“Change has already come. We can view this as an opportunity for our community and for the United States, or we can passively react to change and have it imposed on us.”
– Matthew Platz, National Science Foundation
Two speakers at the workshop—Matthew Platz, Director of the Division of Chemistry at NSF, and George Whitesides, Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University—focused specifically on the challenges facing chemistry graduate education. In addition, several other presenters and workshop attendees elaborated on these challenges later in the workshop. This chapter summarizes these comments to lay the groundwork for the potential solutions explored in Chapters 3-5.
Platz presented a number of “worrisome or alarming facts and provocative questions” that involve chemistry graduate education either directly or indirectly.
• From a high of more than 20 million people in the 1970s, employment in manufacturing in the United States decreased in the early 2000s, and then continued to decrease in the recession triggered by the 2008 financial crisis. (BLS 2011).Though the number has
recovered somewhat in the last few years, “it remains to be seen how persistent that is and how strong that recovery will be,” Platz said.
• Employment in the chemical industry also has dropped—from more than 1,035,000 in 1990 to 985,000 in 2000 to 789,000 in 2010, according to the Council for Chemical Research.
• Unemployment among American Chemical Society (ACS) chemists remained between 3 percent and 1 percent for the last quarter of the 20th century. But in 2002 it rose above 3 percent, and by 2010 was nearly 4 percent (Rovner 2011) (Figure 2-1). This is lower than the unemployment rate for all U.S. workers but higher than it has been since this data began to be collected.
• Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for new chemistry graduates rose from about 4 percent in 2000 to more than 10 percent in 2009 and 2010 (Rovner 2011, ACS 2012b).
• “Between 2000 and 2009, multinational corporations cut 2.9 million jobs in the United States and added 2.4 million jobs overseas,” according to an August 21 2011, Washington Post article citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Yang 2011).
• The United States shed 28 percent, or 687,000, high-technology manufacturing jobs since reaching its peak of 2.5 million in
FIGURE 2-1 The unemployment rates remain high for chemists and chemical engineers.
SOURCE: Rovner, 2011.
2000, according to a January 18 2012, Chicago Tribune article citing data from the National Science Board (NSB 2012, Shropshire 2012). The global “middle class,” defined as people with incomes between $6,000 and $30,000, rose from 1 billion to more than 1.5 billion since the mid-1980s and could climb to 4 billion people by 2040, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs (Wilson and Dragusanu, 2008). When the executives of multinational corporations look at these data, said Platz, “they see where future demand is, and they redeploy their workforce accordingly.”
• Young people who are graduating from college with an undergraduate chemistry degree face stark choices. They can go to graduate school in chemistry, in which case, if they aspire to be a professor at a research university, they will enter the workplace between ages 28 and 32, have an unknown likelihood of getting a job, command a salary of between $75,000 and $92,000 (though with little debt from graduate school), have little control over where they work, and face intense work demands. Or they can go to graduate school in dentistry or pharmacy, begin working at age 25, earn between $150,000 and $300,000 a year (though they may emerge from graduate school with $150,000 to $200,000 in debt), have control over where they work, and work four or five eight-hour days.
• In 2011, student debt exceeded $1 trillion dollars and Americans now owe more student loans than credit cards (Cauchon 2011).
• Future employment in industry of chemistry PhDs will increasingly be in small companies and start-up companies, and preparing people for these careers cannot be done by lengthening the time they spend in graduate school or as postdoctoral fellows.
• Today, 45 percent of children younger than age 5 are minorities (Center for Public Education 2011). Yet less than 8 percent of ACS chemists are Hispanic, black, American Indian, or some other race or ethnicity (ACS 2010, 2012a) (Figure 2-2).
• The costs of public undergraduate education per student are rising faster than the revenue that can be generated per student. Short-term fixes have been to teach more students with fewer faculty and staff and admit more overseas students, who pay out-of-state tuition.
