[Excerpt] It is therefore important to understand the forces that have caused a decline in the PhD attainment rate of American college graduates. The fraction of bachelor's recipients who go on to receive PhDs nationwide is influenced by many factors, including high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates of high school graduates, college graduation rates for college enrollees, the distribution of undergraduate majors, and the academic backgrounds of college students. PhD attainment also depends upon changes in the economic rewards to pursuing PhD study relative to entering the workforce or pursuing study for other professional occupations, such as law, medicine, and business.
In this article we focus on a homogeneous set of thirty-one highly selective private colleges and universities. The academic aptitudes and preparations of students attending these institutions are among the highest in the nation, and historically students from these institutions have been much more likely to go on to PhD study than the average college graduate nationwide; therefore, the behavior of students from these institutions is of special interest.