Compiled by Christopher A. Morrison, ASA Publications Coordinator

Each year the American Studies Association surveys universities with Ph.D. granting programs in American Studies, American Ethnic Studies, and Women’s Studies to compile a bibliographic record of doctoral dissertations. Individual Ph.D. recipients are then surveyed so that we might gauge demographic and employment trends. The ASA also collects dissertation abstracts as part of the bibliographic record.

The Ph.D. recipients survey is based upon requests to American Studies, American Ethnic Studies, and Women’s Studies programs for lists of doctoral dissertations completed between July 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003. The requests were sent to 43 universities. 27 were American Studies programs of which 24 replied. 8 were American Ethnic Studies programs of which 3 replied. 8 were Women’s Studies programs of which 5 replied. The following programs had no completed dissertations to report: University of Iowa (Women’s Studies); Ohio State University (Women’s Studies); University of Southern California; University of Washington (Women’s Studies). A total of 91 dissertations were reported, including 5 independently submitted dissertations. Of the 86 dissertations reported by the departments, 75 were in American Studies, 8 were in Ethnic Studies, and 3 were in Women’s Studies. After the programs provided their lists of completed doctoral dissertations, individual surveys and dissertation abstract forms were sent to the Ph.D. recipients. The list of dissertations by program is available online.

The ASA received a total of 40 responses to its survey of individuals having completed dissertations in 2002-2003. As in the past, female respondents continued to outnumber males (73% to 27%) and the disparity increased significantly from last year (54% women to 46% men for 2001-2002). By way of national comparison, women earned 51% of all doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens in 2002, marking the first time that U.S. women were awarded more doctorates than U.S. men (see The majority of respondents to the ASA survey were white (65%), and this remained consistent with last year’s 62%. African Americans made up the next largest group at 12.5% (down from last year’s 18%), followed by Asians at 7.5% (down from 10%) and Hispanics at 7.5% (up from 4.5%)

The 2002-2003 survey showed a continuation of the trend of declining Ph.D. production in American Studies and related fields. Overall, there was a 30% decrease from 2001-2002 in the number of dissertations reported in American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Women’s Studies. There were 123 dissertations reported for these fields in 2001-2002 (which was a 20% decrease from the previous year), while only 86 were reported for 2002-2003. The statistics are similar when we look at American Studies separately, where the 100 dissertations reported last year decreased to 75 American Studies dissertations completed this year (a 25% decline). This decline in American Studies Ph.D. production coincides with a general decline in Ph.D. production at American research universities. Last year the number of Ph.D.s granted declined by 2% (6% since 1998).

While Ph.D. production has slowed, statistics on employment have not changed dramatically from last year. Of those surveyed by the ASA, 35% were able to find tenure-track positions (up 2%). Yet, 68% indicated that they were seeking a tenure track position (also up 2%). Thus, the number of new Ph.D.s seeking tenure track positions continues to outpace the number that found such positions by 2:1. The 2% increase in the number of people seeking tenure track positions marks a halt in the steady decline of past years, from 85% in 1999-2000, to 73% in 2000-2001, to 66% in 2001-2002. Over the same period, the number of respondents obtaining tenure track positions fluctuated, peaking at 39% in 1999-2000, dropping to 26% in 2000-2001, and coming back up to 33% in 2001-2002.

The above numbers include all disciplines in which respondents found tenure track employment. A breakdown by discipline reveals that very few new Ph.D.s found positions in American Studies (11% of those who found tenure track positions). Most respondents obtained positions in English (39%) or Other (predominantly Ethnic Studies) (39%), along with 11% in History. The tenure track employment picture is thus somewhat mixed. The production of fewer American Studies Ph.D.s in recent years has not coincided with the availability of more tenure track jobs in American Studies for new Ph.D. recipients. The interdisciplinary flexibility of American Studies and related degrees, however, continues to allow new Ph.D.s to cross a number of disciplinary boundaries to find tenure-track positions in other areas.

Those not locating tenure track positions found work in several other fields. 30% obtained some form of academic employment, with the highest numbers in secondary/elementary schools (10%), full-time appointments (7.5%), and part-time appointments (7.5%). 12.5% reported self-employment, while non-profit organizations, museums/public history, and government were reported in small numbers. 7.5% of respondents were still actively seeking employment, whereas 11% of respondents remained unemployed at the time of last year’s survey.

Overall, then, newly minted Ph.D.s 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 apparently 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.

Finally, this year’s survey indicates that, although the amount of time required to complete the degree remained stable, Ph.D. recipients were better able to finish their program without incurring an overwhelming debt burden. For the large and gradually increasing majority of respondents (68%), the average time to degree remained 5-10 years, compared to last year’s 64% and the previous year’s 62%. As in the past, most respondents were between the ages of 31-35 (48%, up 2% from last year), with only 10% between the ages of 25-30. Despite the time required to complete the degree, 40% of respondents reported that they were able to leave their programs with no school-related debt (up 9% from last year), and 60% reported that university-related aid was their primary means of support. Only 7.5% indicated student loans as a primary means of support (down 20.5% from last year). Among those who reported carrying some school-related debt upon graduation, the proportion that owed larger sums also diminished. For the 2002-2003 survey respondents, 33% owed $5000 or less (up 24% from last year) and 58% owed $15,000 or less (up 28%), while 16% owed 50,001 or more (down 7%).

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