New NRC Doctoral Program Assessment Released–and Debated

The National Research Council has released its latest assessment of U.S. doctoral programs, intended to help universities improve the quality of their programs and prospective students choose those best suited to their abilities and interests.

“This report…will become in our view an important and transparent instrument for strengthening doctoral education in the United States,” the presidents of three of the institutions that, along with the NRC, comprise the National Academies said in a joint statement.

But some experts in higher education say the methodologies used to produce the assessment are too complicated and that the data already are out of date, according to a report from Inside Higher Ed.  Data for the 2010 report are from the 2005-’06 academic year.

The online news source, however, also reported that departments benefiting from the rankings already are analyzing how they can use the data to recruit top faculty and students.

The assessment includes more than 5,000 programs in 62 fields at 212 universities. Data were collected through questionnaires distributed to faculty, administrators and students concerning the following Ph.D. program characteristics such as:

  • Publications per faculty member
  • Citations per publication
  • Percent faculty with grants
  • Awards per faculty member
  • Percent interdisciplinary faculty
  • Average completion percentage

Two different methods were used to determine how much weight faculty members in each field attached to the various characteristics. These weights were then applied to data on the characteristics for all of the programs in the field, resulting in two sets of illustrative rankings for each program.

The study committee also assessed the data to discern trends in U.S. doctoral education since the National Research Council’s last assessment was released in 1995. Among their findings are:

  • The number of students enrolled in the social sciences has declined by 5 percent
  • The percentage of Ph.D.s awarded to students from underrepresented minority groups has increased from 5 percent to 14.4 percent in the social sciences
  • Thirty-seven percent of students in the social sciences complete their degrees in six years or less

Learn more about the report »