Ph.D. Completion Project

    The Ph.D. Completion Project is a seven-year, grant-funded project that addresses the issues surrounding Ph.D. completion and attrition. The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), with generous support from Pfizer Inc and the Ford Foundation, provided funding in two phases to 29 major U.S. and Canadian research universities to create intervention strategies and pilot projects, and to evaluate the impact of these projects on doctoral completion rates and attrition patterns.


    An additional 15 partner universities participated in various aspects of this project. The Ph.D. Completion Project produced some of the most comprehensive and useful data on attrition from doctoral study and completion of Ph.D. programs yet available.


    Previous studies suggest that under highly favorable conditions, no more than three-quarters of students who enter doctoral programs complete their degrees. Research has also shown that the vast majority of students who enter doctoral programs, have the academic ability to complete the degree.


    Six institutional and program characteristics emerge, however, as key factors influencing student outcomes that can ultimately affect the likelihood that a particular student will complete a Ph.D. program:


    • Selection
    • Mentoring
    • Financial Support
    • Program Environment
    • Research Mode of the Field
    • Processes & Procedures


    The projects supported by the Pfizer and Ford Foundation grants tested interventions in these 6 areas and have identified additional areas in which innovative practices contribute to increased doctoral degree completion. Graduate deans from participating institutions have highlighted their “best practices” in national and institution-wide discussions on the topic of Ph.D. completion.




    Ph.D. Completion and Attrition: Policies and Practices to Promote Student Success (2010)

    This is the fourth in a series of monographs from the CGS Ph.D. Completion Project. This monograph reports on policies and practices at participating institutions that aim to improve Ph.D. completion rates and reduce attrition in doctoral programs. These policies and practices are categorized into six broad institutional and programmatic categories: selection and admissions; mentoring and advising; financial support; research mode of the field; curricular and administrative processes and procedures; and program environment.



    Ph.D. Completion and Attrition: Findings from Exit Surveys of Ph.D. Completers (2009)

    This is the third in a series of publications from the Ph.D. Completion Project. It paints a broad picture of the various aspects of the doctoral experience of Ph.D. completers, as reported by 1,406 students who completed Ph.D. degrees in 18 universities between March 2006 and August 2008. Heading the list of major factors graduates contributed to Ph.D. completion were financial support, mentoring/advising, and family support. Other factors that students identified as contributing to their success were social environment and peer group support, program quality, and professional/career guidance.



    Ph.D. Completion & Attrition: Analysis of Baseline Demographic Data from Ph.D. Completion Project (2008)

    This is the second in a series of monographs from the CGS Ph.D. Completion Project. It focuses on ten-year and seven-year completion rates by demographic characteristics (gender, citizenship, and race/ethnicity) based on data, submitted by 24 institutions, on students who entered their Ph.D. programs in academic years 1992-93 through 2003-04. It presents cumulative and annual completion rates from various perspectives: overall, by field, by institution type, and by time of entry into the Ph.D. program. Completion between years seven and ten is also discussed.



    Ph.D. Completion & Attrition: Analysis of Baseline Program Data (2008)

    This first in a series of monographs on the Ph.D. Completion Project provides a descriptive analysis of the baseline completion and attrition data from programs at institutions that participated in the first phase of the project. Both broad field and program-level rates and patterns are discussed.



    For more information, please contact:


    Jeff Allum

    Daniel Denecke


    More information about the Ph.D. Completion Project is available on the project website.


    CGS is the leading source of information, data analysis, and trends in graduate education. Our benchmarking data help member institutions to assess performance in key areas, make informed decisions, and develop plans that are suited to their goals.


    CGS Best Practice initiatives address common challenges in graduate education by supporting institutional innovations and sharing effective practices with the graduate community. Our programs have provided millions of dollars of support for improvement and innovation projects at member institutions.


    As the national advocate for graduate education, CGS serves as a resource for policymakers and others on issues concerning graduate education, research, and scholarship. Based in Washington, DC, the organization provides its members with regular updates and analyses of legislative and regulatory proposals and policies that affect graduate education.
    View Public Policy work


    CGS is an authority on global trends in graduate education and a leader in the international graduate community. Our resources and meetings on global issues help members internationalize their campuses, develop sustainable collaborations, and prepare their students for a global future.