Compiled by Amy Rogers Hays, ASA Research Coordinator

Each year the American Studies Association surveys PhD granting programs in American Studies and American Ethnic Studies to compile a bibliography of doctoral dissertations.  Individual recipients are also surveyed in order to gauge trends in demography and employment.  The ASA collects dissertation abstracts (available at as part of the bibliographic record.  The survey is based on requests to American Studies, American Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies programs for lists of dissertations completed between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010.

The survey was sent to forty-three universities and/or departments and a total of 84 dissertations were reported, which represents a substantial increase of almost 135% from last year, where only 35 were reported.  The individual surveys returned by PhD recipients demonstrate that demographic statistics remained consistent with past years’ surveys where female respondents continued outnumber males 65% to 35% for 2009-2010 at the same ratio as in 2008-2009.  In terms of ethnicity, the majority of respondents were White (59%), a small decrease from last year’s results in which 64% were White.  Hispanic, African-American, and Asian respondents each represented about 12% of respondents, and there were 6% Native American respondents, all higher percentages than last year.

Statistics on employment show the 24% of people found immediate employment with tenure-track jobs, down approximately 12% from last year’s estimates.  Those not finding tenure-track positions found work in other fields such as in the non-profit sector but most (30%) took part-time teaching appointments.  Only 3 respondents were still actively seeking employment.  Among those hired for teaching positions, there was an even distribution between fields.  PhD recipients found employment in American Studies, Asian American Studies, English, History, Multicultural Studies, and Political Studies in almost equal numbers.  Overall, then, newly minted PhDs in American Studies and related fields are finding employment upon completion of their programs of study, although not always in their desired field.  American Studies job seekers continue to have to be prepared to look at other academic disciplines, accept part-time positions for the time being, or pursue other non-teaching career paths.

Financial aid statistics remained similar to last years’ reported figures of academic debt and support.  The data continues to indicate that the expense of obtaining a PhD remains high for many.  Like last year’s survey, about 46% of respondents said they were able to leave their programs with no school-related debt.  18% reported between $5,000 and $30,000 of academic-related debt.  Unfortunately, nearly 12% of all respondents had reported debt exceeding $50,000, up 3% from last year.  Thus, while students may not depend on loans as their primary means of assistance, they are nevertheless continuing to borrowing at alarming rates.

Again, as in years past, greatest percentage of those graduating continues to fall into the 31-35 year-old category (71%) and only 12% of those surveyed were able to obtain their degrees by the age of 30.  For most (88%), the average time to degree was still 5-10 years, slightly up from last year’s 84%.

Overall, despite the continued economic environment, we are glad to report that this year, as last year, students are continuing to finish about the same decreased level of debt, higher job placement rate, and faster finishing times than in the past years.  The major up trend is the 135% more individuals completed their PhD this past year.

Note: Full results of the ASA surveys (dating to 1996) are available under the “Research” category at