U. Chicago Reforms PhD Programs: Lifts Limits on Funded Time, Sets Limits on Number of Students

The University of Chicago has announced several reforms to its Ph.D. programs in the humanities, social sciences, and some other fields.

The changes cover graduate student funding and teaching responsibilities:

  1.  “Every enrolled PhD student in good academic standing has full tuition coverage, paid health insurance premiums, and funding for the duration of their program at least at the guaranteed stipend level,” apparently with no preset limit on the number of years one can receive funding (though presumably programs may remove students for lack of progress).
  2. Funding is independent of teaching duties—“Regardless of whether a student is teaching in a particular quarter or year, gross stipends will not vary”—and teaching duties will be aimed at helping graduate students “learn how to teach.”
  3. “The total number of PhD students across a particular school or division [e.g., Humanities, or Social Sciences, or Divinity] will be a fixed number, and new students will not be admitted until currently enrolled students graduate or leave their program. The model allows for variation across fields in time to degree and provides autonomy for departments to weigh the trade-off between entering cohort size and years in the program.”

Ellsworth Kelly, “Green Blue Black Red” (detail)

As Colleen Flaherty puts it at Inside Higher Ed:

If full funding is the carrot to finish one’s degree in a timely manner, minimizing financial distractions, there is a stick—at least for departments. Currently, program cohort sizes aren’t strictly linked to completion. But they will be going forward. Now, the total number of Ph.D. students in the four divisions affected will be a fixed, yet-to-be-determined number—and new students will not be admitted until current students graduate or leave. 

According to a FAQ about the new plan, it is intended as a “‘holistic approach’ to addressing challenges facing doctoral education, especially long time to degree and late attrition.”

Discussion welcome.

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