• As students with liberal arts degrees continue to find it difficult to secure jobs, and as more international students enter U.S. colleges, enrollments in chemistry will likely continue to increase. This will generate wait lists for courses unless the laboratory experience can be radically changed. Alternately, university administrators could see chemistry as a “cash cow” to generate money for other parts of the institution.
FIGURE 2-2 The numbers of Hispanic, black, and American Indian chemists have risen slowly over the past two decades.
SOURCE: Figure courtesy of Matt Platz, National Science Foundation, based onÂ data from ACS 2010 and 2012a.
Signs of Promise
Despite the uncertainty that surrounds the future of the chemical sciences in the United States (see Box 2-1), Platz noted that graduate enrollment in chemistry and chemical engineering has been increasing in recent years (Figure 2-3). Also, the percentage of ACS chemists who are women has risen from less than 20 percent in 1991 to almost 30 percent two decades later. Similarly, the number of minorities has risen from about 11 percent to 20 percent, though most of this increase has come from Asian and Asian-American chemists.
Meeting the needs of 4 billion people living a middle class life is “at its heart, a problem of discovering new chemistry,” said Platz. Many idealistic young people want to help solve the problems facing the global community. A major question is whether they will see research in many graduate chemistry departments as organized to deal with these challenges. “If they don’t see it in chemistry departments, they will go elsewhere.”
Since the 1800s, chemistry has been an extraordinarily successful science, noted George Whitesides. Just since World War II, it has made
The ACS Commission on Graduate Education
Shortly before the workshop was held, the ACS established a blue ribbon commission to examine the purposes of graduate education in the chemical sciences. The commission, which is chaired by Larry Faulkner, President of the Houston Endowment, has been asked to address two main questions, ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri told the workshop attendees:
• What are the purposes of graduate education in the chemical sciences?
• What steps should be taken to ensure that these purposes address important societal issues as well as the needs and aspirations of graduate students?
To answer these questions, the ACS commission was charged with considering fundamental, comprehensive, and systemic changes suitable for graduate education in the chemical sciences. It also was charged with suggesting actionable approaches for enhancing the quality of graduate research and education at all institutions.
Five working groups were formed to examine the structure of departments in the chemical sciences, employment issues, financial support mechanisms for graduate students, the backgrounds of chemistry graduate students, and the expectations of graduate students, including what they expect from a program and what the length of their training should be. In particular, Shakhashiri noted with regard to the final working group, why do only 62 percent of PhD students in the chemical sciences finish within ten years?
Target audiences for the commission’s report include faculty and academic leaders at research universities and comprehensive institutions, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and students at undergraduate institutions, federal and state policy makers, funding agencies, employers, industry leaders, national laboratories, private foundations, and others in the public sector.
The basic idea behind the commission, said Shakhashiri, was to provide a forum for thoughtful exchanges and the development of possible alternatives to current practices and structures in chemistry graduate education.
tremendous advances in such far-flung areas as catalysis, pharmaceuticals, spectroscopy, and the synthesis of complex natural products. Furthermore, chemistry now confronts an unprecedented array of exciting opportunities. The discovery and use of sources of energy pose many interesting chemical problems, from what is the nature of combustion to what is the ultimate future of solar energy, from the effects of nuclear radiation on chemical compounds to how to conserve energy and protect the environment. A cell is a collection of chemical reactions, none of which is alive by itself but all of which combine to constitute life. Under-
FIGURE 2-3 Graduate enrollments in chemistry and chemical engineering have risen slowly over the past decade.
SOURCE: Figure courtesy of Matt Platz, National Science Foundation, based onÂ data from NSF/NIH 2012.
standing how living cells function is “entirely a chemical problem,” said Whitesides. “I can’t imagine a more interesting problem scientifically to work on than that.” The chemical flows into, out of, and within megacities offer a wealth of fascinating chemical problems. Even major societal issues like environmental sustainability, the rising costs of health care, and enhancing national security have major chemical underpinnings.
