Compiled by Andrew Rolfson, 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 www.theasa.net) 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 1 July 2004 and 30 June 2005. The program survey was sent to 43 universities. Twenty-seven were American Studies programs of which twenty-one replied. Eight were American Ethnic Studies programs of which two replied. Eight were Women’s Studies programs of which three replied. The following programs had no completed dissertations to report: University of Southern California; University of Kansas; University of Hawaii; University of Michigan; Claremont Graduate University (American Studies); Emory University (Women’s Studies). A total of 93 completed dissertations were reported. The total number of reported dissertations decreased this year from 106 in 2003-04. Because of the method used for collecting reports, it is difficult to tell whether this represents an actual decrease in dissertation production across the disciplines. In 2002-03 there were 91 reported dissertations; in 2001-02, the number was 123.
The ASA received a total of 41 responses to its survey of individuals. Continuing a trend, female respondents outnumbered male respondents (61% to 39%), although the gap has closed somewhat in recent years (in 2002-03, the ratio was 73% to 27%; in 2003-04, it was 63% to 37%). In terms of ethnicity, 67% of respondents were white, which marks roughly a ten percent reduction in that proportion over the last two years (2002-03: 74%; 2003-04: 71%). African Americans made up 15% of the respondent group, while Asians constituted 12%; the representation of both groups is consistent with last year’s results.
This year’s employment statistics continue to indicate discrepancies between the hopes of those obtaining Ph.D.s in American Studies and the job markets they confront. Of those surveyed, 37% were able to find tenure-track positions (up from 32% in 2003-04). However, during the last three years the percentage of respondents who list a tenure-track position as their primary employment goal has risen: in 2002-03, the proportion was 73%; last year, it was 77%; this year it increased to 83%. Those not locating tenure-track positions found employment in several other fields. 36% found other academic employment: 7% in secondary/elementary schools, 12% with full-time term appointments in higher education, and 17% with part-time appointments in the same. These employment statistics speak to two basic realities. First, Ph.D. production, in the context of the intentions of candidates, continues to outpace the needs of the job market. Although it is difficult to explain why this is so, it is a helpful reminder to Graduate Program directors and faculty advisors that they have a responsibility to effectively counsel graduate students about their employment prospects. Secondly, it is clear that universities and colleges are continuing to replace lost faculty with non-tenure track appointments. Two years ago, term and part-time appointments combined totaled 15% of hirings registered by the survey. Last year that number was 23%; this year it is 29%. The methods used here do not allow for the conclusion that such hiring practices have increased by about 100% in three years, but it is clear that institutions are turning in that direction.
Disparity between levels of debt for groups of students also continues. On a positive note, 41% of respondents were able to graduate with no school-related debt whatsoever, while another 39% owed $5,000 or less. In all 87% of those surveyed had less than $20,000 in debt at the time of their graduation. Unfortunately, the remaining 13% all reported having debts of more than $45,000. These figures roughly correspond to those reported last year, indicating that the funding regime that supports graduate students in American Studies continues to create a serious division between haves and have-nots.
Statistics also indicate a continuing trend towards increases in time-to-completion of degrees. Over the last five years the majority of respondents have reported that they required between 5 and 10 years to complete their programs, but the number has steadily increased from 62% to 72% along the way. In 2004-05, only 3 respondents (7%) reported having obtained their Ph.D.s in less than 5 years. The largest percentage of those graduating continues to fall into the 31-35 year-old category (44%; last year, 38%), while the proportion of respondents between the ages of 36 and 45 continued to increase steadily (34%). Only 14%of respondents were able to obtain their degrees by the age of 30.