According to a recent survey, Michigan’s public and private schools are turning out fewer doctoral degrees. From 1998 to 2001, the number of students acquiring Ph.D.s dropped 11 percent, from 1,509 to 1,343, according to the annual survey conducted by the University of Chicago.
Karen Klomparens, dean of the Michigan State University’s graduate school, said the economy most likely played a role in the decline.
“We have more grad students, including more doctoral students, than we’ve had in a decade enrolled right now, so the number graduating probably reflects the job market more than students’ lack of desire for the degree,” Klomparens said.
Klomparens said more students have been enrolled in more time-consuming programs like interdisciplinary doctoral programs and dual major programs as well. The job market currently has a comparably lower amount of opportunities for graduating scholars, so students are more willing to stay in school longer, she said.
At the University of Michigan, the state’s largest producer of doctoral degrees, the decline was sharper. There were 687 degrees awarded in 1998, falling to 565 last year, nearly an 18 percent drop, the survey showed.
This drop stems from a decision in the mid-1990s to limit the number of doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences, said Earl Lewis, dean of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies.
“We realize that in a few instances we were admitting far more students than we could support or mentor well,” Lewis said.
The drop also reflects decisions students made on their own, Lewis said.
“The ’90s were heady times and a number of students dropped out of graduate school or elected not to enroll because they sensed they could find ready employment,” he said.
Brian Hulsebus, president of Rackham Student Government, offers a different explanation for the decline. “The challenges faced by graduate students have increased over the past few years,” he said. He added doctoral students have to accomplish something new and innovative to be awarded a doctoral degree.
“As years go by, it takes more work to make a significant impact on their field of study,” he said.