Despite the current potential of the chemical sciences, the profession has been shrinking, has become less innovative, and is attracting less attention, said Whitesides. Over the past 20 years, the United States has lost 300,000 jobs in chemistry (ACS 2011). The pharmaceutical industry is contracting as the return on invested capital becomes less than the cost of capital. China and India are doing some kinds of chemical research not just less expensively than it is done in the United States but more effectively, according to Whitesides. And when popular science magazines list their 100 biggest discoveries of the year, very few if any are likely to be chemical discoveries. “We are not working for that purpose, but it says something about the way society is viewing the field. It is not connecting us to the solution of big problems.”
In the past, chemistry in the United States has been structured around three players: universities, government, and industry. Furthermore, in
chemistry, industry and universities have been closely coupled. For example, ring opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP), asymmetric epoxidation, and superacids, all of which resulted in Nobel Prizes, were essentially invented in industry, observed Whitesides. “That is not to say that the universities did not do fantastic work in making these into something new, but the interplay between invention in industry … and then the process of development, analysis, and invention in both has been very productive.” However, the pressures of globalization and financial transparency have made it very difficult for big companies to involve themselves in longer term research, which is putting increasing responsibility on universities.
Only universities have the opportunity to lead change, Whitesides insisted. Industry is now largely occupied with exploiting knowledge and has a difficult time justifying the creation of new knowledge without having a product in mind. Government is characterized by competing interests and agents and responds primarily to political necessity. Universities have the greatest flexibility and are most able to choose their future course. Universities also have the ability to pursue what Thomas Kuhn called problems rather than puzzles, where the solutions can fundamentally change the game. “We have the ability to train and educate students to do things that are completely different from what we do so that they can live in a world that’s completely different from the world that we live in.”
The Changing Roles of Graduate School
The structure of academic research groups in chemistry remains focused around single investigators working one-on-one with graduate students. That model is not well suited for the kinds of complex systems-level problems now confronting chemistry, Whitesides said.
The current system of graduate education, however, focuses more on research than on learning. “Most of the emphasis goes into, in my opinion, research productivity, as opposed to thinking about the students.” Professors work endlessly to secure grants, which is quite different than focusing on the training of graduate students.
The Liebig model, after the German chemist Justus von Liebig (1803-1873), who pioneered many of the features of chemistry laboratories still common today, is an apprenticeship model in which students are trained though repetition to do what the master does. Students learn to be good at what their professors are good at, whether synthetic chemistry or laser spectroscopy.
“We have had a good run with the Liebig model, but it may be time to abandon it and think of something else,” Whitesides said. “I don’t think
it’s good for the teachers, and I don’t think it will build a future for the profession of chemistry that is recognizable to society. We should teach students rather than using them.”
Whitesides expressed the idea that the tacit contract between society and academic chemical research is likely to change. Since World War II, the public has paid taxes and the government has spent part of those taxes on fundamental research at universities under the presupposition that fundamental research will serve as the basis for the solution of societal problems. In the future, said Whitesides, society will want to have a much better idea of the problems research is solving. If researchers are devoted to solving those problems, perhaps they can use 20 percent of the money invested to do fundamental research. In this way, universities will be much more accountable to the public. “We need to think about our obligations to those who are paying the bills,” said Whitesides. “Money is not an entitlement.”
Whitesides also described the current science and engineering system, saying that we have a system right now in which we tend to use the phrase “science and engineering.” He argued, however, that there are actually three really important activities, science; engineering; and invention and discovery. Science understands things; engineering, solves problems; and chemistry, in Whitesides view, can work in the area of invention and discovery. Whitesides said, “Scientists can work on things that they don’t understand but that exist, and engineers do a fantastic job of making things really work. But there has to be more of the activity of going from something where there wasn’t a scientific or technical activity to one where there was.” According to Whitesides, U.S. universities do not create inventions and discoveries well, but he does think we do it better than other countries.
