June 16, 2009 Features

An Innovative Approach to the PhD Shortage

Wichita State University Offers Grants, Forms Partnership with Fort Hays State University

The continuing shortage of PhD students and faculty in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) continues to threaten our professions.

To address the shortage, Wichita State University has taken an innovative two-pronged approach to secure grant funding and develop a collaborative partnership, measures that nearly doubled the number of PhD students enrolled in this program.

Here's how it began. In 2001, the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CAPSCD) established the Joint Ad Hoc Committee on the Shortage of PhD Students and Faculty in Communication Sciences and Disorders to develop strategies to alleviate the doctoral shortage. This committee conducted a survey and found that the diminishing numbers of PhD faculty in CSD is the most significant threat to the future of the discipline, professions, and services to consumers.

According to the committee's 2002 report, "Crisis in the Discipline: A Plan for Reshaping Our Future," the 2001 survey revealed 333 unfilled slots for PhD students among the 62 CSD doctoral programs. A primary reason for the vacancies was a lack of financial support for prospective PhD students. The report served as a call to action for the Wichita State University (WSU) Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

WSU Survey

In 2006, a national survey of CSD graduate programs conducted by WSU's CSD department drew a return rate of 74% for more than 200 surveys sent to programs in the United States and its territories.

The survey asked:

  • Did your graduate program experience difficulty finding new PhD level faculty to fill faculty vacancies?
  • (If the response to previous question was affirmative) In your opinion, why is this difficulty occurring?
  • Do you believe the shortage will continue into the near future, and why?

Survey results showed that nearly 90% of the programs were experiencing a shortage of new PhD-level candidates applying for and filling vacant faculty positions. More than 55% of the programs indicated difficulty in obtaining any applications in response to vacancy announcements for faculty positions. Some programs' respondents stated that faculty openings continued year after year and expressed concern that their programs' continued existence and/or accreditation could be jeopardized. In addition, 93% of the respondents stated that they expect the shortage of new PhD-level faculty to continue for the foreseeable future.

Reasons for the Shortage

Responses from survey participants focused on four key factors contributing to the shortage:

  • Salaries for new PhD graduates at colleges and universities are not competitive with the private sector.
  • Salaries for speech-language pathologists with a master's degree and audiologists with an AuD degree have increased, resulting in less financial incentive to complete a PhD.
  • "Unrewarded" work/service expectations for faculty detracts from the time required for scholarly productivity, including research and writing, that is necessary to obtain advanced rank and salary.
  • The time and cost required to complete the PhD are high in comparison to the salaries offered upon graduation.

The survey also requested suggestions for solving the shortage. Respondents consistently stated that the solution was not to create more doctoral programs. Instead, respondents stated that salaries in academia should be competitive with those in clinical or private-sector positions; that time is needed to engage in scholarship that is not relegated to weekends and holidays; and that academicians need more financial support for costs associated with scholarly endeavors (such as equipment and research assistants), more time to prepare for teaching and scholarship, and less "unrewarded work" such as paperwork and meetings.

The respondents' recommendations are noteworthy, but until funding for academic programs permits fulfillment of these recommendations, doctoral programs across the nation must use other creative and aggressive measures to attract PhD students.

The WSU Strategy

The WSU PhD program is one of the oldest in the United States and has a long history of attracting doctoral students. Over the past two years, the CSD department has addressed the doctoral shortage by implementing two initiatives: providing grant support and developing a unique collaborative partnership.

Federal Grant Support

Because the WSU survey indicated that the financial burden of completing a PhD was deterring potential students, the CSD department applied for and received more than $700,000 in program support from a competitive leadership grant program offered through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs.

The grant is used to recruit, support, and nurture PhD students who have a professional goal of becoming faculty-scholars in CSD. Each admitted PhD student is awarded up to $21,000 that can be applied to in- or out-of-state tuition, fees, and living expenses, as well as a minimum of $800 per year for books and professional development travel. Additionally, the grant awards departmental faculty up to $1,000 in travel for student recruitment, and funds operational expenses, secretarial costs, and program evaluation consultants.

In return for the financial support, the PhD students are asked to devote their time to academic study. They and are not required to work as graduate assistants and are discouraged from other outside employment.

The grant support for the CSD program has greatly assisted our recruitment efforts. At the end of the second year of funding, there are four new students, bringing the total to nine. This total is nearly double the previous average number of PhD students enrolled in this program.

Partnership With FHSU

The second strategy involves a partnership between the CSD department and the Fort Hays State University (FHSU) to assist the university in "growing its own" PhD-level faculty (see sidebar). FHSU recognized the difficulty the CSD department experienced in hiring PhD-level faculty—and the importance of recruiting these faculty members. To address the challenge, the FHSU president committed financial support to advance the education of two outstanding master's-level teaching faculty in the CSD department.

As the result of the agreement, two FHSU faculty were accepted into the PhD program. While continuing to serve as FHSU faculty members, the students travel to WSU for weekly courses. The WSU doctoral courses are held one day of the week to accommodate the students' travel. Web-based teleconferencing also reduces commuting and allows the students to participate in class activities. After completing their degrees, the faculty members will continue serving FHSU for a period of time in return for each year of financial support toward their degree.

To attract PhD-level faculty and students, universities must be competitive with the private sector. Two solutions are to provide financial support to students and to develop partnerships with other universities. Academic programs must convince potential students of the value of preparing the next generation of speech-language pathologists and audiologists and of engaging in research and scholarly activities.

Raymond H Hull, PhD, CCC-A/SLP, is professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders-Audiology/Neurosciences at Wichita State University. His teaching and research areas include central auditory processing in childhood and aging, aural rehabilitation, and professional issues. Contact him at ray.hull@wichita.edu.

Kathy Coufal, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor and chair, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Wichita State University. She has been in university teaching and administration for the past 19 years and served as a member of the ASHA Committee on Doctoral Education. Her teaching and research focus on child language development and disorders. Contact her at kathy.coufal@wichita.edu.

cite as: Hull, R. H.  & Coufal, K. (2009, June 16). An Innovative Approach to the PhD Shortage : Wichita State University Offers Grants, Forms Partnership with Fort Hays State University. The ASHA Leader.

"Grow-Your-Own" PhD Initiative

Faced with a potential shortage of PhD faculty in the Communication Disorders Department at Fort Hays State University (FHSU) and the desire to maintain its high-quality education and supervisory services, FHSU developed an innovative and very proactive approach to this issue.

It came to be known as the "grow-your-own PhD" initiative and when I heard about it, I was thrilled! It was not only supported by the department, but it was also supported and sponsored by all levels at FHSU from the president to the provost to the dean of the College of Health and Life Sciences. It has allowed me to get back into academics and supervision and bring to those duties a substantial amount of professional and practical experience. It has also allowed me to pursue the PhD, which had been something I could only dream of completing due to time and financial constraints.

The way I see it, this will continue to be a win-win initiative for years to come.

Phil Sechtem, MS, CCC-SLP, is an instructor in the Department of Communication Disorders,
Fort Hays State University, and a doctoral student at Wichita State University.


Oller, D. K., Scott, C., & Goldstein, H. (2002). PhD Program Survey Results. Retrieved January 13, 2009, from www.asha.org/members/phd-faculty-research/reports/phd_survey_sum/.


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