In my recent post on the ranking of theology programs, John P. brought up some crucial points about the logistical issues involved in funding doctoral studies and job prospects after the fact. Considering carefully whether a program will be a dead-end for a future academic career may sound cynical to a still-idealistic prospective student, but these questions need to be asked. Unfortunately, there is too often too little information provided by departments to help applicants make educated decisions where to place one's resources, energy, and years of commitment. From the AAR statement:
In a 2008 survey conducted by the AAR, over 80 percent of current graduate students in the field responded that they had little or no understanding of the job market for PhD graduates in their specific field of study when they started their studies, and 82 percent reported that they had little or no understanding of the job placement success for graduates in their field of study from the institution they were attending.
This, it seems to me, could be partially the fault of students who don't investigate enough. But certainly a good deal of the blame lies with the departments themselves. The AAR's new statement urges departments in religious studies to post information about current enrollment, length-of-study, and job placements of graduated students. They recommend that this information be updated at least annually and be posted in a prominent location.
There are ways to find out some of this information if a department doesn't provide it. PhDs.org, for instance, allows you to rank schools based on certain criteria, including job placement. They pull this information, not from departments, but from the Survey of Earned Doctorates, a project of the NSF and other societies that tracks graduates and where they are currently employed. I can't imagine that this information is quite as accurate as a department's own records of dozens rather than thousands of students. But again, this is the dilemma- where can prospective students reasonably turn when important information is not available to them from academic institutions?
Be sure to read the best practices statement, and do some investigating about which departments have this information and which do not. I imagine that even if it's not posted publicly, an inquiry to the admissions office might turn up the records in some cases.
And please, if you know that your department does provide this information, post it in the comment section. Let others know which programs are providing the best informational support for their current and future students. Wheaton College, for instance, has a well set-up page highlighting the job placements of all of its doctoral program graduates. If the University of Chicago Divinity School has this sort of information publicly posted, then I'm not aware of it. The Committee on Social Thought has a list, however.