Whitesides briefly listed a number of difficult issues that a change in this current social contract would raise, many of which are discussed in future chapters of this report:
• Research institutions and individual researchers would need to achieve a new balance between curiosity-driven research and problem-solving research, which would require careful consideration of many tradeoffs.
• Academic research is a “fundamentally elitist activity” and may need to become more so. Not many people are needed to do it, and they need to do it well to create new jobs and solve difficult problems.
• With graduate education, more can be less. As students take longer to earn their PhDs, five to six years spent learning the same technique may not do a student much good.
• Student outcomes need to be tracked to gain a better understanding of the kinds of jobs they are getting and how well they are doing.
• Whitesides believes that the question should be asked whether PhD theses are narrow technical presentations for jobs that no longer exist. Should U.S. graduate students be doing organic synthesis if most organic synthesis is being done in China? “That’s not to say that these aren’t really important activities, but we need to connect our investment in graduate school with what’s actually needed to give jobs to students.”
• Does everyone need a PhD for a technical job? A good master’s program may be enough to teach technical skills.
• Traditional groupings such as organic, physical, inorganic, and so on will not work well for integrative ideas and problems. The proper way to combine these fields is not yet clear—it may differ for different institutions. Interdisciplinary groupings could bring in fields outside of the natural sciences such as economics, management, and finance where appropriate.
• Can a single academic group make more headway on a big problem than a consortium?
• In an interdisciplinary future, graduate school will need to be—and should be—harder. Organic chemists, for instance, will need to know biology and immunology. Students will need to work in a global culture, not just a U.S. culture, which will require that they have experience with those cultures.
• Postdoctoral fellows are the future of the academic world, yet academia is still uncertain whether they should be treated as students, as junior colleagues, or as employees paid to do a job. “Unless we get that straightened out, … we’re going to waste some of the best people in science.”
Several university administrators at the workshop provided their views on the problems facing chemistry graduate education. Holden Thorp, Chancellor of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, noted that public universities are under great strain. The financial crisis has stabilized, but financial doldrums have replaced the crisis. The public mood regarding higher education and funding government is challenging for public universities. Many people think that public universities are too big or are spending too much. College costs have become a major issue as tuition has risen much faster than the cost of living in many institutions.
As a result of these financial constraints, universities are under pressure to teach undergraduates more inexpensively.
Today, faculty members in chemistry departments typically are paid by the university for nine months and pay themselves during the summer from their grants, Holden noted. Pressure will increase to do what medical school faculty have done for some time, which is to pay more of their salaries off their grants. That could make research groups smaller as less money is available for graduate students. Meanwhile, universities will probably be asking graduate students to teach more.
The net result will probably be fewer graduate students in all fields over the next decade, said Thorp, unless the economy were to undergo rapid growth. There also will be more pressure on universities to ensure that graduate students develop the right kinds of skills to meet national needs.
Chemistry does a better job of preparing students for careers beyond academia than most other disciplines, said Thorp. Chemists have been working in groups for a long time, enabling them to learn about the teamwork required in the modern job market. “Chemists are well prepared to do lots of different things besides work in universities,” he said. Compared with other disciplines, he said, “I would put chemistry close to the top of the ones that we probably need to worry about the least.”
The Situation in California
Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor of the University of California, San Diego, observed that the University of California system has very serious financial problems. Her budget has been cut by 38 percent over the last three years. Attrition has covered part of these cuts, but an additional temporary hiring freeze proved traumatic for departments that were attempting to recruit new faculty. The transfer of money among campuses of the University of California system through a process known as “rebenching,” along with the distribution of tuition raises, have not eased the crunch. Pressure on existing revenue streams is intense, and university employees have had to be laid off. Also, some departmental graduate student courses are being cut back, which has a negative effect on the curricular offerings of the university. The difficulties of being chancellor during such a period have contributed to her decision to retire in 2012, Fox said.
The University of California system currently has fewer graduate students than projected, given the size of the undergraduate population, and is seeking to identify funds to support graduate students. The state of California cannot provide these funds, so the universities are looking for other options. Efforts to build an endowment for the San Diego campus by appealing to industries in the area have not been as successful
as hoped, said Fox, with only one-third of the $500 million goal being achieved two-thirds of the way through the campaign.
