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From Minority Doctoral Students to Faculty: A Model for Success


Posted April 11, 2017 by Bernard J. Milano - President - KPMG Foundation and The PhD Project

For decades, no one in doctoral business education believed the “D” in PhD might also stand for diversity.

But in the last 22 years, the number of African-American, Hispanic-American, and Native American business professors has jumped from only 294 nationwide to 1,358, with another 270 PhD students currently in the pipeline.

While I like to think The PhD Project, formed in 1994 to encourage minorities to enter business doctoral programs with a support network to maximize their completion rate, has had something to do with this, ultimately it is the hiring universities that should receive the credit. I believe the model that has developed in our association for attracting, supporting, and recruiting minority business faculty, in joint effort with the universities, may provide a model for other disciplines.

Finding such a 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 dilemma: admitting a “mistake” into a PhD program is unforgivably costly. 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, and 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, a nonprofit organization founded by the KPMG Foundation, recruits minority professionals from business into doctoral programs in all business disciplines. As part of our recruitment method, each year a committee of academics and business practitioners reviews minority student applications to attend an annual informational conference on the doctoral process. Eligible applicants are African-American, Hispanic-American, or Native American citizens or permanent residents and either possess an undergraduate degree or are in their senior year of college.

Some 400 prospective doctoral students are selected from among the applicants to participate in the conference, which includes a recruitment event with more than 90 doctoral program partners. Here, prospective students considering applying to doctoral programs 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 PhD students.

While this event is only the first stage in a long road that will lead, five or six years later, to the applicant reaching the job market as a new PhD graduate, I believe it establishes a starting point for 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.

At this conference, university representatives can interact with a large pool of motivated, qualified, and talented minority doctoral 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, information systems, marketing, and management.

“You have 300 or 400 aspiring PhDs 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.”

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 help 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 tell them about it here,” explains Chris Porter, associate professor.

“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.”

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 University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa professor Alisha Malloy.

For other disciplines, this approach may also show a way to meet the growing faculty hiring crisis. While our model is perhaps unique to business and minorities, there is no reason why any discipline cannot 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—they attract.


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

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