May 28, 2015
Doctoral students at the University of Michigan are completing their degrees at a higher rate than in the past, following changes implemented by the Rackham Graduate School.
Graduate school data indicate more Ph.D. students are receiving their degrees than in the past. Of the Ph.D. students admitted between 2006 and 2010, 79 percent have earned their doctoral degrees or are on track to do so in the next few years.
This compares with a 69 percent completion rate at U-M a few years ago, and with a national completion rate of lower than 60 percent.
"These positive results follow sustained efforts to improve doctoral education, which include more careful review of doctoral programs, more predictable student financial support, better feedback and mentoring, and the adoption of a continuous-enrollment policy," says Janet Weiss, dean of the Rackham Graduate School.
"The campuswide efforts to improve degree completion have had impressive results over the past 10 years," Weiss adds. "While good comparative data are hard to find, the current success of U-M students seems to be outstanding compared to peer institutions of the scale and scope of U-M."
Doctoral students also are more likely to complete their degrees in a reasonable period of time.
Since 2005, the number of students who took 10 years or more to complete their degrees has dropped from 7 percent to 2 percent. The median time to complete a doctorate at U-M also has dropped during that time frame from 6 to 5.4 years.
One of the Rackham changes was the continuous-enrollment policy, which went into effect in the fall of 2010. Under the policy, Ph.D. students register each fall and winter semester until they complete their degrees, unless they are on an approved leave of absence.
This change, Weiss says, helps the faculty and graduate program leaders to keep better track of their students and their academic progress, and to provide help to keep students moving forward.
"Throughout the implementation of continuous enrollment, we worked really hard to make sure there were no unintended downsides for students or for the quality of their scholarly work," Weiss says.
"Rackham took seriously worries about the policy that were expressed by some faculty and students, and monitored the process closely. As a result, none of the expected fears was realized.
"We continue to see strong applications, stable enrollment and narrowing gaps in success for students who had been struggling under the earlier system."
The dean notes that, as a result, 96 percent of new Ph.D. graduates have obtained professional employment after completing their degrees.
As the nation's second-largest producer of Ph.D. graduates (after University of California, Berkeley), U-M awarded 874 Ph.D. degrees during the 2014-15 academic year in more than 100 different fields including the humanities, arts, social sciences, engineering, physical sciences, and biological and health sciences.