Retirements and Demand for Ph.D.s in Music, 1988-2000

October 1, 1989

"How many Ph.D.s in music will be needed during the next five or ten years?" This question is of interest to university administrators evaluating proposals for new doctoral programs in music, to faculties in established Ph.D. programs planning admission levels, and to students already in doctoral programs or contemplating advanced musical studies in preparation for an academic career. Considerable data exist about music faculty sizes (College Music Society Directory of Music Faculties in Colleges and Universities, U.S. and Canada), productivity of graduate programs in music (reports of the National Association of Schools of Music and the National Academy of Arts and Sciences), and some concerning faculty openings in music departments and schools (CMS vacancy lists). However, this information pertains to the present and the past; little or nothing exists in the way of predictions about the future of the market for Ph.D.s in music. This paper is a summary of a study that attempts to make such a prediction based on expected openings on music faculties between 1988 and the end of the century.1

The study was carried out in five steps:

  1. Early in September 1988, I surveyed thirty-four music departments and schools across the United States, asking chairs, deans, or directors to estimate how many of their tenure-track faculty who were listed in the 1986 edition of the CMS Directory (CMS-86) as teaching theory and analysis and/or composition (TC faculty) or as teaching history and literature and/or musicology (HLM faculty) were expected to retire between September 1988 and August 2000. I also asked my respondents how many positions in those specialties they expected to gain or lose over that same period. The results: Of the 400 TC and HLM faculty in those institutions holding academic ranks of professor, associate professor, or assistant professor, 136—fully one-third of the total—were expected to retire by the end of the century. Twenty-seven additional positions were expected as a result of expansions and contractions of music programs.
  2. The next step was to extrapolate from the survey results to an estimate of the total number of retirements in those categories. Reckoning from the faculty listing by teaching specialties in CMS-86—with a downward adjustment for faculty not in tenure-track positions and accounting for faculty listed under multiple teaching specialties—I derived a figure of 5,700 for the number of tenure-track TC and HLM faculty in North America. It follows that the sample of faculty in the survey was about one-fourteenth of the total. Assuming that the faculty cohort in the survey is a valid sample of the whole population, we can estimate that about 1,900 TC and HLM faculty in tenure-track positions will retire by the year 2000.
  3. The demand for Ph.D.s in TC and HLM was then derived from the number of expected retirements and added positions. Given the uncertainty about how music programs will go about filling those openings, I decided to investigate demand under different sets of assumptions in an attempt to encompass a range within which the actual need for new TC and HLM faculty with Ph.D.s is likely to fall.2 According to the most liberal of the assumptions, which calls for a "significant upgrade" in the educational level of faculty, the number of new Ph.D.s in TC and HLM needed by the year 2000 will be 1,870, or 156 per year. The "moderate upgrade" assumption, which envisions programs filling openings with holders of the Ph.D. only in part, yields a figure of 1,757 new Ph.D.s needed, or 146 per year. Assuming no upgrading of the educational level of faculties at all and realization of only half the expected expansion openings, the "steady-state" assumption, reduces the figures to 1,407 or 117 per year.
  4. As a check on the estimates derived from the survey of thirty-four institutions, demand was recalculated on the basis of departures predicted by a study of faculty flow in the California State University system (Daigle and Rutemiller 1987). Extrapolated nationwide, the results of the CSU study would predict demand for TC and HLM Ph.D.s under, for example, the moderate-upgrade assumption, at about 190 per year until 1995 and rising thereafter to 272 per year in 2000. Limited as it is to an area of the country that is experiencing rapid population growth, the CSU study is not a reliable indicator of the absolute number of retirements nationwide, but it is an improvement over the survey in its prediction of trends in retirements over time and it is free of certain artifacts that mar the survey data.3
  5. It remains finally to estimate how many TC and HLM Ph.D.s are granted each year. There is no single recent source of that information, but an estimate can be gleaned from at least two publications: the annual Data Summary of the Higher Education Arts Data Service and The Summary Report 1986: Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities published by the National Academy Press. The first of these sources is incomplete; in the second the doctoral recipients are insufficiently classified by subfield for our purposes here. In the face of these uncertainties, I estimated a range from a high of 136 Ph.D.s in TC and HLM per year to a low of 106. The mean of these extreme values, 121, is a reasonable single estimate of the number of new TC and HLM Ph.D.s each year.

How should we interpret these findings? If we take only the survey results as a source for figuring Ph.D. demand, then the present supply—represented by the mean number of 121 Ph.D.s granted per year—meets, or slightly exceeds, only the unrealistically low, steady-state assumptions of demand. It is possible to calculate a compromise estimate of demand, based on the near-term results of the survey for absolute levels of Ph.D. demand and the CSU study for year-to-year trends to the year 2000. That calculation suggests that the need for TC and HLM Ph.D.s will stay at about 165 per year until 1995 and then grow to about 240 in the year 2000. Even the high estimates of the number of Ph.D.s presently being awarded does not begin to meet those levels of demand.

It cannot be a welcome prospect for departments and schools of music seeking to appoint theorists, composers, and musicologists to their faculties to generate a demand for Ph.D.s that only approximates or—if the compromise projections are accurate—drastically exceeds the supply. Especially in areas of the country where the population is increasing, institutions may find themselves having to choose between leaving vital teaching positions unstaffed, giving up their stated goals of upgrading the educational level of their faculty, or competing to appoint only moderately talented holders of the Ph.D.

The assumptions made in order to arrive at the projections reported here are based on empirical data, but only weakly so. It is clear, nevertheless, that such projections are needed for informed planning of Ph.D. programs in music. Periodic repetitions of studies like this one—or methodologically refined versions of it—would seem justified as a way of meeting that need.4



The College Music Society. Directory of Music Faculties in Colleges and Universities, U.S. and Canada 1986-88. Boulder, 1987.

Daigle, Stephen, and Herbert Rutemiller. "California State University Faculty Flow Simulation Model." Unpublished paper, Office of the Chancellor, California State University, 1987.

Higher Education Arts Data Service. Data Summary. Reston, Va., 1985, 1986, 1987.

National Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Summary Report 1986: Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities. Washington, D.C., 1987.

1The study summarized in this report was instigated by a question from the Office of the President, University of California, in connection with a proposal for a new Ph.D. program by the Davis campus. I am grateful for the help and constructive criticism of the following: Lorna Adams, Stephen Daigle, Laura Gardner, D. Kern Holoman, Daniel Neuman, David Nutter, Michael Samson, and Neil Willits.

2The assumptions took into account a number of factors, for example, the expressed intentions of programs to hire people with doctorates to fill positions vacated by retiring faculty not holding the doctorate, and faculty listed in CMS-86 as teaching in TC or HLM, but whose primary appointments are outside those areas—e.g., the clarinet teacher who does an occasional course in music history.

3For example, the music program administrators whom I interviewed in the survey reported their detailed personal knowledge about near-term retirements, but because they had to resort to institutional policies in the case of retirements expected after about 1993, the number of retirements in the late 1990s was probably understated.

4I would welcome suggestions for refining the methods used and, especially, for help in repeating such a study from time to time. To this end I will honor requests for copies of the complete study sent to me at the following address: Department of Music, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.

1949 Last modified on October 23, 2018