Ph.D. Completion Project


During spring semester 2006, the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota took the first step in gathering data for the Ph.D. Completion Project, an in-depth study of doctoral education at the University.  The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) began the project, in which 45 U.S. and Canadian universities currently participate. With support from Pfizer Inc. and the Ford Foundation, CGS has provided funding to 29 of these institutions to participate in the project, create intervention strategies and pilot projects, and to evaluate the impact of these projects on doctoral completion and attrition patterns. The University of Minnesota is one of the project’s 15 partner (non-funded) institutions.

Research suggests that attrition from Ph.D. programs averages 30-50%. In a recent article, Scott Jaschik shows that the 10- year completion rate for cohorts of doctoral students entering the program in 1992-94 is 64.4% in engineering, 63.8% in life sciences, 54.7% in mathematics and physical sciences, 55.7% in social sciences, and 49.1% in humanities. Studies have also shown that most students who enter doctoral programs have the academic ability to complete their degree.

The project has identified six institutional and program characteristics that constitute key factors influencing student outcomes:  program selection, mentoring, financial support, program environment, research mode of the field, and graduate school processes and procedures.  The CGS project will test interventions in these six areas and identify additional areas in which innovative practices contribute to increased doctoral degree completion.  Graduate deans from participating institutions will highlight their “promising practices” in national and institution-wide discussions on the topic of Ph.D. completion.

The University of Minnesota, a partner (non-funded) institution in the CGS project, completed its first survey modeled after the CGS study during the spring 2006 semester, its second survey during the spring 2007 semester, and its third survey during the spring 2008 semester. Three cohorts of students have thus participated in the Graduate School Ph.D. Completion survey. The Graduate School surveyed the first cohort in 2005-06 (first year of Ph.D. experience), 2006-07 (second year of Ph.D. experience), and 2007-08 (third year of Ph.D. experience). It administered the survey to the second cohort in 2006-07 (first year of Ph.D. experience) and 2007-08 (second year of Ph.D. experience), and to the third cohort in 2007-08 (first year of Ph.D. experience).

Using these data, the Graduate School hopes to develop and highlight best practices and implement programs that maximize the doctoral experience, and hence improve completion.  For questions or more information, please contact the Graduate School

Denecke, D. (2005, November). Ph.D. Completion Project: Preliminary results from baseline data. Council of Graduate Schools Communicator, Vol. XXXVIII, No 9. Retrieved July 15, 2007, from
Information obtained from the Council of Graduate School Ph.D. Completion Project.
Denecke, D. (2004, January/February). Ph.D. Completion Headlines. Council of Graduate Schools Communicator, Vol. XXXVII, No 1. Retrieved July 15, 2007, from  
Jaschik, S. (2007, July). Why and when Ph.D. students finish. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved July 23, 2007 from
Information obtained from Council of Graduate Schools Ph.D. Completion Project.