 2-6   Attrition by stage, six-field total, 1972-1976 entering cohorts,   24 2-7   Attrition by stage and fields, 1967-1971 and 1972-1976 entering cohorts,   25

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