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History Ph.D.'s: In and Out

January 5, 2007

It's not easy to get into history Ph.D. programs and it's not speedy to finish up.

Those conclusions are evident from new data from the American Historical Association, which started its annual meeting Thursday, in Atlanta.

History departments in the United States with doctoral programs received an average of 74.1 applications  for the fall 2007 term and anticipate enrolling an average of 9.1 students. Those departments report currently having an average of 54.7 students, 62 percent of whom are receiving financial aid and 33 percent of whom are working as teaching assistants.

Of course for many observers of graduate education, the crucial question is whether students finish up. A majority in history do so, but for most it takes more than five years, and significant numbers also drop out -- many after at least five years in the program.

Status of History Ph.D. Students (Averages Reported by Departments)

Status Students Admitted 5 Years Ago Students Admitted 10 Years Ago
Completed 24% 59%
In Progress 55% 9%
Quit 16% 26%
Unknown 5% 7%

The analysis -- which was done by Robert B. Townsend, the history association's assistant director for research and publications -- also looked at the impact of program size on completion rates. Larger programs appear to have better completion rates, but smaller programs do better than those that are medium sized. (For purposes of the study, the AHA considered programs large if they conferred at least seven Ph.D.'s on average a year, while small programs conferred fewer than 2.5 a year on average.)

After 10 years, 61 percent of those in large programs had completed, while the figures were 59 percent for small programs, and 53 percent for medium programs. At that same time period, the percentage of students who had quit were as follows: 26 percent for large programs, 24 percent for small, 27 percent for medium.

 

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