Educating Scholars: Doctoral Education in the Humanities

Educating Scholars: Doctoral Education in the Humanities

Educating Scholars: Doctoral Education in the Humanities

Educating Scholars: Doctoral Education in the Humanities


Despite the worldwide prestige of America's doctoral programs in the humanities, all is not well in this area of higher education and hasn't been for some time. The content of graduate programs has undergone major changes, while high rates of student attrition, long times to degree, and financial burdens prevail. In response, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1991 launched the Graduate Education Initiative (GEI), the largest effort ever undertaken to improve doctoral programs in the humanities and related social sciences. The only book to focus exclusively on the current state of doctoral education in the humanities, Educating Scholars reports on the GEI's success in reducing attrition and times to degree, the positive changes implemented by specific graduate programs, and the many challenges still to be addressed.

Over a ten-year period, the Foundation devoted almost eighty-five million dollars through the GEI to provide support for doctoral programs and student aid in fifty-four departments at ten leading universities. The authors examine data that tracked the students in these departments and in control departments, as well as information gathered from a retrospective survey of students. They reveal that completion and attrition rates depend upon financial support, the quality of advising, clarity of program requirements, and each department's expectations regarding the dissertation. The authors consider who earns doctoral degrees, what affects students' chances of finishing their programs, and how successful they are at finding academic jobs.

Answering some of the most important questions being raised about American doctoral programs today, Educating Scholars will interest all those concerned about our nation's intellectual future.


Gratitude is mostly due to the ways in which the
Mellon grant impelled change. Signing on to
the Mellon grant required faculty to reconsider
their collective responsibilities and forced them to
devise new requirements and monitoring proce
dures. Although impressionistic evidence will be
cited, faculty and students will easily attest that the
cultures of their graduate groups have changed
with new expectations and sense of mission.

—Graduate dean of a participating
university in 1996

When I began my grad career, there were formal
steps early in the program, but there was no fur
ther program designed to encourage students to
make progress in dissertation writing or to pre
pare them for professional work. the department
began to have a more consistent program for en
couraging progress in the early '90s. Perhaps a re
sponse to a Mellon Foundation grant.

—Student in English who began graduate
school in 1985 and left in 2001

In 1991, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation launched what would become the largest effort ever made to improve graduate education in the humanities in the United States. the Graduate Education Initiative (GEI) was “to achieve systematic improvements in the structure and organization of PhD programs in the humanities and related social sciences that will in turn reduce unacceptabl[y] high rates of student attrition and

the quotations introducing this chapter and those that follow are drawn from annual
reports sent to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on the Graduate Education Initiative
and from the Graduate Education Survey (GES) of students. See Chapter 2 for detailed de
scriptions of the reports and the ges.

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