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Indicator II-16 Paying for Graduate School
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,"
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Updated (3/22/2012) with data from 2009 and 2010.

Data from the SED indicate that since 1998, doctoral recipients in the humanities have largely relied on grants (including fellowships), teaching assistantships, or their own resources to subsidize their graduate education, with few supporting themselves through research assistantships or employer subsidies1 (Figure II-16a; data concerning how terminal master’s degree recipients pay for graduate school are not currently collected by any public or private entity). However, while the proportion of humanities doctorate recipients who cited teaching as their primary source of financial support remained relatively constant from 1998 to 2008, the share relying on their own resources steadily declined, and reliance on grants correspondingly increased. In 2006, for the first time, as large a percentage of new Ph.D.’s cited grants as their primary source of support as cited teaching. By 2008, the share of doctorate recipients relying primarily on grants exceeded the percentage whose primary support was teaching. At 38%, the 2008 share of humanities doctorate recipients who had subsidized their graduate education primarily through grants was the largest recorded during the 1998–2010 period.

The years 2009 and 2010 brought slight declines in the percentage of humanities doctorate recipients reporting grants as their primary source of support—and increases of comparable magnitude in the share of doctorate recipients teaching to support themselves. The period 2008–2010 also saw a halt to the precipitous decline in the proportion of doctorate recipients who relied primarily on their own funds to pay for their graduate education.

In 2010, doctorate recipients in the humanities relied more heavily on teaching as their primary source of income than did doctorate recipients in any other field (Figure II-16b). And only life science doctorate recipients were more likely than those in the humanities to report grants as their primary form of support. Humanities doctorate recipients were more likely to draw on their own resources than were doctorate recipients in the natural sciences and engineering, though the proportion of humanities doctorate recipients who cited personal income or savings as their primary source of support was less than half the percentage of doctorate recipients in education who did so.

Figure II-16a, Full Size
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Figure II-16b, Full Size
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While the importance of their own resources decreased relative to other forms of financial support from 2003 through 2010, humanities doctorate recipients’ average debt level rose (after adjusting for inflation) and was one of the highest in the U.S. academy (Figure II-16c). In 2010, new humanities Ph.D.’s reported an average graduate educational debt load of slightly more than $20,000, compared to average indebtedness of approximately $6,300 among doctorate recipients in engineering and the physical sciences. The level of humanities doctorate recipient indebtedness in 2010 represents a 51% increase over the 2003 figure. Humanities indebtedness grew much less than that among education Ph.D.’s (85%), but the increase was far greater than that experienced by doctorate recipients in the physical sciences (2%), engineering (6%), or life sciences (25%).

The average indebtedness figure for the humanities masks a “feast or famine” situation with respect to the ability of doctorate recipients to secure graduate funding. As Figure II-16d reveals, more than half of all humanities doctorate recipients awarded degrees in 2010 emerged from their graduate programs with no educational debt. But approximately 26% of humanities doctorate recipients incurred more than $30,000 in debt, and almost 18% carried debt loads in excess of $50,000.

Figure II-16c, Full Size
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Figure II-16d, Full Size
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1 Students’ subsidization—via teaching and research assistantships, employer subsidies, and their own financial resources—of the portion of their education not covered by grants from their universities or other philanthropic organizations is a substantial and largely unacknowledged form of funding for the humanities enterprise in the contemporary United States. For other indicators dealing with the character and extent of funding for humanities education and other activities, see Part IV of the Humanities Indicators, Humanities Funding and Research.

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