November 20, 2001 Feature

Where Have All the PhDs Gone?

Academics Seek Solutions to Doctoral Crisis

One yardstick to gauge the number of teacher-scholars in a discipline is the number of applicants for faculty positions. In fields such as English and chemistry, there are often scores of applicants for an academic opening, notes Cheryl Scott, ASHA vice president for academic affairs. But in communication sciences and disorders (CSD), she says, data suggest that the number of applicants is far fewer and that 1–2 years pass before a faculty position is filled with a qualified individual.

The crisis in doctoral shortage is creating a ripple effect. The dearth of doctorally prepared faculty may result in fewer students being accepted into academic programs and may force some smaller programs to close. The quality of programs may be affected by a higher student-faculty ratio, a reliance on adjunct professors, and a faculty overburdened with teaching responsibilities that detract from research. Fewer researchers and a decline in research productivity may lead to a void in clinical and basic research that would be filled by those from other fields, such as linguistics or psychology, conducting research. This decline in research conducted by doctorally prepared faculty in our discipline may in turn lead to a loss of clinical application, research autonomy, and funding sources in CSD.

"As a discipline, ours is still relatively young," said Scott, a visiting professor in communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern University in Illinois. "The field never had an abundance of PhDs, and now a second generation PhDs are rapidly approaching retirement age."

While the professorate began a generational changing of the guard in the 1990s as senior faculty eyed retirement, student demographics changed. Undergraduate enrollment in CSD swelled to a record high of about 35,400 students in 1998–1999—an increase of 22.5% from 1996–1997 and the sixth consecutive increase in a decade, according to the Council of Academic Programs in Communications Sciences and Disorders (CAPCSD).

Despite record numbers of students, the number of graduate programs has remained constant over more than two decades. The majority are terminal master’s degree programs that provide professional education—classroom and clinical work—which prepares students to meet entry-level requirements for clinical practice.

Graduate programs in CSD—unlike English or history—are not found at every academic institution in the United States, so prospective students are not always aware of the discipline. There are currently 240 institutions in the United States that offer graduate education programs accredited by or in candidacy with ASHA’s Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA), including 228 master’s programs in speech-language pathology and 104 graduate programs in audiology. At the doctoral level, even fewer programs exist—there are less than 50 traditional doctoral programs culminating in a PhD. "Typically, master’s students do not have an opportunity to see PhD students working toward a teaching and research career," Scott said.

"Of course, there are undergraduates with an avid interest in research," she noted. "There are also master’s students as well as faculty in master’s programs doing research—but it’s not enough to turn the tide."

For audiology, the picture is even more complex. As the profession makes a transition to requiring a clinical doctorate as the entry-level degree by 2012, the impact on students pursuing a traditional PhD degree is unknown.

Students who are contemplating a doctorate often weigh the cost-benefit of the degree, said Debra Busacco, ASHA’s director of academic affairs. "While a PhD provides research training in preparation for a position as a teacher-scholar, there are multi-faceted reasons for obtaining this degree," she said. Students may be unaware of the multiple career tracks for those with a PhD degree and of the ability to combine responsibilities in teaching, research, clinical service, administration, and consulting, Busacco said.

As a teacher and researcher at Southwest Missouri State University, Julie Masterson stated, "At least 90% of my day is spent on things that are exciting for me. I am able to choose what to study and teach courses that I am interested in. The course content is continually modified because of my own research, as well as the work of others."

The current generation of teacher-scholars needs to ignite students’ interest in research, said Masterson, ASHA’s vice president for research and technology. To help students prepare for a research career, ASHA recently hosted a telephone seminar on doctoral education in CSD (see story at right).