University personnel continue to be high spirited and do an effective job, but with a smaller cadre of people than in the past. The university system is trying to use innovative, interdisciplinary, and collaborative projects to build faculty morale. For example, faculty members have built innovative curricula and have experimented with classes taught partly through distance learning from national laboratories.
“There’s nothing wrong with the University of California that couldn’t be assisted or solved by a good donation of $1 billion,” Fox concluded. “Lacking, however, this $1 billion, we have all sorts of problems with postdocs, with graduate students, with undergraduates who join research groups, and with how they are educated.”
The Numbers of Chemistry Graduate Students
Paul Houston, Dean of the College of Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said that the chemistry community still has not grappled with the question of whether too many graduate students are in the pipeline in chemistry. The attrition rate in chemistry is high (as described below), and some graduates are doing multiple postdoctoral fellowships before they get jobs. Both trends suggest that the pipeline is too heavily loaded. On the other hand, society has many problems that it needs chemists to solve. “I don’t know the answer,” said Houston. “There are indications that, at least in this economic climate, we’re putting too many students in the pipeline. But I think that’s something that we will have to decide.”
Houston also pointed to an issue raised by several other presenters. Though enrollment in graduate chemistry programs has increased over time, the percentage of students from outside the United States has risen rapidly. Many of these students will remain in the United States and make important contributions to the U.S. economy, but others will return to their home countries and build the infrastructure of chemical research there.
The Quality of Programs and Students
Finally, Michael Doyle, professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Maryland, observed that the United States should no longer necessarily be considered the future leader of the chemical research enterprise. China, for example, is quickly creating a very large infrastructure for higher education and research.
In addition, graduate students from the United States are commonly
considered to be less motivated and, in many cases, less capable than international students, Doyle noted. For example, the GRE scores of international students on average are well above those of U.S. students.
One way to enhance the talent of U.S. students headed to chemistry graduate education might be to segment students interested in medical school and students interested in chemistry education during their undergraduate years, said Doyle, as is done in Europe. Today, medical schools tend to attract more talented students on average than have chemistry graduate programs. Devoting more attention to students interested in graduate school as undergraduates may retain a higher percentage of those students in a graduate school track.
A final problem discussed throughout the workshop was that of the attrition of graduate students in chemistry. Attrition is a problem in all of graduate education (see Box 2-2), but it is also a problem in chemistry, particularly among women. For example, Julie Aaron, a recent University of Pennsylvania chemistry PhD who now teaches chemistry and biochemistry at DeSales University, said that almost half the women in her graduate program left within the first two years. She said that all of the women who left the program had different reasons for leaving. But one theme was that the only future career they had exposure to was that of the other women faculty in the department, and many had trouble picturing themselves in that role, especially if they wanted to have a family. “You are saying, ‘I have to wait until I am 40 to have kids.’ I think that that is honestly something that scared a lot of people off.” In addition, some women left to go to professional school, thinking that it would be much easier to raise a family as a pharmacist than it would be as an assistant professor.
Another new faculty member, Jennifer Schomaker at the University of Wisconsin, agreed that the attrition of women is a problem. She had children when she was in graduate school and attributed her success to being “a fighter.” But she is having trouble retaining women in her group at Wisconsin, “which really bothers me, because I would like to be thought of as a role model. But the truth is they look at me and they say, ‘You are here all the time. Do you see your kids? Are you having a good time?’ For me it is really important that I do continue to maintain that really enthusiastic attitude, and it is tough, there is no doubt about it. I am not sure what the solution is to be honest with you.”
During a discussion period, Kristie Boering from the University of California, Berkeley, made the observation that the environment for women varies greatly from institution to institution, even among research
universities. She noted that she had two children as an assistant professor at Berkeley before she received tenure because Berkley has family-friendly policies and supportive people in the department.
