Compiled by Kristin Linder, ASA Research Coordinator

Each year, the American Studies Association surveys PhD-granting programs in American studies and American ethnic studies in order to compile a bibliography of doctoral dissertations.  Individual recipients are also surveyed in order to gauge trends in demography and employment among graduates. The ASA collects dissertation abstracts 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, 2008 and June 30, 2009.

The survey was sent to forty-three universities and/or departments and a total of 35 dissertations were reported, which represents a decrease of almost 59% from last year, where 85 were reported.  The individual surveys returned by Ph.D. recipients demonstrate that demographic statistics remained consistent with past years’ surveys, where female respondents outnumber males, this year 65% to 35%, 75% to 25%for 2007-2008 and 58% to 42% for 2006-2007.  In terms of ethnicity, the majority of respondents were White (64%), an decrease from last year’s results in which 89% were White.  Of other respondents, 20% were African-American, two Native American, two Asian and one Hispanic.

Statistics on employment showed that 38% 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 several other fields including secondary schools, non-profit organizations, and museums/public history but most (26%) received post-Doctoral fellowships.  20% of respondents took full-time renewable and non-renewable teaching appointments.  Only 3 respondents were still actively seeking employment.  Among those hired for teaching positions, it was weighted to employment in American Studies, History, and English, with a few respondents employed in other fields including Law.  Overall, Ph.D.s in American Studies and related fields are finding employment upon completion of their programs of study, largely in what they reported as their desired field and location.

Financial aid statistics, though offering some positive news, seem to indicate the expense of obtaining a Ph.D. continues to rise 46% of respondents said they were able to leave their programs with no school-related debt, up 3% from last year.  Only 9% of respondents reported debt exceeding $50,000, which is a great improvement from last year when 18% claimed such debt.  The rest of the breakdown places 15% with debt between $30-50,000, 6% with debt between $15-30,000, and 22% with debt between $0-15,000.  In conclusion, 68% of Ph.Ds are finishing with debt between $0-15,000, a very positive trend from past years.

The greatest percentage of those graduating continues to fall into the 31-35 year-old category (53%) but 38% of those surveyed were able to obtain their degrees by the age of 30.  For most (84%), the average time to degree was 5-10 years, a large increase from last year (56%).  13% finished their degrees in under 5 years, with only one respondent taking over 10 years.

Despite the concerning economic environment, this year we gladly report that students are finishing with less debt, higher job placement, and in faster times than previous years.  The major down trend is the number that finished this past year, which was down 59%.

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