Inside Higher Ed has an interesting piece on the just-released National Research Council report ranking doctoral programs across the U.S. Among other things, the report is criticized for the 4-5 year time lag in producing it, its confusing methodologies, inaccuracies in data, and its disciplinary approach (which is ill-suited for evaluating interdisciplinary programs like the one I teach in).

Among the report’s more interesting general findings are the following. (Remember that the data covers doctoral research programs over the period from the early 1990s to 2005-6.)

 The number of students enrolled has increased in engineering (4%) and in physical sciences (9%) but declined in the social sciences (-5%) and humanities (-12%).

 On average programs in all fields have experienced a growth in the percentage of female students. The smallest growth (3.4%) was in the humanities fields, which were already heavily female, while the greatest growth (9%) was in engineering — to 22 percent overall. [The IHE piece notes that more recent data show that women have now overtaken men in doctoral degrees awarded in the U. S.]

 The percentage of Ph.D.s awarded to students from underrepresented minority groups has increased for all fields. For example, minority Ph.D.s increased from 5.2% to 10.1% in engineering, and from 5% to 14.4% in the social sciences.

 As was found in the 1995 report, larger programs tend to be more highly ranked. This result holds despite the current study’s primary reliance on per capita measures of scholarly productivity.

 Doctoral education is dominated by public universities, which housed 72% of the doctoral programs ranked in the study. Of the 37 universities that produced the most Ph.D.s from 2002-2006, only 12 were private universities.

 The faculty is not diverse with respect to underrepresented minorities, who make up 5% or less of faculty in all broad fields except the social sciences (7%) and the humanities (11%).

 Over 50 percent of students complete their degree in six years or less in the agricultural sciences and in engineering. In the social sciences 37 percent complete in six years or less, which is the same percentage of humanities students who complete by eight years. [Note to my doctoral students: so it's up to you which model you follow -- humanities, social science, or some hybrid of all three. But it would be nice if you were in that 37%!]

 The majority of students in five fields surveyed for the report — chemical engineering, physics, neuroscience, economics, and English — were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the quality of their program. Over 60% in most fields felt they benefited from the program’s intellectual environment, but only 40% or less of were satisfied with the program-sponsored social interaction. [Note to self: Revive those program pub crawls, or at least brown bag luncheons.]

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