Reflecting Higher Education

Trends in doctoral education ebb and flow—and the dearth of PhD-prepared faculty in CSD may be a reflection of higher education trends. For example:

  • For the first time in 14 years, the number of research doctorates awarded by U.S. universities declined, dropping by 3.6% in 1999, according to the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center.
  • Approximately 50% of all graduate students who enter PhD programs do not complete them and most leave the first year, a proportion that is higher for students in the humanities than in the sciences, according to Barbara Lovitts in Leaving the Ivory Tower: The Causes and Consequences of Departure From Doctoral Study (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001).
  • Women in academia continue to face gender-related challenges. In CSD, women comprise 67% of faculty, but male faculty had a base salary of $13,435 more than females. The disparity is accounted for in part by the greater number of women holding lower ranking academic positions, according to the CAPCSD Salary Survey of Graduate and Undergraduate Programs.

These trends may be disincentives for students to pursue a PhD and affect the discipline’s ability to recruit and retain faculty. To reverse this situation, national programs such as Preparing Future Faculty have come to the forefront to mentor aspiring professors for their future roles (see story below).

A Joint Effort

Diverse opinions exist on the nature and root causes to the shortage of PhD faculty, and two organizations with a stake in finding a solution will come together this month for the first time to address this issue. ASHA and the CAPCSD have formed a Joint Ad Hoc Committee on the Critical Shortage of Doctoral Students and Faculty.

"Many people have tried to make a difference over the past decade, but for change to occur, the effort has to be broad, coordinated, and integrated into a comprehensive strategic plan," said Kim Wilcox, ASHA’s co-chair for the joint ad hoc committee.

This committee has been charged with developing strategies to increase the number of doctoral students in CSD, retain and increase current doctoral faculty, and create strategies for educating students in the current climate of doctoral faculty shortages.

The first challenge will be to define the scope of the problem, Wilcox said. "Our plan is to review the problem and collect data on existing shortages, as well as factors that continue to contribute to the shortages," he said. The committee will have an action plan in place within the year, to be implemented by both ASHA and the CAPCSD. There ’s no time to lose, Wilcox said. "If we aren’t successful in reversing the trend, the discipline is in serious jeopardy."

cite as: Boswell, S. (2001, November 20). Where Have All the PhDs Gone? : Academics Seek Solutions to Doctoral Crisis. The ASHA Leader.

Preparing Future Faculty: A Model Program

The communication sciences and disorders (CSD) department at Howard University in Washington, DC, has the distinction of being one of the few CSD departments to participate in Preparing Future Faculty (PFF), a national model designed to prepare the next generation of faculty members.

Howard was one of the founding universities to participate in this national program to transform doctoral education. PFF was organized by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Association of American Colleges and Universities with funds from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Since it began in 1994, the program has grown to include 43 doctorate-granting institutions and 295 partner institutions.

"Students have a chance to prepare for the professorate as they go behind the scenes to see what a professor’s day is like and get hands-on teaching experience," said Orlando Taylor, dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences and director of the PFF program at Howard.

Once they are accepted into the PFF program, students take a required course taught by faculty throughout the university, which provides an overview of legal issues, teaching methodology, distance learning, and the rights and needs of students with disabilities.

Students also participate in seminars taught by faculty and administrators around the country on college teaching, professional issues, and career issues. They also are required to teach a class.

PFF pairs students with mentors who help them find a job, prepare for an interview, and select an academic setting that matches the student’s needs and interests. Faculty participation in the program is considered by Howard University in annual pay raises, promotion, and tenure, Taylor noted.

PFF is more than a teaching development program. Students travel to academic institutions across the nation so that they can experience academic life at different institutions, as well as the unique balance of teaching, professional service, and governance responsibilities that faculty assume.

"PFF definitely gave me a realistic picture of the components involved in teaching and exposed me to a variety of academic settings," said Angela Grice, a Howard University doctoral student in speech-language pathology.

About 75 students participate in PFF annually and, by the end of this year, four CSD students will complete the program. More than 95% of Howard’s PFF graduates take faculty positions and succeed.

For more information about PFF, visit http://www.preparing-faculty.org or visit Howard University’s PFF Web site at www.gs.howard.edu/PFF/.



  

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