Compiled by Barry McCarron, 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, 2007 and June 30, 2008.

The survey was sent to forty-three universities and/or departments and a total of 85 dissertations were reported, which represents a substantial increase of almost 75% from last year, where only 48 were reported. The individual surveys returned by PhD recipients demonstrate that demographic statistics remained consistent with past years’ surveys, where female respondents outnumber males, 75% to 25% for 2007-2008 and 58% to 42% for 2006-2007. In terms of ethnicity, the majority of respondents were White (89%), an increase from last year’s results in which 73% were White. There were two Hispanic and one African-American respondent.

Statistics on employment show some positive trends. 50% of people found immediate employment with tenure-track jobs, up approximately 15% on 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 (20%) took part-time teaching appointments. Only 2 respondents were still actively seeking employment, and no one reported being unemployed. Among those hired for teaching positions, there was an even distribution between fields. PhD recipients found employment in American Studies, History, English, and other academic fields in almost exactly the same 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 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, though offering some positive news, seem to indicate the expense of obtaining a PhD continues to rise. 43% of respondents said they were able to leave their programs with no school-related debt, and 72% reported that university-related aid was their primary means of support. Only three respondents indicated that student loans were their primary means of support—a number that is consistent with the results of the previous two years. Unfortunately, nearly a fifth of all respondents (about 18%) reported debt exceeding $50,000. Thus, while students may not depend on loans as their primary means of assistance, they are nevertheless borrowing at alarming rates.

The greatest percentage of those graduating continues to fall into the 31-35 year-old category (57%) and only 7% of those surveyed were able to obtain their degrees by the age of 30. For most (56%), the average time to degree was still 5-10 years, unchanged from last year.