Recently there has been much discussion about the decreased number of students pursuing the doctorate in communication science and disorders (CSD) and the resultant shortage of faculty to staff our discipline's programs of study. Although the causes of this circumstance are debatable, its consequences are clear. If we are unable to recruit, prepare, and retain the best minds into our specialized areas of study, we will likely fail to meet our scientific, clinical, and educational/training responsibilities. If, however, in our urgency to increase the number of PhD recipients, we compromise the quality of student selection and program expectations, we will surely diminish the stature and reputation of our field as a dynamic and rigorously demanding enterprise.
Such failures may soon be followed by loss of funding for research, diminished respect for our journals and strength of our "spokespersons" status in the nation's debate about issues of special importance and, ultimately, the loss of the profession's autonomy. But even if we could immediately develop and implement corrective measures, results are at least four-plus years away, given time-in-the-pipeline effects. Indeed, nothing about this picture is pretty.
Recent ASHA Omnibus and Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders survey data tell us that over the past 20 years the number of PhD programs in CSD has grown by 20%, now reaching 61, with the increase accounted for mainly by the addition of programs in speech and language pathology. The average number of applicants for admission to doctoral study in CSD per year, per program, is about nine. With many students applying to multiple programs, it is not surprising that some programs fail to recruit new doctoral students each year. We learn that 24% of the enrolled doctoral students are entirely self-supporting, 20% receive partial tuition waivers, and only 22% are supported through faculty-generated research funds (note that some of these categories are overlapping). We also know that more than half of CSD doctoral students are enrolled in the field's smaller-sized programs of less than 15 students. Considering that these data are "entire-department" based and many departments offer degrees in a number of sub-areas, we can see that establishing a critical mass of doctoral students in any specific area is often difficult.
The relatively small number of PhDs produced each year in the speech, language, and hearing sciences (SLHS)-less than an average of 100 per year over the past five years-also has had a tremendous impact on how our field's science is viewed by the National Research Council (NRC) and its nationwide science-based constituencies. Under existing NRC criteria, our field does not reach the minimum number of doctorates awarded over a specified time span that is required for inclusion in their taxonomy of research doctorate programs.
In 2003, Steven Barlow of the University of Kansas (in a personal communication) objected to this unfortunate, but nonetheless likely, scenario. He cautioned that the implications of such an NRC action will be to severely underestimate, ignore, and otherwise fail to acknowledge the importance of our field's theoretically driven research and thus misrepresent the true nature of doctoral education within the SLHS. Barlow concluded that by excluding SLHS from the taxonomy, the NRC will send a negative signal to our research faculty and current students and, ultimately, it may deter prospective doctoral students from entering our discipline.
While standardized measures describing the academic/intellectual quality of doctoral students entering CSD over any extended past period of time are apparently not available, there are at least anecdotally based beliefs that the "average" quality of students applying for doctoral study is lower than in the past. Further, a citation search of pertinent journals revealed that a number of persons who identified themselves in a 1998-1999 guide to doctoral programs in CSD as "qualified to serve as doctoral student advisors" do not appear to have active research programs that regularly result in refereed publications. When faculty vacancies in CSD are advertised, there are only 2.3 applicants per open tenure-line position, and thus many positions go unfilled.
Bowen and Rudenstine's In Pursuit of the PhD discusses trends in graduate education in the humanities, social sciences, and science. The authors report that many disciplines have experienced significant increases in the overall number of doctoral degree-granting programs, with major reductions in the proportion of degrees conferred by the established more highly rated programs. They question how many strong centers of graduate education with sufficient critical mass and quality are needed to sustain an overall enterprise and the relationship between program size, quality, and effectiveness.
As these issues are considered, we are urged to recognize the positive impact a PhD program may have upon a university's ability to enhance its standing and reputation and its capacity to recruit and retain high-quality faculty and students. Bowen and Rudenstine tell us that there are often compelling institutional reasons for sustaining doctoral programs, even if they fall below expectations with respect to quality or size. Judgments that may seem reasonable, cost-effective, and conducive to a higher quality education often appear at odds with the priorities of individual institutions.
In CSD another point to ponder is whether we are directing students away from the PhD course of study by virtue of developing the professional doctorate option. Currently, there is mixed thought with some observations supporting this belief, while others suggest that the respective pools of candidates for these degrees do not overlap. This question deserves further study. Regardless of the outcome, however, it is likely that the professional doctorate holder will not qualify for PhD major professor status.
