Graduation rates

S L Forsburg forsburg at
Fri Sep 6 13:55:23 EST 1996

Linnea Ista wrote:
 My roommate from grad school and I were talking last night and she
> mentioned that the completion rate for PhD students in my former
> department is less than 50% (this from a professor within that department
> who is on the graduate education committee).
> Is this unusual?

Seems a tad high to me.  Is that every class, or did they just have a
year?  (Which happens to all of us). But see comments below...

> Also is it unusual for a department to pass people on comprehensives and
> then later decide that their  progress toward their degree is
> insufficient and drop them? I was the first casualty in such a purge a
> few years ago and I am just curious.

I think this depends on how the department is set up.  Some 
departments are more lenient on admissions, expecting to cull the class
later on; others are very  rigorous on who gets in, with the 
expectation they will all be  able to succeed. Many departments 
use the comprehensives as a  screening process (which personally I 
think is appropriate--rubber stamping students with a pass does no 
one any favors later on).  Others use comps as  a means to determine 
minimum competence only; they may intend the inevitable screening
 to occur downstream in the meat and potatoes of thesis research.   

Overall, I  think that  attrition at most stages is normal, 
and not a bad thing.  People change, sometimes they find themselves
in over their heads, or in the wrong field.   
Problems come when the students feel that they were lied to, or
treated unfairly, and certainly the system is not perfect.
 But it is a hard truth that not everyone qualifies, and admission to a 
PhD program is  not a promise that one will get the  degree. 

-- susan

Susan L Forsburg PhD
MBVL, The Salk Institute
forsburg at

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