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The Humanities, Arts, and Education

How Long to the Humanities PhD?

Obtaining a doctoral degree in any field involves a significant investment of time, energy, and resources. In recent years, reformers in the humanities have focused on decreasing time-to-degree while preparing graduates for an array of career options beyond academia. However, new data released by the American Academy shows the road to a Ph.D. is generally longer in the humanities than in other academic fields.

Humanities Ph.D. recipients in 2012 spent a median of 6.9 years in the programs that conferred their degrees, compared to a median of 5.9 years among Ph.D. recipients in all fields combined. Part of this disparity occurs before students reach the dissertation stage of their studies, as humanities Ph.D.’s take longer to reach this stage than graduates in most other fields (shown in the figure below).

Median Number of Years Spent by Ph.D. Recipients in Their Doctoral Programs, by Field and Phase of Program, Graduation Years 2004–2012*

* Estimates include years in master’s degree program if part of the doctoral program. Respondents were directed to report years taking courses or preparing for exams as whole, rounded years.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED; a custom tabulation of SED data was prepared for the Humanities Indicators by NORC at the University of Chicago).

To assess the implications of these findings, we invited comments from leaders of the effort to reform humanities doctoral education. Russell Berman (Stanford University; former President of the Modern Language Association) discusses the challenge of shortening time to degree, while Harriet Zuckerman (emeritus, Columbia University; formerly, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) and her colleague Sharon M. Brucker (Survey Research Center, Princeton University) from the Graduate Education Initiative discuss the difficulty in precisely calculating time to degree.

Be sure to visit the full report on Years to Attainment of a Humanities Doctorate for complete details and an explanation of the methodology.

November 21, 2014

Toward the Five-Year Ph.D.

posted by Russell A. Berman

Completing doctoral study is necessarily a lengthy process, but is it taking too long? Time in graduate study requires significant financial investments, on the part of both the institution and the student. The longer it takes, the more costly it becomes, and its accessibility declines. To keep the doors to doctoral study open, it is More...

November 21, 2014

The Limitations of “Time to Degree” Measures

posted by Harriet Zuckerman and Sharon M. Brucker

This report from the Humanities Indicators examines investments in time students make in earning the Ph.D. and offers an improved measure of time-to-degree (TTD hereafter). It substitutes the number of years individuals spend in doctoral More...

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