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February 22, 2005

UConn Ph.D. Students Graduate With
Less Debt Than Peers, Says National Survey

UConn Ph.D. students are more likely to graduate without any debt than their peers nationwide, according to a recent National Science Foundation report.

The report, Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities, shows that the 237 graduates who earned a Ph.D. from UConn in 2003 were in many ways similar to the more than 40,000 other Ph.D. recipients graduating from universities around the country. Forty-six percent of UConn Ph.D. graduates were women, for example, compared with 45 percent nationally; 64 percent were U.S. citizens, compared with 68 percent nationally; and 19 percent were minorities, both at UConn and nationally.

There was one significant difference, however: more than half of U.S. students graduating with a Ph.D. from UConn had no debt (54.9 percent), compared with an average of 41.4 percent nationwide. Of those that did graduate with debt, less than a third (31.5 percent) of UConn’s Ph.D.’s graduated with more than $15,000 in debt, compared with 39.4 percent nationally.

The data are based on a survey sponsored by the National Science Foundation and five other federal agencies, and conducted annually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The survey is administered through a questionnaire that all Ph.D. recipients must fill out when submitting their dissertations to their graduate schools.

“This is a great place to come,” says Janet Greger, vice provost of research and graduate education and dean of the Graduate School. “Our Ph.D. students are more likely – by more than 10 percentage points – to graduate with no debt than at most other places in the country.”

Greger attributes the difference to a combination of UConn’s reasonable tuition, financial support through fellowships and assistantships, and the cost of living in the area. “We are a good buy,” she says.

The cost of pursuing a Ph.D. at UConn is currently $7,200 for tuition for a full-time in-state student and $18,400 for a full-time out-of-state student, and about $600 for fees. The majority of Ph.D. students, both at UConn and nationally, take at least five years to complete their degrees.

The costs may be offset, however, by holding a teaching or research assistantship or other fellowship that carries a tuition waiver as well as a stipend of between $17,220 and $20,145 – depending on the stage reached by the student in his or her further education – and health benefits. Some are also able to secure support for the summer as part of a funded research project.

Jim Henkel, associate vice provost for research and graduate education and associate dean of the Graduate School, says that whether a Ph.D. student is able to graduate without debt depends partly on the student’s discipline. Those in the humanities and some of the social sciences take longer on average to graduate than those in the sciences, and have fewer opportunities to have their expenses met out of grant money.

Greger says the data from the NSF report should be a useful tool for recruiting graduate students.

Last year, there was a significant decrease in overseas applications, both at UConn and nationwide. At UConn, the number fell from 3,302 to 2,284 – a 31 percent decrease – between applications for fall 2003 and those for fall 2004. The change has been linked to the difficulty many international students are having with the new immigration controls enacted after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. At UConn, however, this was largely offset by an increase of nearly 9 percent in applications from U.S. students between 2003 and 2004 – there were 3,652 domestic applications in 2004. Many other schools did not experience such an increase.

“It’s common wisdom that generally when the economy is down, applications to graduate school go up,” says Greger. “But you could also argue that we are offering programs in areas graduates want to get degrees in – at both master’s and doctoral levels.”

The Graduate School has also begun collecting data about Ph.D. students’ employment after they graduate. Although statistics are not yet available, Henkel says the information will help boost graduate student recruitment.

“It will be good for us to be able to say how many of our graduates are CEOs or have faculty positions around the country,” he says. “Until now, we have not had that information.”

Applications to the Graduate School are increasingly being received electronically. For fall 2004, the first year graduate applications were accepted online through PeopleSoft, more than 75 percent of applications were submitted electronically. That figure has increased to more than 90 percent during the current year.

“It’s a huge success from our point of view,” says Henkel. “Electronic applications are so much easier to process, because they don’t have to be retyped. It’s seamless.”