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Project Information


The Ph.D. Completion Project is a seven-year, grant-funded project that addresses the issues surrounding Ph.D. completion and attrition. The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), with generous support from Pfizer Inc and the Ford Foundation, has provided funding to 29 major U.S. and Canadian research universities to create intervention strategies and pilot projects, and to evaluate the impact of these projects on doctoral completion rates and attrition patterns. An additional 25 partner universities are currently participating in various aspects of this project. The Ph.D. Completion Project aims to produce the most comprehensive and useful data on attrition from doctoral study and completion of Ph.D. programs yet available.

Previous studies suggest that: under highly favorable conditions, no more than three-quarters of students who enter doctoral programs complete their degrees; completion rates are higher in the physical and life sciences than in the social sciences and humanities; higher for men than for women; higher for majority than for minority students; and higher in smaller than in larger doctoral programs.

Research has shown that the vast majority of students, including minority students, who enter doctoral programs, have the academic ability to complete the degree. Six institutional and program characteristics emerge, however, as key factors influencing student outcomes that can ultimately affect the likelihood that a particular student will complete a Ph.D. program:

  1. Selection
  2. Mentoring
  3. Financial Support
  4. Program Environment
  5. Research Mode of the Field
  6. Processes & Procedures

The projects supported by the Pfizer and Ford Foundation grants test interventions in these 6 areas and have identified additional areas in which innovative practices contribute to increased doctoral degree completion. Graduate deans from participating institutions will highlight their “best practices” in national and institution-wide discussions on the topic of Ph.D. completion.

Increasing demand for workers with advanced training, particularly at the graduate level, an inadequate domestic talent pool, and a small representation of women and minorities graduating at all education levels are among some growing concerns over workforce issues that relate to the economic health and competitiveness of the United States. These concerns are particularly acute in science, engineering, and mathematics (SEM), but are not by any means limited to these fields. Even small improvements in attrition and completion rates would substantially address many of these workforce issues.