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The Review of higheR educaTion

SprinG 2009

Finally, the disciplinary differences in regard to Biglan’s (1973b) and Becher’s (1981) classifications were also noteworthy. As Table 2 shows, the majority of the high completing departments at this institution were in soft pure while the low completing departments were all hard nonlife disciplines. The only exception was oceanography, a department with one of the highest completion rates but which is categorized as a hard-applied life discipline. While difficult to attribute differences in completion rates merely to disci- plinary cultures, it is nevertheless remarkable to see the hard/soft differen- tiation in completion rates at this institution. Unlike Biglan, however, the analysis of these departments did not result in a clear demarcation by pure and applied in regard to completion or concepts of success, nor between nonlife and life disciplines. Perhaps it is merely the orientation of the faculty members toward their students that ultimately resulted in the differences in completion and in departmental definitions of success; certainly, those in the highest completing departments were the most vocal about their students’ well being and personal success. For example, in the Communica- tion Department, faculty spoke very highly and warmly of their students, often referring to a sense of “family” and “camaraderie” in the department. In the Oceanography Department, the faculty talked about fostering a sense of “wholeness” in their students and helping them find their life’s “passion” rather than simply completing a degree.


Taken together, the responses from the faculty members in these seven departments represent not only disciplinary but institutional views of success. It is therefore important to consider that much of the research conducted on doctoral education has been based on what occurs in the most prestigious and elite U.S. institutions (e.g., Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992; Nerad & Cerny, 1993; Nettles & Millett, 2006). This is not to say that such studies are unimportant or invalid but rather that they do not paint a complete picture of doctoral education in the United States. Known as Tier 3 and Tier 4 institutions, institutions like the one examined in this study are generally not ranked among institutions in the top 100 of U.S. News and

orld Report (2007) or among the Ivy League institutions. These rankings, however, should not diminish these institutions’ role in graduate educa- tion in the United States. Indeed, these third and fourth-tier institutions accounted for 8,502 of the doctorates conferred in 2005, nearly 20% of the total conferred that year (Hoffer et al., 2006). Therefore, by not considering the voices of those within these lesser-ranked institutions, the literature has failed to address the holistic nature and institutional diversity of doctoral education in this country.

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