Compiled by Andrew Rolfson, ASA Research Coordinator

Each year the American Studies Association surveys Ph.D. 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 as part of the bibliographic record. The survey is based on request to American Studies, American Ethnic Studies, and Women’s Studies programs for lists of dissertations completed between 1 July 2003 and 30 June 2004. The program survey was sent to forty-three universities. Twenty-seven were American Studies programs of which twenty-two replied. Eight were American Ethnic Studies programs of which three replied. Eight were Women’s Studies programs of which three replied. The following programs had no completed dissertations to report: Purdue University; University of Southern California (American Studies); Emory University; University of Iowa; Ohio State University (Women’s Studies). A total of 106 completed dissertations were reported.

The ASA received a total of 47 responses to its survey of individuals. As in the past, female respondents continued to outnumber males (63% to 37%), a disparity which decreased from last year (73% to 27%). In terms of ethnicity, the majority of respondents were white (71%), which fits generally with recent patterns (2002-03: 74%). African Americans made up 15% of the respondent group, up from last year’s 12.5%. Asians made up 11% of respondents, up from 7.5% in 2002-2003. 

The total number of reported dissertations increased this year to 106 from 91. Because of the method used here for collecting reports, it is difficult to tell whether this represents an actual increase in dissertation production across the disciplines. In 2001-2002 a total of 123 dissertations were reported. The difference between this year and last represents a 14% decline.

Statistics on employment indicate the continued existence of discrepancies between the hopes of those obtaining Ph.D.s in American Studies and the reality that awaits them. Of those surveyed, 32% were able to find tenure-track positions (down from 35%). However, 77% indicated that they were seeking tenure-track positions, demonstrating that Ph.D. production continues to outpace the needs of the job market. Last year, 33% of respondents reported having obtained tenure-track positions, while 73% were actively seeking such jobs. Those not locating tenure- track positions found work in several other fields. 32% found other academic employment: 9% in secondary/elementary schools, 11% with full-time term appointments in higher education, and 12% with part-time appointments in the same. The latter two categories indicate that universities and colleges are continuing to replace lost faculty with non-tenure track appointments. Last year, term and part-time appointments combined totaled 15% of hirings registered by the survey. This year that number is 23%. Only 5% of those surveyed this year reported being self-employed, while 9% remained unemployed.

Time and money are the traditional nemeses of graduate students, although there are encouraging signs that demands for the latter are being met in a positive way. 46% of respondents were able to graduate with no school-related debt whatsoever, while another 38% owed $5,000 or less. In all, 89% of those surveyed had less than $20,000 in debt at the time of their graduation. Unfortunately, the other 11% reported having debt of more than $45,000. It is clear that the funding regime that sustains graduate students in American Studies is creating a harsh division between haves and have-nots.

Statistics relating to time-to-completion of degrees indicate a significant trend towards increases in the length of time graduate students spend in school. Over the last four years the majority of respondents have reported needing 5-10 years to complete their degrees: 62% in 2000-2001; 64% in 2001-2002; 68% in 2002-2003. This year that figure has reached the 70% mark. Only 9% of respondents in 2003-2004 were able to obtain a Ph.D. within 5 years. The greatest percentage of those graduating continues to fall into the 31-35 year-old category (38%), while respondents between the ages of 36 and 45 (29%) continue to increase steadily. Only 15% of those surveyed were able to obtain their degrees by the age of 30.