We’ve posted before about the challenging job market for humanities PhDs and the disparities in funding between doctoral programs in the humanities/social sciences and those in fields like business and engineering. A new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, citing research by the Council of Graduate Schools, reports that new enrollment in humanities PhD programs declined 0.5 % from 2013-14, continuing a downward trend over the past several years (humanities enrollments dropped an average of 1 percent a year between 2009-2014).
Over the same period, overall doctoral enrollment (across all fields) has increased, with especially strong gains in Engineering (up 6.4% in 2013-14) and the Health Sciences (up 9.4% in 2013-14, and an average of 11.1% between 2009-14).
There are a few explanations for the decline in humanities PhD enrollment. Part of the falloff is due to some departments adjusting their class sizes downward and increasing stipends— which is, at many universities, a move to fund students fully/competitively (and closer to what students in other fields are paid). And some is likely due, as the CHE’s piece points out, to applicants making a serious assessment of the state of the academic market in the humanities, and simply deciding not to pursue grad school.
However, the CHE simultaneously explores some of the forces that make a true “market correction” unlikely: a strong graduate program enhances the reputation of a university, so many schools are more likely to grow their grad programs rather than shrink them; and universities rely on grad student instructors to teach their undergraduates.
As a humanities PhD who counsels graduate school applicants across fields, I am keenly interested in these developments. Given the contraction of the academic market, it seems not just logical but also humane to reduce class sizes and ease (somewhat) the oversupply of humanities PhDs. At the same time, these moves won’t affect the deeper systemic problems with the academic job market (such as an increasing reliance on badly paid contingent faculty). In my experience, PhD applicants are a thoughtful bunch, and I hope they’ll evaluate the changing landscape of humanities grad training and the academic market with care.
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted.com consultant since 2008, former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of the ebook, Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Dr. Blustein, who earned her Ph.D. at UCLA, assists our clients applying to MS, MA, and Ph.D. programs. She is happy to assist you with your grad school applications.