Phi Beta Cons

Ph.D. Completion Gaps

Articles in Insider Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education today discuss new data being published. IHE concludes: “Generally, foreign, male, and white students are more likely to earn their doctorates after 10 years than are their counterparts who are American, female or minority.” I agree with the director of the study’s point that the foreign/American gap admits to a number of plausible explanations (“Many international students have visas with specified time limits, and renewing visas can be complicated and uncertain — creating real pressure to finish, he said. Further, many of those visas limit the ability of the graduate students to hold jobs, while some American students hold full-time jobs throughout prolonged graduate school careers.”). But let me make two (politically incorrect) points about the male/female and white/minority gaps.
First, in part this may be a result of less qualified females and minorities being admitted into these graduate programs in the first place, courtesy of affirmative action. As Prof. Richard Sander has shown in the the law school context — and Stephen Cole and Elinor Barber showed in the context of faculty diversity (in their 2003 book Increasing Faculty Diversity) — such mismatching ultimately does no one any favors.
Second, whatever measures are embraced to improve completion rates, they should be open to both men and women, and both minorities and nonminorities. That is, if we are going to have “dissertation boot camps,” for example, then they ought to be open everyone regardless of skin color, national origin, or sex. This is only fair — and it is required by the federal civil rights laws.

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