Arts and humanities grad programs are growing

Last week, the Council of Graduate Schools delivered a truly baffling piece of news, as reported in The Atlantic.

“From 2011 to 2012, it reported, the number of first-time students enrolled in arts and humanities Ph.D. programs had grown 7.7 percent. Yes, grown. Despite the slow-rolling extinction of the tenured professoriate; despite the fact that job openings haven’t even come close to recovering from the recession; despite ample doomsaying from publications like The New York Times, it seems students are still signing up at a healthy clip to pause their lives for six years in order to study English, history and the like.

“In fact, the enrollment bump was larger in the arts and humanities than almost any other broad field, with the one exception of public administration, as shown on this table from Inside Higher Ed. All of this leads to me to wonder: Why haven’t arts and humanities Ph.D. programs imploded yet? We know, thanks to the collapse of law-school applications, that undergraduate students (as a group, at least) are entirely capable of looking at the job market and making rational decisions about whether or not to pursue a graduate education. Yet in the arts and humanities, in which 43 percent of new Ph.D.’s had no job or postdoc offer by graduation in 2011, there’s no real sign of change. From 2007 to 2012, total enrollment fell by a measly 0.2 percent per year, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Meanwhile, departments go on merrily producing more new doctorate holders than there are jobs in the academy.

“And 2012 just brought us a bumper crop of aspiring scholars. I’m going to offer a few very lightly sketched out theories in a second, but mostly, I want to hear from you, the readers. What’s keeping arts and humanities Ph.D. programs afloat? If you’re studying for a Ph.D. in the classics right now, what drove your decision making? What information did you or didn’t you have? If you’re a professor, does your department ever discuss shrinking down your incoming class size? Do students seem to have a realistic sense of their chances when they arrive for their first year of grad school?  Or do you think I have it all wrong? Is everything really fine? ”


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U.S. grad programs depend on foreign students

A new report confirms the reliance of certain grad programs on high fees paid by foreign students.

According to InsideHigherEd, “International students play a critical role in sustaining quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate programs at U.S. universities, a new report from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) argues.imgres-1

“It will come as no surprise to observers of graduate education that the report documents the fact that foreign students make up the majority of enrollments in U.S. graduate programs in many STEM fields, accounting for 70.3 percent of all full-time graduate students in electrical engineering, 63.2 percent in computer science, 60.4 percent in industrial engineering, and more than 50 percent in chemical, materials and mechanical engineering, as well as in economics (a non-STEM field). However, the report, which analyzes National Science Foundation enrollment data from 2010 by field and institution, also shows that these striking averages mask even higher proportions at many individual universities. For example, there are 36 graduate programs in electrical engineering where the proportion of international students exceeds 80 percent, including seven where it exceeds 90. (The analysis is limited to those programs with at least 30 full-time students.)

“International students help many universities have enough graduate students to support research programs that help attract top faculty and that also thereby help U.S. students by having a higher-quality program than they otherwise would have,” said Stuart Anderson, NFAP’s executive director and author of the report. Without them, he said, “you’d see a shrinking across the board where you’d have just certain schools that are able to support good programs. That would lead to a shrinking of U.S. leadership in education and technology if you have many fewer programs with high-quality research and top-level professors.”

“To some extent this reflects some of what’s going on in our society within the U.S. in terms of trying to push for more interest in STEM fields,” said Jonathan Bredow, professor and chair of the electrical engineering department at the University of Texas at Arlington, a program with more than 90 percent international enrollment.  “Domestic students tend to be more interested in going out and getting a job right after a bachelor’s degree. Some see a value of getting a master’s degree but in terms of the Ph.D., I think it’s largely seen as unnecessary.”

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