The Decline of Qualified Applications to Ph.D. Programs: A Concern for American Business Schools

The Decline of Qualified Applications to Ph.D. Programs: A Concern for American Business Schools

Decreasing numbers of qualified applicants from the United States raise concerns about the future of doctoral programs in American business schools.

As the deadlines for Ph.D. applications approach, doctoral program coordinators are growing increasingly concerned about the number of qualified applications they will receive. This concern is particularly pressing for American business schools, as data from the National Science Foundation reveals a decline in the percentage of U.S. citizens or permanent residents earning a doctoral degree in business. While this decline may help increase global diversity among faculty members, it raises questions about the future of innovation and best practices in business education in the United States. This article explores the reasons behind this decline and proposes strategies to address the issue.

Identifying the Problem:

Data from surveys of members of the Consortium of Business Doctoral Programs (DOCNET) reveal a steady decline in the number of students from the United States earning business doctorates. In fact, more than 70 percent of Ph.D. applications to highly research-active universities come from outside the country. While this demonstrates the global recognition of American business schools, it also suggests that these schools may need to dig deeper into their applicant pools to recruit American students and maintain a balanced cohort.

The Challenge for Business Schools:

Unlike other sciences, business schools are primarily focused on educating future business leaders rather than training business professors. This may explain why undergraduate business students often choose not to pursue a graduate degree, as they can have successful careers in the corporate world without one. However, it is crucial for business schools to engage students in conversations about the potential of a career as a business school professor to retain the brightest minds in academia.

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A Call to Action:

To address the decline in qualified applications to Ph.D. programs, several strategies can be implemented:

1. Identifying top students: Business schools should actively identify undergraduate students who show potential for a career in academia and invite them to events or programs that provide insights into the world of business professors. This proactive approach can help nurture the next generation of business school faculty.

2. Pre-Ph.D. track for students: Universities can consider offering pre-Ph.D. programs that provide undergraduate students with exposure to doctoral seminars, research talks, and the opportunity to work with faculty members as research assistants. This can help students make informed decisions about pursuing a Ph.D. and provide them with a head start in the application process.

3. Looking beyond high-research-activity universities: It is not necessary for universities to be highly research-active institutions to contribute to the talent pipeline for business schools. Institutions of all classifications can focus on working with undergraduate students, providing research opportunities, and preparing them for doctoral programs at other universities.

4. Engaging with professional associations and corporations: Collaboration with professional associations and corporations can play a significant role in addressing the talent pipeline problem. Programs like the Ph.D. Project and DOCNET are already making strides in this area, but broader support and involvement from professional associations and corporations are needed.


The decline in qualified applications to Ph.D. programs in American business schools raises concerns about the future of research and innovation in business education. To address this issue, proactive measures are required, including identifying top students, offering pre-Ph.D. tracks, looking beyond high-research-activity universities, and engaging with professional associations and corporations. By taking action now, business schools can ensure a steady supply of qualified candidates and maintain their position as global leaders in business education.

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