Yu Ye Tong from Georgetown University provided a contrasting point of view by observing that if the purpose of graduate education is to produce “the cream of the cream,” then attrition will be higher than it would be otherwise. If the goal of U.S. graduate education becomes to create a better prepared workforce, then the goals of graduate education may need to change.
Robert Bergman, Gerald E.K. Branch Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who was a member of the steering committee for the workshop, pointed in a discussion session to what he called “the elephant in the room”: though many chemistry graduate students are well served by their research advisors, some are not being educated properly or even treated appropriately. In proposals for change, ways of curbing abuses of graduate students should be a major consideration, he said.
At the end of his presentation, Platz observed that the role of NSF is to fund successful experiments. In chemistry graduate education, a successful experiment could be a university, a chemistry department, or perhaps other departments that reimagine the graduate experience in a compelling way. This experiment could attract a diverse group of talented students who would meet with outstanding success upon earning their degrees. Such a program would generate national attention, be seen to have a competitive advantage, and spur imitators. In contrast, institutions that ignore the changes going on risk extinction. “The national leaders in this century will be those institutions that see this as a moment in time to create a new paradigm.”
The Obama Administration has been very interested in science, Platz observed, and has clear ideas about what it wants to support. As a result, presidential priorities have been increasing as a proportion of the budget (Figure 2-4). Chemistry has not played a large role in these presidential priorities, though NSF’s Division of Chemistry has been able to keep its core funding relatively stable, largely by reducing instrumentation costs. However, if the chemical sciences community wants federal funding for chemistry to increase, it must demonstrate how its proposals contribute to the administration’s priorities. How can it help to create a workforce that is equipped to take on the challenges of the new century? How can it help create the skills in U.S. workers that will lead companies to locate their jobs here rather than in another country?
The most important goal of the workshop, Platz said, must be how
FIGURE 2-4 Administration priorities represent an increasing percentage of the Division of Chemistry (CHE) budget in recent years.
SOURCE: Figure courtesy of Matt Platz, National Science Foundation.
the chemical sciences can preserve and enhance quality with less money. “If we can come up with some strategies to do that, this workshop, in my opinion, will be a great success.” He challenged the workshop participants to devise experiments in chemistry graduate education that can inspire the field and attract support. In particular, the goal should not be to play a zero-sum game but to find new money to fund experiments at five to ten universities in addition to the core funding for chemistry.
“Change has already come,” Platz concluded. “We can view this as an opportunity for our community and for the United States, or we can passively react to change and have it imposed on us.”
The Future of Graduate Education in the United States
Patricia McAllister, Vice President of Government Relations and External Affairs at the Council of Graduate Schools, presented an overview of The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States (Wendler et al., 2010), which was produced by a joint commission of the Council of Graduate Schools and the Educational Testing Service. The report examines trends, strengths, and vulnerabilities in graduate education and makes a series of recommendations for policymakers, universities themselves, and employers. Though the report covered graduate education as a whole, many of its conclusions apply to chemistry in particular.
The Value of Graduate Education
Several lines of evidence point to the continuing value of graduate education in the United States. Enrollments at the master’s and doctoral levels have increased at a 2 percent to 3 percent rate across all fields of graduate education over the past decade. Also, the workplace continues to reward people with graduate degrees, and these financial rewards have increased substantially since the mid-1980s compared with other levels of education (Figure 2-5). In addition, the unemployment rate is lower for people with graduate degrees than for people with lesser degrees of education.
Furthermore, the need for well-trained students is projected to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that 2.5 million available jobs will require an advanced degree by 2018. Meeting this demand will require an 18 percent increase in people with master’s degrees and a 17 percent increase in people with doctoral degrees (BLS 2009).
Minorities in Graduate Education
Minorities underrepresented in science and engineering fields go to graduate school at only about half the rate of white students, yet these groups are becoming a larger percentage of the U.S. population. According to the report, when high school sophomores were asked about their degree aspirations, one-third of African American and Hispanic students aspire to receive a graduate degree, compared with 41 percent of white students and half of Asian students (Bozick and Lauff 2007).
