The PhD in CSD The well-publicized doctoral shortage in the field has resulted in increased attention on the research PhD degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD)—those who pursue a PhD, the nature of PhD programs, and careers in university teaching and research. Why are there not enough PhD graduates to fill vacancies in ... Features
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Features  |   November 01, 2002
The PhD in CSD
Author Notes
  • Cheryl M. Scott, visiting professor at Northwestern University, currently serves as ASHA’s vice president for academic affairs. Contact her by e-mail at c-scott3@northwestern.edu.
    Cheryl M. Scott, visiting professor at Northwestern University, currently serves as ASHA’s vice president for academic affairs. Contact her by e-mail at c-scott3@northwestern.edu.×
  • Kim Wilcox, is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas. He is the ASHA co-chair of the Joint Ad Hoc Committee on the Shortage of PhD Students and Faculty in CSD, a group formed with the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Contact him by e-mail at kwilcox@ku.edu.
    Kim Wilcox, is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas. He is the ASHA co-chair of the Joint Ad Hoc Committee on the Shortage of PhD Students and Faculty in CSD, a group formed with the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Contact him by e-mail at kwilcox@ku.edu.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   November 01, 2002
The PhD in CSD
The ASHA Leader, November 2002, Vol. 7, 4-16. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.07212002.4
The ASHA Leader, November 2002, Vol. 7, 4-16. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.07212002.4
The well-publicized doctoral shortage in the field has resulted in increased attention on the research PhD degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD)—those who pursue a PhD, the nature of PhD programs, and careers in university teaching and research. Why are there not enough PhD graduates to fill vacancies in our university programs? How do PhD students and programs in CSD compare to those of other fields? Are PhD programs in CSD more alike than different? If more students were suddenly to decide to pursue a PhD, could the programs accommodate them?
A critical step in addressing any problem is information gathering. To this end, ASHA formed a joint committee with the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CAPCSD) to examine the doctoral shortage and recommend both short- and long-term remedies. When the committee first met, members realized that there were several unknowns about doctoral students and programs in CSD. The committee contacted all PhD programs with a set of common questions. They also organized a meeting of PhD program representatives at the annual CAPCSD meeting last April in Palm Springs. Much of the information that follows is based on those efforts.
The Programs
Of 300 academic programs in CSD in the United States, only 61 offer a research PhD. The vast majority (75%) of CSD graduate programs offer the master’s or professional doctorate only.
Geographic distribution of PhD-granting programs is uneven. For example, Ohio has six PhD programs, California has only one, and 13 states have none at all.
These 61 programs differ widely in size (number of faculty and students) and institutional setting and tradition. The majority (29) have 6–15 students each. The four largest programs have 25 or more students, and there are 10 programs with fewer than six students each.
One critical question asked by the joint committee was whether programs had additional capacity for PhD students. Loud and clear, the answer was “yes.” With 85% of all programs reporting, there were 333 unfilled slots for doctoral students.
The Students
In the 2001–2002 academic year, approximately 300 students began their PhD studies in CSD, three-fourths with financial support of some type (federal research and training grants, institutional research or teaching assistantships, tuition waivers). Of 405 currently enrolled students for whom data were reported, the large majority of students (three-fourths) hold a CSD master’s as their immediately preceding degree; a smaller number have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s from another field. Two-thirds are full-time students, and 82% are female. Two-thirds of all students were pursuing a PhD in speech-language pathology, 20% were studying audiology, and the remaining 10% were in speech, language, or hearing science or some related field. The majority of students changed universities from their previous one in order to pursue the PhD.
Once students are “in the door,” how many complete the program? And of those who graduate, how many take academic positions? The good news here is that PhD students in CSD are completing the degree at a higher rate than the national norm. The joint committee survey revealed that, of all students enrolled between 1995 to the present, only 8% had dropped out. This compares with a 50% noncompletion rate nationally. Of those who graduated in that same period, 61% assumed positions as faculty members.
Building a Consensus
As we consider the present doctoral shortage, it is important to understand the role that the research PhD has played in the history and tradition of the discipline and professions. It is also important to have a vision for the future. The founders of CSD established a standard requiring rigorous graduate education prior to receiving credentials as an audiologist or speech-language pathologist.
The founders also created a tradition of science and “ownership” of the research underlying our professions. Rigorous graduate education of future practitioners and scientists depends on an adequate number of knowledgeable graduate faculty that create and own the knowledge in the field. The consequences of an inadequate number of PhDs cannot be overstated. Even one unfilled faculty position in a program creates a strain for the students and the other faculty in that program. And, if there are not enough CSD faculty/researchers applying for a limited amount of federal funding, other researchers and disciplines are capable of taking up the slack.
Maintaining and even expanding programs to educate students at the PhD level is very difficult. It requires laboratories, funding, and an academic culture that values the effort and facilitates the needed activities. Regardless of whether a faculty member is doing basic or applied clinical research, it is a highly competitive enterprise.
Because PhD programs compete within their own universities as well as in the national funding arena for scarce resources, it is important to take stock of how CSD is unique as a discipline. The vast majority of students enter the CSD major with professional goals to practice as an audiologist or SLP. Our undergraduate and graduate coursework is weighted heavily toward clinical careers rather than academic ones, and the pressure to expand this focus increases as the scope of professional practice grows. This stands in stark contrast to many disciplines, where the curriculum builds more directly from undergraduate to graduate predoctoral and postdoctoral levels.
Recognizing the need for dialogue and consensus building on the issue of the doctoral shortage, the joint committee organized a meeting of PhD program representatives at the annual meeting of the CAPCSD last April in Palm Springs. Representatives from graduate professional and undergraduate programs also participated in the dialogue in additional sessions and informal gatherings. There was a lively discussion of models of doctoral education, as well as problems that arise from the field’s uniqueness and demographics. What emerged was a developing consensus on several points. Each of these relates in turn to potential remedies for the PhD shortage.
First and foremost, there was a consensus that all types and levels of academic programs have a stake in the PhD shortage issue and are part of the solution. There is a need for all programs to become engaged in a fundamental way. Simply talking to undergraduate and graduate students who profess an interest in and aptitude for research, while helpful, has not been sufficient in the past and will not be in the future. Programs and activities ranging from curriculum revision to extracurricular activities need to provide relevant coursework, information, and enthusiasm for an academic career.
As stated above, a small number of PhD programs prepare the majority of future faculty and researchers. These programs have created a significant scientific and professional presence (well over 100,000 persons) on a very small base. All programs, regardless of size, must protect and strengthen their programs to create even more competitive graduates.
At the same time, PhD programs cannot succeed in a vacuum. They must reach out to bachelor’s and master’s programs to assist in increasing the pipeline of students who apply to their programs, and the bachelor’s and master’s programs must offer their assistance in return. PhD programs are reaching out to non-PhD programs more often than in the past by sending well-known teacher-researchers to talk with faculty and students about developments in their labs and the rewarding side of the academic lifestyle.
Second, there was a consensus that the academic pathway into predoctoral education should begin early, at the undergraduate level, and be as direct as possible. Admitting students directly from bachelor’s degrees is one way to accomplish this. A minority of PhD programs in the field now admit students directly from the bachelor’s degree, but this is common in other disciplines. There is evidence from several fields that students who begin their doctoral studies at an early age and progress through a program at a faster rate are more likely to complete their programs and assume an academic position. Many students want to combine the research PhD with clinical education leading to professional credentials. For these students, education models that facilitate both goals are needed.
Third, the field needs to find ways to build “critical mass” for PhD students and research faculty. Nationally, across many disciplines, one of the major reasons students leave PhD programs is because they feel isolated, disconnected, and generally unsupported (see Lovitts). Student and faculty cohorts in many CSD PhD programs are very small. Various collaborations—within programs, across disciplines, across institutions and laboratories, and across levels of programs (e.g., a PhD program teams with a master’s program)—are needed. Such collaborations would go a long way to build a critical mass that stimulates, supports, and sustains predoctoral and faculty research and development.
Finally, there is a need to better prepare future faculty in CSD for the many challenges they will face in the classroom. PhD programs nationwide are increasingly teaching their students about the scholarship of teaching and learning. There is also an academic culture to learn in order to assume campus leadership roles with colleagues from other disciplines.
The Future
It will be no small job to increase the number of students who enter PhD programs. All parties to discussions in Palm Springs agreed that there is a need for a centralized, multifaceted, sustainable program to address the doctoral shortage. Over the last decade, both ASHA and the CAPCSD have undertaken a number of activities designed to address the shortage. However, some of these activities have been difficult to sustain, and their effectiveness has not been obvious. There is a need for all professional associations, academic programs of all levels, and all individuals connected with CSD to carefully consider what each is best suited to contribute to this effort.
In the next several months, the joint committee will submit a final report to the respective executive boards of ASHA and the CAPCSD. This report will provide a blueprint for a comprehensive program with the goal of increasing the number of students who graduate from research PhD programs in CSD and choose careers as teachers and researchers. The stakes are high, and the outcome could not be more critical.
Further Information on Doctoral Education

