04 May 2012

Oberlin The PhD Factory

My undergraduate alma mater, Oberlin College, ranks 18th in the nation (according to the National Science Foundation) in the number of science and engineering PhDs it produces per hundred bachelor's degrees awarded nine years earlier. It also produces PhDs in the social and behavioral sciences at a high rate. Indeed, the descriptor the "Oberlin 50" is used to describe small liberal arts colleges that produce far above average numbers of PhDs.

The top twenty colleges on the list are:

1. California Institute of Technology 35.2
2. Harvey Mudd 24.9
3. M.I.T. 16.6
4. Reed 13.8
5. Swarthmore 12.9
6. Carleton 11.7
7. University of Chicago 10.8
8. Grinnell 10.5
9. Rice 10.5
10. Princeton 10.3
11. Harvard 9.9
12. Bryn Mawr 9.7
13. Haverford 9.5
14. Pomona 9.1
15. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology 8.7
16. Williams 8.4
17. Yale 8.4
18. Oberlin 8.2
19. Stanford 8.1
20. John Hopkins 7.7

The average overall ranges from 1.0 to 3.0 depending on the type of high educational institution involved. Liberal arts colleges overperform in the sciences, but produce much lower percentages of engineering PhDs. Were one to make an apples to apples comparison by looking at science PhDs per graduating science major, the number for the liberal arts colleges would be even better (Oberlin's rate, for example, is diluted by the fact that a sixty of its graduates are from its music conservatory and by its lack of an engineering school).

Then again, perhaps one reasons that liberal arts colleges produce so many PhDs is that an undergraduate liberal arts degree by itself doesn't have much economic value even though it is an asset when one applies to a graduate school.  More general interest and less traditional institutions have their numbers diluted by large proportions of their undergraduates who are chasing degress in fields like business and education and nursing that can be immediately translated into employment without going on to earn a PhD.

Combine selective admissions and few other options and one is going to see lots of your graduates go onto PhDs.

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