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[Excerpt] In1991 the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation launched the Graduate Education Initiative (hereafter GEI) to improve the structure and organization of PhD programs in the humanities and social sciences. Such changes were seen as necessary to combat high rates of student attrition and long times-to-degree in these programs. While attrition and time-to-degree were deemed to be important in and of themselves, and of great significance to degree seekers, they were also seen more broadly as indicators of the effectiveness of graduate programs. Several characteristics of doctoral programs were earmarked as contributing to high attrition and long degree time, including: unclear expectations, a proliferation of courses, elaborate and sometimes conflicting requirements, intermittent supervision, epistemological disagreements on fundamentals and not least, inadequate funding. Projections that faculty shortages would occur in the late 1990s in the humanities made the goals of reducing student attrition and time-to-degree particularly timely if an adequate number of PhDs were to be available.

This was far from the first such effort to reduce times-to degree-and rates of attrition. Earlier programs, which provided grants in aid to individual students or to graduate schools to distribute as they saw fit, had failed conspicuously. Based on data which showed that there were marked differences among departments and on a great deal of experience on the ground, the architects of the GEI determined that to improve graduate education would require departments to make changes in their PhD programs. As such, the Foundation shifted much of its support for doctoral education, which had previously gone directly to students, to block grants that would be awarded to departments within major universities.


Suggested Citation
Ehrenberg, R.G., Zuckerman, H., Groen, J., & Brucker, S.M. (2006). The Graduate Education Initiative: description and preliminary findings [Electronic version]. Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.