American Council on Education http://www.acenet.edu/ A forum for the discussion of major issues related to higher education, both domestic and international. Provides leadership and advocacy representing views of higher education, especially to academic institutions and policy-makers.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/ Focuses on the scholarship of teaching. Provides guidance and leadership in educational research, policy, and practice. Is well known for its classification system for institutions of higher education, available at www.carnegiefoundation.org/Classification/classification.htm.

The Chronicle of Higher Education http://www.chronicle.com/ A major news source for faculty and administrators. Provides articles and resources on the most important issues in higher education.

Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disordershttp://www.capcsd.org/ Represents undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs involved in the preparation of audiologists, SLPs, and/or hearing scientists. Its overall mission is to promote educational standards and research in the discipline.

Council of Graduate Schools http://www.cgsnet.org/ Dedicated to the advancement of graduate education, including research and scholarship. Offers the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program involving 43 doctoral degree-granting institutions. PFF provides doctoral students with the opportunity to observe and experience faculty responsibilities at a variety of academic institutions.

The PEW Charitable Trusts http://www.pewtrusts.com/ Supports nonprofit activities in higher education. Aims to promote policies and practices that improve achievement and success of undergraduate through doctoral students.

References
Bernthal, J. (2001, May 29). Discipline and profession face critical shortage of research doctorates. The ASHA Leader, 6, p. 23.
Bernthal, J. (2001, May 29). Discipline and profession face critical shortage of research doctorates. The ASHA Leader, 6, p. 23.×
Bernthal, J. (2001, June 26). Strategies to recruit and retain doctoral-level teacher-scholars. The ASHA Leader, 6, p. 35.
Bernthal, J. (2001, June 26). Strategies to recruit and retain doctoral-level teacher-scholars. The ASHA Leader, 6, p. 35.×
Boswell, S. (2001, Nov. 20). Where have all the PhDs gone? The ASHA Leader, 6, pp. 1, 12–13.
Boswell, S. (2001, Nov. 20). Where have all the PhDs gone? The ASHA Leader, 6, pp. 1, 12–13.×
Lovitts, B. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from doctoral study. Lanhan, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Lovitts, B. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from doctoral study. Lanhan, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.×
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November 2002
Volume 7, Issue 21