However, exposure to postsecondary education and completing an undergraduate degree correlate with students’ aspirations. Among African American students who had completed an undergraduate degree, 85 percent said they aspire to achieve a graduate or advanced degree, compared with 79 percent of Hispanics and 70 percent of white students (Bozick and Lauff 2007). Thus, helping students get through undergraduate education is likely to increase the number and diversity of future graduate students.
FIGURE 2-5 The market is rewarding graduate education.
SOURCE: Carnevale, T. (2009). Graduate Education in the Knowledge Economy. In Council of Graduate Schools (Ed.), Graduate Education in 2020: What Does the Future Hold (pp. 26-59). Washington, DC: CGS.
Vulnerabilities of Graduate Education
One clear vulnerability of U.S. graduate education is low completion rates, said McAllister. The estimated attrition rate in doctoral education across all programs is between 30 and 50 percent. Except in the field of engineering, fewer than one-quarter of students who enroll in graduate programs complete PhD degrees within five years (Figure 2-6). Within seven years, about half of the students enrolled in mathematics and in the physical and life sciences completed their degrees. But this level of completion is not reached for students enrolled in humanities and social sciences until nearly year ten. Also, domestic students complete their degrees at lower rates than international students, underrepresented minorities at lower rates than majority students, and women at lower rates than men.
Another vulnerability for students considering graduate degrees is debt. Students who graduate with a master’s degree have on average a cumulative debt incurred during their undergraduate and graduate years of $50,000, while students with a PhD have an average cumulative debt of $77,000.
The Path Forward (Wendler et al. 2010) made a number of recommendations for universities. One is to graduate more of the students they admit. The PhD Completion Project of the Council of Graduate Schools has uncovered strat-
FIGURE 2-6 PhD completion rates in mathematics and the physical sciences are below 50 percent after seven years.
SOURCE: Adapted from Council of Graduate Schools. (2012). Analysis of Baseline Program Data from the Ph.D. Completion Project. Washington, DC: CGS. URL: http://www.phdcompletion.org/quantitative/book1_quant.asp.
egies that help (CGS 2008). These include improving the fit between the students who are admitted to graduate school and graduate school programs, better mentoring and a better fit between students and mentors, different financial packages to support students during their course of study, and the identification of sticking points in graduate education and the provision of help to get past those points.
For employers, the report recommends sponsoring graduate fellowship programs that reflect career pathways into various industries, creating lifelong learning accounts for professional employees that would encourage people already in a career to pursue advanced study, clarifying entry points into careers, and communicating the skills needed for 21st-century jobs beginning even at the high school level.
For policy makers, the report recommends the creation of the COMPETES Doctoral Traineeship Program, which would provide five years of support for doctoral students to help prepare the future talent needed in critical areas of national need such as health care, energy, the financial sector, and cybersecurity. It also proposes a program to support innovative master’s programs such as the professional science master’s. It recommends expanding existing programs that support graduate students across the federal agencies. It also urges reducing barriers for international students—for example, by modifying visa policies to make the United States more welcoming to international students and making it easier for international students to stay in the United States after graduation to contribute to the U.S. economy.
The Commission on Pathways Through Graduate School and into Careers (Wendler et al. 2012) is following up on The Path Forward report (Wendler et al. 2010) by looking at the factors that motivate or deter students from pursuing graduate studies in critical areas, particularly science and engineering but also others that align with careers in areas of national priority. It is examining what graduate students know about career paths, their aspirations, how they learn about occupational opportunities, the role of faculty and universities in this process, and the kinds of careers and occupations that people with graduate degrees follow. As part of the study, a survey of students who took the GRE between 2002 and 2011 generated 6,000 responses from students who are planning or currently engaged in graduate education. Surveys and interviews of deans and employers have revealed new information about their roles and expectations.