50-50 Highlights: Colleges Producing the Most PhD Degree Recipients

woman researcher doctoral recipientI’m not talking about institutions granting PhD degrees. I’m talking about the undergraduate programs that produce the most students receiving PhDs. This is called the undergraduate origins of Doctoral Recipients. This information is useful for people want to know where they should go as an undergraduate to have the best chances for getting their Doctorate. And it’s not always the places you think.

A lot of people just assume that the institutions graduating the most students receiving PhDs are also the most prestigious and competitive colleges. They are well represented in the top 100 producers in the country but they aren’t the only ones.

After all, if you’re talking about just total numbers then any university with a large undergraduate population is likely to show up. If you have tens of thousands of undergraduates, a certain number are going to make it through Doctorate programs every year. This is why schools such of UC Berkeley, University Michigan, University of Florida, The University of Texas, University of Madison, and University of Illinois all produce more Doctorate recipients than Harvard, Stanford, or MIT.

Going by total number, however, ignores smaller institutions that produce more than fair share of Doctoral recipients relative to their size. For example, when considering just Doctorates in the Sciences and Engineering, Cal Tech ranks 49th in the total number produced.

Yet is it really fair to say that Cal Tech (739 recipients) and Arizona State University (744 recipients) are doing similar jobs in producing undergraduates receiving Doctorates when Cal Tech had less than 1,000 undergraduates last year while Arizona State had over 38,000?

There are some schools that produce far more Doctorate recipients relative to their size. To identify these schools, the National Science Foundation also ranks institutions by the ratio of Doctorate recipients to the size of the school. When you do this, you see a lot of the large public universities fall out of the top 50 and replaced by smaller Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs) such as Reed, Carleton, and Grinnell, all of which out-produced Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford in terms of ratio of PhDs to undergraduate population.

Bigger isn’t always better.

Students need to realize that the research opportunities at smaller institutions and Liberal Arts Colleges will look different from those at larger research intensive universities. There aren’t advanced graduate classes to take but there are professors who will help you create independent study courses to pursue more advanced concepts. There may not be decked out labs for research but there also aren’t graduate students with first claim to research opportunities either.

Another difference is that the classes at smaller schools can be much more hands on than those at large universities providing more student engagement. Students may be required to complete a capstone project at a Liberal Arts College where it is an option at a larger university.

The table below lists the 50-50 schools that ranked in the top 100 in most students receiving PhDs either by total numbers or ratio. I found two lists ranking undergraduate programs by PhD degree production. One is only for those receiving Doctorates in Science and Engineering (this includes health professions as well) which only ranked the top 50 by total numbers or ratio. The second is for the top 100 Doctorates in all fields including Science and Engineering.

A total of 44 50-50 colleges made at least one of the two lists. 20 are public universities with high research activity, 21 are private Liberal Arts Colleges and 3 are private Master’s level programs. Only 7 of the LACs made both lists. Three of the public universities appear only in the top 50 list for Science and Engineering. The University of California-Santa Cruz was the only public institution that didn’t make the top 50 for Science and Engineering. As usual, the four-year graduation rate is used for private schools and the five-year rate for public.

50-50 Colleges in Top 100 Producers of Doctoral Recipients
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