Of further concern is the possibility that, given the current budget crisis in higher education, universities will have to decide to hire PhD or professional doctorate appointees unless additional resources can be found to simultaneously employ science and professional-level faculty. Compound this with the fact that many PhD holders already choose non-academic careers, and we can envision a future marked by an insufficient number of mentor-major professors. This outcome is serious because an essential factor in PhD study success is the counsel and support of an experienced advisor.
The mentor and student relationship is so fundamental that its absence creates a major hurdle for the efficacy of the often advocated distance learning approach to doctoral education. The experience of time spent in an active research environment with a faculty advisor and peer-doctoral students is, at this stage in the development of learning technology, simply irreplaceable. This view is not meant to denigrate the use of distance learning or other technologies in formal doctoral-level course instruction, but rather to emphasize the unique and essential place of onsite, real-time interactions in the pursuit of creativity. Also of great concern is the thought that appears to assign greater value to time and site convenience features of the PhD at the expense of appreciation for the depth and breadth of a program's research component.
Current discussion of doctoral education issues is not exclusive to CSD. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation program in the humanities urges the development of a "responsive doctorate" founded upon the pillars of new paradigms, practices, people, and partnerships (http://www.woodrow.org/policy/responsivephd/). The foundation seeks to identify factors that might encourage innovative scholarship, the creation of a continuing powerful dialogue between the producers, recipients, and consumers of the PhD, and ways to attract strong and diverse doctoral students. The Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (www.carnegiefoundation.org/CID/) is a multi-year research and action project directed toward achieving a better understanding of the "purpose of doctoral education." The initiative anticipates the essential objectives of such efforts are "to educate and prepare those to whom we can entrust the vigor, quality, and integrity of their field" and who will be the future stewards of their respective disciplines.
Strategies for Change
Can we also embrace new paradigms, practices, people, and partnerships and restructure PhD programs to ensure the stewardship of CSD in the 21st century?
To start this discussion, I suggest that there are currently too many CSD doctoral programs. This idea may appear antithetical to the concern of too few PhDs in CSD, but consider the premise that fewer doctoral programs may actually lead to more and even higher quality students. In my opinion, the proliferation of doctoral programs has had the effect of diluting the quality of students and the resources that might be concentrated on a smaller number of campuses. We also may be diverting energy and resources from undergraduate and master's-level programs that, if given priority, can move to the next level of excellence. In having fewer CSD doctoral programs we might better concentrate our efforts on the growth of centers of excellence that have high potential to attract and support increased numbers of students and a core faculty active in research.
One approach for bringing programs together to achieve a common goal may be through the formation of CSD doctoral-level consortia. The unifying concept behind educational consortia is the realization that many institutions working together can accomplish more than if each institution works independently and in competition. Denman has described consortia as a means to supplement traditional university organizational structure. He views the consortia as the "invisible college" through which the physical infrastructure of educational institutions has given way to cooperative relationships among partners who join voluntarily and participate actively.
Consortia operations should not be confused with informal relationships, of which there are already a number in CSD, between academic institutions that agree to share resources on an ad hoc "as needed-as available" basis. The full benefits of a formal consortium for graduate education are the infusion of new ideas, people, and resources; enhancement of a discipline's collective conscience and action; the building of critical mass of students and faculty; accessibility to an enriched curriculum, clinical populations, and instrumentation; and cooperation in projects of research and curriculum development on a larger scale than could occur on a single campus. Successful efforts in forming consortia generally possess "the following administrative characteristics: a governing body; a manager; a mission; an active commitment by member institutions; and a funding source that serves to support, expand, diversify and, perhaps more precisely, supplement inter-institutional cooperation…"(p. 9).
How might we meld independent CSD doctoral programs into something larger and, hopefully, of higher quality than they can attain alone? How can PhD-level universities join with master's-level programs to form new partnerships? In both scenarios the primary motivation must be the belief that we can better serve our students, profession, and the persons who depend upon our teaching, clinical and research products, and services. To secure this objective we must maintain the dignity, confidence, and well-being of the faculty, staff, and students of the cooperating academic institutions.
