(Updated from the original posting on June 4, 2014)
The College of Liberal Arts strives to matriculate outstanding doctoral students and provide them with the training, experience and support necessary for successful completion of their respective degrees and placement in academic and other training-related jobs upon graduation.
Within this framework, the College views time to degree as a strong indicator of program quality and student success. Time to degree is broadly accepted as a criterion in the evaluation of graduate programs, and the College, much like the University as a whole and peer institutions across the nation, is under increased pressure to reduce time to degree for doctoral students.
Time to degree plays a significant role in planning for graduate student financial support. Such support in our College comes primarily in the form of teaching assistantship: over 800 of our current graduate students are employed as teaching assistants (TA) and assistant instructors (AI). TA and AI stipends in the College have not kept up with the cost of attending the University of Texas at Austin, and the average yearly stipend is currently some $4,500 below that cost. The combination of low stipends and overly-long time to degree places our graduate students in a precarious financial position that often involves the accumulation of debt and may have life-long adverse consequences.
As we face diminishing resources and increasing concerns about a tough job market, we are determined to align our admissions practices with job market opportunities, improve student support, and assure that students complete their training in a timely manner and graduate as soon as they are ready, not prolonging their stay in graduate programs beyond what is necessary for quality training and good employment prospects.
Time to Degree
Starting in the mid-2000s, the College began pushing for a shorter time to degree in all departments. Our departments have made strides toward this goal: the average time to Ph.D. for students graduating between 1989 and 2013 is 7.25 years and the median seven years. For the 2002 through 2007 entering cohorts, however, the average is 6.7 and the median 6.5 years. Acknowledging differences in disciplinary practices and expectations and individual student circumstances, we are encouraged by the progress that we have seen so far. We are confident that we can maintain our average and median time to Ph.D. around the 6.5-years mark.
The College has been working closely with individual departments on the manner in which they manage time to degree, with efforts directed at tighter degree plans, clear expectations for time to and from candidacy and benchmarks along the way, and rigorous monitoring of students’ progress.
Our general expectation is that graduate students maintain full-time status for the full duration of their study, remain in residence while completing their respective degrees, and include summers in their program of work. Toward that goal, the College will gradually increase the number of graduate courses offered during the summer, with emphasis on courses that can serve students across departments and disciplines.
We expect our departments to have doctoral students enter candidacy at some point during their third year, but no later than their fourth year in the program. In general, the College expects students to complete their Ph.D.s no later than three years after having entered candidacy. With that expectation in mind, and allowing for exceptions in rare cases, the College will not support candidacy extensions for seventh-year doctoral students beyond the third year of candidacy status, or for students who have reached the end of their eighth year in the program.
The College currently has a parental academic accommodation that allows for a one-semester extension in the expected time to degree in cases of childbirth or adoption. We are working on expanding the categories considered for the purpose of the academic accommodation, and will announce those when we conclude our deliberations. Until then, departments may ask for such accommodations on a case-by-case basis.
Since the mid-2000s, the University has made significant efforts to capture and evaluate the placement record of UT Austin graduate programs as a measure of training quality and student success. The College is studying its own record in placing students in training-related jobs, and a summary report on placement of students in the 2002 through 2007 cohorts will be made available in the spring of 2015. Our information so far indicates that the majority of our students (97%) place in training-related jobs, most of them (82%) in academic positions.
Size of Student Body
The College had 1,893 graduate students in 1990. By 2000, the number dropped to 1,572, and by spring 2014 to 1,354. We will continue our effort to reduce our graduate student population in the upcoming years, carefully monitoring the effect of such reductions on the viability of our graduate programs and our ability to meet the needs of our instructional mission. A smaller student body is critical if we are to increase our student financial support level. Placing a limit on the number of years of support that we offer individual students is equally critical.
Student Financial Support
In an effort to increase the utility of our student support plans, we encourage College departments to offer all entering Ph.D. students recruitment packages guaranteeing five years of support starting with the first year in the program at a level that, at the minimum, covers the cost of attendance, and including at least one year of fellowship funding. Where funds are available, departments may offer support during the sixth year, on a competitive basis, to students in good standing who make adequate progress toward their respective degrees.
The College envisions student support with College funds as limited to six years, beginning with the first matriculation into the student’s current academic unit. We will consider support during the seventh year in a small number of cases, based on the individual student’s academic programs and personal circumstances. Departmental graduate advisors, with the support of the departmental graduate studies committee and the chair, will be asked to present these cases to the College.
We expect our doctoral students to apply for external grants and fellowships as part of their support plans, and will provide training and assistance through the Liberal Arts Grants Services office. Students who are successful in obtaining prestigious external grants or fellowships will be considered for support during their seventh year in the program if such a year is necessary for successful degree completion.
Students who enter UT with guaranteed support for a specified number of years can expect the support period to be extended beyond the original period specified in the offer letter if they fund themselves on an external grant in the course of that period. The College leaves the decision on such situations to individual departments, but we encourage departments to recognize the effort invested in obtaining external grants and fellowships, and recommend that, as a best practice, departmental offer letters specify the departmental policy on such situations.
All forms of support are contingent upon progress toward the degree as reflected in meeting the milestones identified by individual degree programs and other measures used by the department.
The College will continue its efforts to identify potential funding sources, increasing its development efforts among donors and looking for savings in other areas that would allow reallocation of funds to graduate student support.
The Dean’s office has been working with department chairs and graduate advisors to define expectations and minimize the adverse effect that these plans may have on current students, particularly those who are about to enter the job market. While we will continue to consider individual exceptions, the general intent of the College is not to approve financial support for students beyond their seventh year in the program as of 2014-15, and beyond their sixth year in the program as of 2015-16. By 2017, all entering and current students should work with a clear expectation of no more than six years of College funding. With this expectation in mind, we hope to eliminate at that time the yearly College review of individual students with longer than usual time to degree, leaving an opening for discussions of individual exceptions when departments wish to make a case for those.