Compiled by Molly Thacker, 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, 2014 and June 30, 2015.

The survey was sent to 64 departments and a total of 61 dissertations were reported in the 2013-2014 school year, and 95 dissertations were reported in the 2014-2015 school year. While this number represents a drop from 2012-2013, when 124 were reported, it is suggestive of a positive trend, as an average of 78 dissertations were reported between 2008-2011. The individual surveys returned by PhD recipients indicate that demographic patterns have remained, on the whole, relatively consistent, with a few variations. Between 2008-2013, female respondents consistently outnumbered males. In the 2011-2012 school year, females outnumbered males at a 64% to 36%. For this survey, the ratio was nearly reversed, with 61% of respondents reporting as male and 39% as female. This year 61% of respondents listed their ethnicity as White, almost exactly in line with the average for previous years (2011-2012 was an outlier year, with 81% of respondents listing their ethnicity as White). Respondents listing themselves as Asian came to approximately 25%, which is the highest average since the ASA has been collecting this demographic data. Those reporting themselves as African American constituted 11% of respondents, which is also in line with previous years’ averages. The 2012-2013 survey reported that 15% of respondents were African American, and 5% on the 2011-2012 survey. Only one respondent listed an ethnicity as Hispanic, and no respondents reported Native American ethnicity.

This survey’s job report suggests a continued difficulty in obtaining tenure track positions. According to the 2009 survey, 24% of respondents had found a tenure-track position in the year following graduation. The 2012-2013 survey listed only 12% finding tenure-track positions. This year is shows a slight improvement, with 18% reporting a tenure-track position. Nonetheless, many respondents have found academic employment, with 28% of respondents reporting full-time, one-year placements (7% renewable positions and 21% nonrenewable) and 21% of respondents working at a part-time educational position. All told, 67% of recent graduates have found academic employment, a significant increase in the 2012-2013 survey’s average of 41% reporting academic employment. The number of recent graduates finding post-doctoral fellowships is 11%, a decrease from the previous survey’s average of 21% with post-doc fellowships. A small number of respondents (11%) reported occupations outside of the academy, either at publishing companies or in museums. And finally, 11% of respondents found themselves still seeking employment, a small decrease from 2012-2013’s 18% average and a substantial improvement from 2010-2011’s figure of 28% still seeking employment. All told, these numbers confirm that newly minted PhDs continue to face a difficult job market, and are responding by taking on part-time and non-renewal positions, or searching for positions outside of the academy. With almost 80% of respondents reporting that their postgraduate employment plans entail working at a four-year college or university, this disparity between desired and actual positions remains an issue.

Financial aid statistics present another interesting disparity in recent American Studies doctoral graduates. A large majority of respondents either graduated debt free or owed over $50,000 upon graduation. Most graduates reported to be debt free, with 39%, a slight decrease from the 2012-2013 average of 44%, but a distinct improvement from 2010-2011, when only 23% of recent graduates reported being debt-free. The second most common financial situation was to be in debt of over $50,000, with 29% reporting owing this amount upon graduation. That figure is the highest percentage ever reported. The 2012-2013 survey reported 20% with over $50,000 in debt, 2011-2012 was 18%, and notably higher than the average for 2007 through 2009, which sat at about 13%. The amount of debt in between those two extremes varied. Approximately 18% reported a debt under $10,000. In the middle ranges of debt, we find 15% reported some figure between $15,000 and $40,000. In sum, the number of those graduating with no debt seems to have reached a more optimistic figure, yet the amount of debt on the whole continues to be high.

Statistics on the average age at which American studies scholars finish their doctorates do not demonstrate any notable changes this year.  As in years past, the most common age upon graduation falls between 30 and 35. This survey demonstrates about 79% of respondents falling into this range, with the most common age at degree completion being 33 years old. The youngest PhD reported was 29 years of age, with the oldest at approximately 41 years. The average length of time to complete the PhD was slightly longer than 7 years; the most common length of time to completion was 6 years, with a broad range of 5 years being the shortest and 12 years being the longest amount of time towards degree completion reported. These statistics are in line with previous surveys.

Overall, the economic environment appears to be continuing to make its mark on recent graduates of doctoral programs in American studies and related fields, with fewer recent graduates finding tenure-track academic positions than in previous years, but larger numbers obtaining part-time or temporary positions. General demographic trends remained relatively consistent, but with a noticeable increase in scholars reporting Asian descent, and a decrease in African American, Hispanic, and Native American graduates.