Ongoing efforts to strengthen academic quality and student experiences across the university are leading to increased degree completion rates and successful career placement for U-M Ph.D. graduates.
Across the country students seeking a doctoral degree are met with a wall of concerns ranging from the burden of committing years to an intensive program with high dropout rates, or for those who do complete their degree, questions about the availability of career opportunities.
“Our strategy is to maintain our excellence while also addressing the national concerns by steady commitment to improvement, accountability and high aspirations for Ph.D. study at the university,” says Janet Weiss, dean of the Rackham Graduate School and vice provost for academic affairs, who presented the latest data during the March 20 Board of Regents meeting.
Ph.D. students at U-M are completing their degrees at a significantly higher rate than the national average. For U-M students who entered their degree program between 1996 through 2000, 69 percent earned their doctoral degree by the fall of 2013.
That is 12 percentage points higher than the national average of 57 percent in roughly the same timeframe, according to data from the Council of Graduate Schools’ Ph.D. Completion Project.
As a result of changes in policy and practice designed to improve degree completion, success rates of U-M students who entered Ph.D. study since 2000 have steadily increased with each cohort. Weiss estimates that 74 percent of students who entered their degree program between 2001 through 2005 will earn a Ph.D., and those students who began after 2006 are even more likely to complete their programs.
Michigan Ph.D. graduates also experience considerable success in their careers after graduating. Over the past five years, 95 percent of doctoral graduates have found professional employment within the first year following graduation despite searching in a highly competitive job market. And the numbers improved in 2012 with only 3 percent still in the job hunt after completing their degrees.
“We are committed to our students’ success in their program and preparing them for their future,” Weiss says. “Working with faculty across campus, the Rackham Graduate School has focused on providing competitive financial support, opportunities for skill development and job search advice, and better mentoring and advising. “
In addition to higher completion rates and strong career placement, the efforts have resulted in a number of other successes, positioning U-M as a national leader in doctoral education, including:
• Increased underrepresented minority enrollment to more than 500 — the highest levels in 10 years — and a higher percentage of Ph.D.s earned by underrepresented minorities than the national average (14 percent compared to 12.5 percent among U.S. citizen Ph.D. recipients).
• Improved funding resulting in less need for student debt with 94 percent of Ph.D. students fully funded with tuition and stipends.
• Increased success in publication of student research, with 88 percent of 2013 graduates having published at least one paper during graduate school, and 31 percent having published five or more.
• Substantial support for student parents including free Grad Care health insurance for families and child care subsidies.
• Shorter median time to degree at 5.4 years, compared to 5.7 years for U-M peers among the Association of American Universities.
• Leader in recipients of Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowships for six of the past 10 years.
As one of the nation’s top research universities for doctoral education, U-M awarded 850 Ph.D. degrees last year in more than 100 different fields including the humanities, social sciences, engineering, mathematics and sciences and biological and health sciences.
“One of our most noteworthy efforts to improve academic quality is the Rackham program review,” Weiss added.
The Graduate School reviews each graduate program every four years to look at strengths and identify areas for improvement. In return, faculty leaders use the review process to make changes to the graduate programs that improve the student experience while maintaining academic rigor.
In 2010, the university implemented the Continuous Enrollment Policy, which also contributed to the increase in completion rates. 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.
“The policy has helped faculty leaders to keep track of their students’ academic progress, and provide help in a timely manner to keep students moving forward,” Weiss says.
“Excellence in Ph.D. education is fundamental to the quality and reputation of a research university. Great Ph.D. programs help to recruit outstanding faculty, enrich the research environment, provide inspiring models for undergraduates and build alumni networks of faculty and leaders in professions all over the world.”
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