Committee of Graduate Education Update

Philip M. Katz, October 2001

On September 7 and 8, the Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) met in Washington, D.C., to assess the AHA's ongoing exploration of graduate training for historians. Members of the CGE were joined by Robert Orrill, executive director of the National Council on Education and the Disciplines, and by Barbara Gombach, representing the education division of the Carnegie Corporation of New York (which generously funds this project). The main item on the agenda was a preliminary analysis of the CGE's recent survey of doctoral programs. The committee also discussed a series of upcoming site visits to exemplary history programs, as well as research efforts that will focus on graduate student perspectives, graduate training in public history, and the variety of master's degrees offered in history.

In May, a comprehensive questionnaire on graduate training was distributed to virtually every doctorate-granting history program in the United States (n=158). As of September 7, one hundred surveys had been returned, completed in most cases by the local director of graduate studies. It will take months to analyze all of the data, which together represent the best snapshot of contemporary doctoral education in any major discipline.

One preliminary finding from the survey is that graduate alumni are an underused resource—intellectually, professionally, and financially.

Only 64 percent of doctoral programs maintain a mailing list of their graduate alumni.

Only 57 percent remain in regular contact with their alumni.

Only 35 percent solicit feedback from their alumni about ways to improve the current program.

Only 32 percent invite alumni to return and discuss their careers with current graduate students.

Only 31 percent use their alumni to help place current students in academic jobs.

Only 13 percent use alumni to help identify and place current students in non-academic jobs.

Only 45 percent of doctoral programs in history directly solicit contributions from their alumni (though a few are barred—by law or university policy—from doing so). Moreover, even when graduate alumni do contribute to the parent institution, the history department is unlikely to benefit in any direct way: only 24 percent of the respondents to the survey knew for sure that contributions to the parent institution are shared with the history department.

Future issues of Perspectives will include additional results from the CGE's doctoral survey. The committee will also host an open forum on graduate education at the AHA's annual meeting in San Francisco on Friday, January 4, 2002, from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m.; please check the meeting program for more details.

—Philip M. Katz, research director of the AHA Committee on Graduate Education