Some Models of Organization
Consortia, while sharing many common features, come in different models. In one type, doctorate-granting institutions (DGI) may come together to offer a single degree with each individual program developing unique and complementary research strengths such that the consortium provides a very wide range of research expertise and opportunities. Course coverage and scheduling on partnership campuses are arranged in creative modules to maximize enrollments and minimize content redundancy. Students are expected to form professional relationships with faculty and peers throughout the consortium so that support groups emerge with a critical mass of greater and lesser experienced students. It is expected that in the course of doctoral study students will migrate for residency to the campus of their major professor. Provisions for continuity of financial support are critical as students move from one campus to another.
In a different model, a DGI may join with accredited master's-level highest degree institutions (MLHDI) to form a consortium. Under this plan, the MLHDI programs continue to offer their master's degree but also function as feeder institutions to the DGI. Faculty expertise, instrumentation, and subject populations on the DGI campus are available to MLHDI master's students. In thinking about the important contributions to doctoral education available from MLHDI-based faculty, we only need note that many faculty associated with these programs are qualified and willing to lend their expertise as doctoral consortium affiliates. MLHDI colleagues may be invited to direct or serve on dissertation committees, teach PhD-level courses/seminars, be included as co-investigators on grants held by the DGI, and earn stipends for work on behalf of the consortium.
With specific reference to the DGI/MLHDI model, it would be most practical if the MLHDI partners are in relative proximity to the DGI. To increase ethnic diversity, CSD programs that traditionally serve minorities should be sought as MLHDI partners. To illustrate the potential of this particular consortium model, I drew a circle with a radius of approximately 150 miles with Purdue University in the center. Within this area 11 ASHA-accredited MLHDI programs were identified. Beyond this circumscribed geographic area a search of accredited MS programs at Historically Black Institutions revealed at least four such programs within the United States.
Suppose each of these 15 institutions graduated 30 master's students each year creating a pool of 450 students. If only 3% of this group-who might not have considered the PhD if not for the consortium influence-was qualified and interested in pursuing the doctorate, the DGI might generate 14 additional PhD applications including four from Historically Black Institutions. Considering that the average number of students who now apply for doctoral admission in CSD is nine per program, the addition of 14 more would represent a significant increase. For a further perspective, within this 150-mile geographic area there are also five DGIs. Of course, if partnerships between more distantly located programs are deemed desirable, then extra effort will have to be made to accommodate course scheduling, travel, and increased costs.
Both consortia models should encourage all prospective doctoral-level students to pursue a master's thesis option with the thought that such an experience might serve as a pilot study for a dissertation, and at a minimum provide clear evidence of the student's ability to conduct research. To achieve this end, proactive measures must be taken to reduce the circumstances that tend to force students into separating their graduate years into clinical (MS) and research (PhD) periods. The current CCC demands virtually preclude students during their master's study from devoting much attention to academic and experientially based research opportunities. If we are to promote an integrated program of graduate education, research experiences should not be viewed as an "add-on" to clinical accomplishment.
The Future at Stake
Decision-makers in federal and state governments must be made to recognize our field's current plight. If we are successful in developing new educational approaches with clear objectives and high standards for student admission, expectations, and assessment, perhaps we can earn support from these agencies in the form of "seed money" and doctoral fellowships. Surely the agencies with which we work closely will want to encourage the production of more and better doctoral students. As strengthened programs emerge, we also may draw to our mentoring ranks, as adjunct faculty, research-active members of the industrial, governmental, and medical science communities and with them, access to new state-of-the-art facilities and enriched clinical populations.
As we further consider consortium models, we will undoubtedly encounter the devils that live in the details. For example, in a DGI consortium, which institution(s) award the PhD degree? Where do students establish residency? What fees are to be paid and to whom? How are student-generated revenues to be distributed? In both models, who will bear any additional burdens of student travel and lodging? Will the universities' central administration and state coordinating agencies be supportive? Precedents and solutions may already be found in apparently successful consortium programs in veterinary medicine, special education, and the AuD.
Thus far genuine efforts have been made to inform prospective doctoral students about the exciting opportunities for study and careers in CSD and to provide potential faculty members with enticements. Regrettably, these efforts have not been successful. It is now time to develop a new and better style of doctoral education in CSD. We must act now as if everything is at stake, because it is.