Graduate Education in the United States
reviewed by Paul L. Dressel - 1961
Graduate education in the United States is largely a development of the past 85 years. Its growth has been characterized by diversity and controversy. This volume, largely a report of an extensive questioning of graduate deans, graduate faculties, and degree recipients, coupled with extensive references to other studies and reports, reviews all of the controversial factors and effectively exhibits the diversity of views regarding them. Both Professor Berelson's analysis and his recommendations will undoubtedly stimualte further controversy.
Much of his discussion involves a classification of the 92 universities studied into the top 12 institutions, the next 10, other Association of Graduate School universities (plus seven granted Ford Foundation accomplishment awards), and a residual group of 45. Although it is a commonplace observation that no university is equally good in all phases of graduate study, the author's discussion ignores such variation and apparently assumes that first quality doctorates in any field are to be found only in the top 22 institutions. Lacking objective evidence of quality, Berelson puts great faith here (as elsewhere) in subjective judgments. He regularly is altogether too much inclined to take refuge in ". . . the fact that the rating was done by those supposed to know."
On many points, Berelson is inclined to minimize common concerns. Thus he concludes (p. 79) with reference to the numbers of PhD's needed, ". . . the sense of Crisis that makes discussions of graduate education sound shrill these days is unwarranted and misleading." With respect to the influence of the top institutions which "are still turning out important numbers of presumably the better doctorates," Berelson notes, "Some deans of private institutions are pessimistic . . . but I am not. . . ." Likewise Berelson is not alarmed about the incursion of renamed teachers colleges into graduate study or about off-campus graduate work. Attrition is dismissed with the remark that it ". . . may be one of the costs of a rapidly expanding system."
Despite the recognition (p. 134) that "Well over half the recent recipients (of the PhD) come from families where the father had only a high school education or lessand more often lessor held a job low in the occupational hierarchy," and his own recommendation (p. 234) that "The norm of a four-year doctorate should be enforced by the universities," Berelson also recommends that doctoral students "should be expected to pay more of their own way." Berelson does not find these views in conflict.
Berelson's final recommendations (19 in number) are wide ranging. Some are trite generalizations:
2. The program for doctoral training should be "tightened."
14. The new intermediate degree might be tried.
15. The relations between the liberal arts colleges and the graduate schools should be improved.
On some recommendations there will be opposition:
3. The dissertation should be shorter.
5. The foreign language requirement should be left to the departments.
Having stated (pp. 220-21) that "training in research and scholarship should be the primary purpose of doctoral study," Berelson also (p. 248) recommends that "All doctoral candidates should have some teaching experience . . . ." This exemplifies a new conception of graduate study: Emphasis is on research, but teaching experience is required; the national load of doctoral study is to be carried by the top and middle level institutions, but the late arrivals must expand to meet the need; departments are to have greater autonomy in requirements, but the power of the graduate dean is to be increased. The result is suggestive of Berelson's own characterization of the graduate faculty:
The faculty wants more of nearly everything: better students, better dissertations, more independent work, better training in teaching, better quality in general. This demand for more, while giving up little, reinforces my feeling that the relatively high dissatisfaction of the faculty tends to be stereotyped perfectionism.
Berelson's final paragraphs suggest that much of the difficulty with graduate education is a lack of "perspective on chronic criticism." It is in the nature of graduate study that improvement of it must be made in specific universities and even in specific departments. Perspective is indeed needed, but it is not likely that the necessary perspective will be supplied by this type of questionnaire study. Nevertheless, Berelson's report is informative if the results are taken as symptomatic of states of mind rather than as definitive of the actual status and effectiveness of graduate education.
PAUL L. DRESSEL
Michigan State University