A Model ProjectFocused on steering minorities toward business doctorates, the PhD Project serves as a successful model for other minority student doctoral initiatives.
By Ronald Roach
For many who are earning a master’s in business administration (MBA), attaining the coveted degree virtually guarantees them a ticket to a lucrative career path in corporate America. However, when Dr. Pamela Carter took a business teaching job at a community college in northern Virginia after earning her MBA in 1994, she took the first steps on a career path substantially different than one in corporate America.Carter’s interest in teaching and participation in a program known as the PhD Project put the Yardley, Penn., native on a course where she earned a doctorate in management information systems from Florida State University in Tallahassee. Now in her second year as an assistant professor in the business school at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Carter credits the PhD Project for helping open the doors to a successful graduate school experience and a rewarding teaching position. “I would say the PhD Project was extremely instrumental to my pursuit of a doctoral degree,” Carter says.Since 1994, the PhD Project, principally backed and managed by the Montvale, N.J.-based KPMG Foundation, has helped steer hundreds of aspiring Black, Latino and American Indian scholars into business doctoral programs. More than 150 PhD Project participants have gone on to accept assistant professorships at business schools across the country. PhD Project officials proudly contend that among participants who have enrolled into business doctoral programs the total attrition rate is 5 percent, which compares favorably to the 25 percent drop out rate among all business doctoral students. “Once a person is accepted into a program, they are immediately part of (a) supporting network,” says Bernard J. Milano, president of the KPMG Foundation. In seven years, the program has built a track record attractive enough to win the attention of higher education and foundation officials working to boost the numbers of underrepresented minorities in doctoral programs and on academic faculties. Officials say the program’s design and operation offers lessons that could apply to other minority student doctoral initiatives. “They’ve been having a higher graduation rate than other minority doctoral programs. The participants in the PhD Project are taking five to six years to finish their programs. It takes an average of nine years for students in anthropology to finish a Ph.D. The PhD Project is actually a model for the rest of us,” says Dr. Earl Lewis, dean of the graduate school at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor campus. HOW THE PHD PROJECT SHAPES UP The centerpiece of the program is an annual conference held in Chicago in November. The conference attracts between 400 and 500 Black, Latino and American Indian participants, according to program officials. At the annual conference, representatives from 80 of the 100 business doctoral programs in the United States meet with and inform aspiring students about the details of the respective programs. The PhD Project pays for travel and hotel expenses of the participants. University of Oklahoma’s Carter recalls attending the first PhD Project conference in November 1994. The conference allowed her to speak with both faculty members and doctoral students who specialized in the management information systems arena, which is the research area in which Carter teaches. “When I got there and started listening to faculty, I decided then this was what I wanted to do,” she says. For any Black, Latino and American Indian student who gains admission to and enrolls in a business doctoral program, the PhD Project has established minority doctoral associations in five discipline areas. The associations are in finance, information systems, management, accounting and marketing. Each year, the PhD Project organizes a meeting in each of the disciplines for the student members. The meetings usually precede the annual meeting of national professional associations so that the students can attend their minority doctoral student association meeting and the national meeting of scholars in their discipline. The PhD Project pays for travel and hotel expenses of students who attend the doctoral association and national meetings. Doctoral students in the PhD Project have the comfort of knowing the minority doctoral students in their field from around the country, says Milano.Antonio M. R. Vernon, a Black finance doctoral student at the University of Chicago, says his association connects him with other minority doctoral students in finance. Finance is a business field known to have very few minorities as either students or faculty members. “Blacks represent just one-half of 1 percent of the finance faculty in the United States,” he says. The program enjoys significant corporate support. Milano estimates that more than $12 million has gone into the program over seven years. The current operating budget for 2001 is $1.8 million. Major supporters include the KPMG Foundation, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the Ford Motor Company and Merrill Lynch & Company.
THE RIGHT MIXMilano says the PhD Project’s positive track record is based partly on the fact that the program draws upon an experienced, mature and highly motivated cohort of individuals. Three decades of affirmative action outreach efforts in U.S. companies has yielded a base and depth of potential doctoral students among underrepresented minorities that does not exist to the same degree for other disciplines, according to experts. The program aggressively markets itself to the members of professional associations, such as the National Black MBA Association and the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. It also has benefited from a steady growth in direct mail campaigning from 20,000 mailed pieces in 1994 to 110,600 pieces in 2000. Milano says the marketing efforts generally attract applicants for the annual conference who appear to be quite serious about the doctoral process and a teaching career. When conference applications undergo review, reviewers see a fair amount of people who indicate they are teaching part time either at a community college or another institution, he says. “You can sense they have this desire. They have this latent interest and desire in teaching. I think in many cases, the word ‘calling’ applies to people who pursue this path,” Milano says.He adds that with the MBA boom of the past two decades many conference participants wonder whether having a MBA puts them at a disadvantage in doctoral programs. The advice given is that there’s no disadvantage at all, according to Milano. He estimates that 55 percent to 60 percent of PhD Project conference attendees don’t possess a MBA. “The Ph.D. is a totally different degree. It’s a research degree,” says Milano, noting that doctoral students spend their time learning and practicing research methodologies rather than working their way through case studies to develop business management skills. Milano says that the salary and lifestyle options for business doctorates represents a powerful draw for many people — even those who have enjoyed a highly lucrative career in business. “I think becoming a business school professor as a career gives people certain very positive outcomes. There’s tremendous potential for family time and family stability,” he says.Dr. Kevin James, an assistant professor of accounting at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, was eager to trade in an erratic work schedule he had while working for a major accounting firm’s office in Nashville for the promise of a stable teaching schedule that he now enjoys. The father of three young children, James says the sacrifice of getting a doctorate was worth the struggle. “I made sure the program I went to was going to be a good fit,” says James, who was a PhD Project conference attendee in 1995. Salaries of business school faculty are generally higher than that of arts and sciences faculty, according to experts. “Business school professors are handsomely paid. There’s a fair amount of solid economic return as a business school professor,” explains Milano, noting that business school professors often supplement their salaries with consulting jobs. A SHIFT IN TACTICSDr. Melvin Stith, dean of the Florida State University business school, is an enthusiastic supporter of the PhD Project. Stith, one of the few Black business deans at a predominantly White college or university, says the PhD Project has helped him and his faculty members expand their search for qualified minority students from a regional base to a national one.One other significant reason why Stith likes the PhD Project is that it has helped change the way business doctoral programs recruit students. It used to be that student recruitment fell largely to faculty members and their individual departments. When Stith became the business school dean at FSU 11 years ago, he made it a priority to get involved in student recruiting because he realized it was necessary to do so to make diversity a recruiting priority.By working closely with the deans and senior leadership at business schools, the PhD Project has accomplished nationally what Stith had set out to do locally at Florida State — make minority student recruiting a priority of top administrators.
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