From Minority Doctoral Students to Faculty: A Model for Success and Consideration By Other Disciplines

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By Bernard J. Milano

KPMG Foundation formed The PhD Project in 1994 to encourage minorities to enter business doctoral programs. The model it developed includes holding an annual conference attended by more than 90 doctoral program partners to which 350-400 prospective doctoral students are invited. For those admitted to a doctoral program, the model, which includes support networks, has produced a 90 percent completion rate and almost all have accepted faculty positions. 

For decades, no one in traditional doctoral business education seemed to believe the “D” in Ph.D. might also stand for diversity. KPMG Foundation formed The PhD Project in 1994 and set out to help change that perception. In 2005, KPMG Foundation spun out The PhD Project as a separate nonprofit but continues to provide the administration and is the principal funder.

In the last 24 years, the number of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Native Americans with a business Ph.D. has jumped from only 294 nationwide to 1,470; and there are nearly 300 Ph.D. students in The PhD Project pipeline. 

While it is the hiring universities that are entitled to the credit for the increase, I like to think The PhD Project’s successes have contributed. In addition, I believe the model it developed for attracting, recruiting, and supporting minority doctoral students as they become business faculty, in joint effort with the universities, may provide a model readily adaptable by other disciplines.

Finding a successful model is critical. Higher education institutions today find themselves squeezed uncomfortably as they face a growing faculty shortage with boomer-generation professors retiring. The rising cost of training the generation that will replace them heightens the need to identify qualified applicants for the costly, time-consuming Ph.D. program. This is why our model may benefit other disciplines — it has produced a 90 percent completion rate by pre-qualifying prospective students for hiring universities. In addition, it operates a year-round peer-based support network that gives doctoral students useful supplemental resources and knowledge, along with peer support to overcome the challenging moments all doctoral student’s experience. 

The PhD Project recruits minorities from the business professions and current students into doctoral programs in all business disciplines. Annually, a committee of academics and The PhD Project staff review applications to attend an annual informational conference on the doctoral process and select some 350-400 prospective students to attend. Eligible applicants are African-American, Hispanic-American, or Native American U.S. citizens or permanent residents who either possess an undergraduate degree or are in their last year of college.

The conference includes a recruitment event with representatives from more than 90 university doctoral programs (there are 130 universities that offer a Ph.D. in business). Prospective doctoral students meet face-to-face with university representatives from across the U.S. It is the only known event in higher education where doctoral programs gather in one place to proactively recruit and compete for talented minority prospective Ph.D. students. 

From our experience, the conference establishes an important starting point in a road that will lead, five or six years later, to the applicant reaching the job market as a new Ph.D. graduate, and then participating in the faculty hiring we have seen taking place at historic rates since 1994. Each year, approximately 15 percent of event attendees are admitted to a doctoral program usually over the following one to five years, and with tuition and fees waived.

At the conference, university representatives can interact with a large pool of motivated, qualified, and talented minority professionals and students — individuals primed to become tomorrow’s professors. I believe this exposure has helped shift the mindset of university business programs to one where they not only desire but compete for minority doctoral students. As our students progress through their doctoral studies, their universities further observe them benefiting from the enrichment and preparation they receive through our five Doctoral Student Associations, in accounting, finance and economics, information systems, management and marketing.

“You have 350 to 400 aspiring Ph.D.s in one place,” notes recruiter and assistant professor Melvin Smith of Case Western Reserve University, which currently has six doctoral students from The PhD Project and has graduated many more. “People can search online for you, and you could search for them, but it takes months. At The PhD Project [conference] it happens in a day, and you put a face to the name. It means so much more than a piece of paper.”

“The PhD Project has transformed the landscape on the development of minority faculty, and it has done so against considerable odds and initial skepticism,” says Ralph Katerberg, associate professor and former business doctoral program head at the University of Cincinnati. “Many schools have people on their faculties who would not have been there if it were not for The PhD Project.” 

Schools often use the conference as a platform to inform students about their programs and attributes. Arizona State uses it to spread word about its concentrations and current faculty research. Texas A&M uses the conference to educate students about lifestyle issues. “Prospective students have interest in our program, but they don’t have a lot of information about living in College Station, Texas, so we told them about it at the conference,” explains Chris Porter, former associate professor at Texas A&M, now at Indiana University.

Ninety-seven percent of those who earn a Ph.D. and are involved in The PhD Project go into faculty positions. The program produced 43 new faculty in 2017 and 23 in 2018 as of this writing. We have nearly 300 doctoral students in the pipeline. 

The PhD Project has shattered forever the myth that there are not enough minorities interested in earning a business doctorate. “You can no longer say, ‘I can’t find one,’” observes North Carolina Central University professor, Alisha Malloy.

The PhD Project’s approach may show a way for other academic disciplines to meet their growing faculty hiring crisis. While our model is focused on business and minorities, there is no reason why any discipline cannot adopt a version of it to partner with the appropriate professional organizations in their field to market an academic career in that discipline, and to pre-qualify, prepare, and provide support for the doctoral students — tomorrow’s professors — that they attract. 

For additional information about the program, visit our website or contact Lisa King


Bernard J. Milano is the president of the KPMG Foundation and The PhD Project.

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