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Indicator II-16 Paying for Graduate School
Back to Section II-B

Updated (4/2/2010) with data from 2008.

Data from the SED indicate that since 1998, doctoral recipients in the humanities have relied overwhelmingly on teaching assistantships, grants (fellowships or dissertation grants), or their own resources to subsidize their graduate educations, with few supporting themselves through research assistantships or employer subsidies (Figure II-16a; data concerning how master’s degree recipients pay for graduate school are not currently collected by any public or private entity). However, while the proportion of humanities students who cited teaching as their primary source of financial support remained relatively constant between 1998 and 2008, these students’ reliance on their own resources steadily declined, and reliance on fellowships and grants correspondingly increased. In 2006, for the first time, as large a percentage of new Ph.D.’s cited fellowships as their primary support as cited teaching. By 2008, the share of students relying primarily on fellowships and grants exceeded, by more than two percentage points, the share whose primary support was teaching. Despite the growing importance of fellowships and grants, doctoral students in the humanities still relied more heavily on teaching as a source of income than did those in any other field (Figure II-16b). Humanities doctoral students were also more likely to draw on their own resources than were students in the natural sciences and engineering, though the proportion of humanities students who cited personal income or savings as their primary source of support was less than half the percentage of doctoral students in education who did so.

Figure II-16a, Full Size
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Figure II-16b, Full Size
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While the importance of their own resources decreased relative to other forms of financial support between 1998 and 2008, humanities students’ average debt level increased (after adjusting for inflation) and recently was one of the highest in the U.S. academy. In 2008, new humanities Ph.D.’s reported an average graduate educational debt load of just under $17,000 (Figure II-16c). This average, however, masks a “feast or famine” situation with respect to the ability of students to secure graduate funding. As Figure II-16d reveals, over 50% of all humanities students awarded doctorates in 2008 emerged from their graduate programs with no educational debt. But approximately 23% of humanities students incurred more than $30,000 in debt, and over 15% carried debt loads in excess of $50,000.

Figure II-16c, Full Size
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Figure II-16d, Full Size
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