Category: Featured News, News

Title: The Carnegie Report: A study on MA Russia/Eurasia programs in the USA

Date Published: June 9, 2020

The Carnegie Report showcases data collected from 8 well-known masters of Russia/Eurasia programs in the US over the span of 8 years, including Georgetown University’s Masters in Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies (MAERES).  The study looks at variables such as applications, cohort sizes and student characteristics per school.  In addition to this, the study provides an overview of curricula, tuition and more.

Download and read The Carnegie Report in its original format.

The report is also outlined below:

THE STATE OF M.A. RUSSIA/EURASIA PROGRAMS IN THE UNITED STATES

Report Prepared for the Carnegie Corporation by Andrew Kuchins and Jesse Mitchell.

Introduction

In July 2015, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) published a study authored by Theodore Gerber entitled The State of Russian Studies in the United States. This comprehensive assessment employed quantitative and qualitative analysis from 36 universities regarding faculty appointments, undergraduate and undergraduate training, research, partnerships with regional institutions and scholars, possible bias in scholarship and media, numbers of public events, and other issues. The study focused its analysis of graduate training on Ph.D. programs for social scientists, historians, and Slavicists. While its conclusions on many aspects of the field, such as research, were on the positive side, it identified two serious concerns: 1) The field of Russian studies in the social sciences was described as facing “…a crisis: an unmistakable decline in interest and numbers in terms of both faculty and graduate students” and 2) The dramatic decrease in funding from both government, federal and state, and private foundations also raises concerns that the United States will have enough well-trained experts in the field in the future.

With its principal focus on Ph.D. training, the report provided much less information on the status of M.A. ERES programs despite acknowledging their importance for the field.

“MA programs are very important. They sustain demand for graduate-level courses on Russia in social sciences that probably would not be taught otherwise because there are too few PhD students who want to take them. They provide a pipeline of graduates with at least introductory language skills and area expertise to work in government, think tanks, NGOs, and private sector jobs. They also prepare some for PhD level studies in a discipline with an initially strong background in Russia…They also can furnish a critical mass of graduate-level students to provide a sense of community and common intellectual enterprise at the inter-disciplinary area studies centers.”

This report is designed to augment the 2015 ASEEES study to bring additional quantitative and qualitative data about the state of MA ERES programs in the United States. We solicited data from 10 leading MA programs identified in the ASEEES study through questionnaires for program directors as well as for students. 8 programs agreed to take part in the study, and this report is based on the information we received in questionnaires. This data comprised the period from 2010-18. We selected this time period both to possibly show some trends over time but not to overburden program administrators with too much additional work providing more historical data that may be hard to find or simply not exist. We also sought to capture the pre-and post-2014 periods to see what impact the combination of the onset of the Ukraine crisis coupled with the sharp curtailment of federal Title VI and Title VIII funding may be discernible from the data.

Before sharing some conclusions, we should acknowledge from the outset that we purposefully sought information from a smaller number of institutions that are regarded as leaders in the field, so this selection bias may lead to somewhat more positive conclusions than a wider survey. Nevertheless, some of the key conclusions are consistent with the broader 2015 ASEEES study and are revealing of some of the successes of the field as well as challenges it faces going forward.

Similarly to the 2015 ASEEES study, the picture drawn from our study of leading MA ERES programs is rather mixed. For the majority of programs, the numbers of students matriculating, while varying yearto-year, has remained fairly steady with the exception of smaller numbers at Indiana and Columbia. The level of student satisfaction with their programs is high, and all programs report 90+% job placement or continuing education within a year from graduation. However, all programs are not tracking how many of their graduates may be leaving the field. One clear trend is that the age of matriculation overall has dropped several years over the time period. Students choose programs for reasons of financial support and location mainly, with financial support looking to be the determinative factor.

The biggest concerns from the standpoint of program directors not surprisingly are fairly consistent with some of the conclusions of the ASEEES study. The first has to do with aging faculty in the social sciences whose positions are often not replaced with a younger cohort with regional expertise. While some programs have a few faculty positions they have the authority and resources to fill, all acknowledge that they have very little influence over departmental hiring decisions. The other concern is with some Slavicist positions that are not being renewed with departmental retirements.

Another major concern is for the financial sustainability of the programs, and this relates both to financial aid for students as well as faculty positions. Ideally programs would have more endowed chairs to ensure more continuity with faculty expertise. The rising costs of tuition coupled with the smaller pool of public and private funds for financial aid causes students to face increasingly high opportunity costs in thinking about pursuing an MA ERES degree.

Finally, the deep trough in US-Russia relations is a real concern. While by some measures US-Russia relations are as bad as they were during the later Cold War period, security threats arising from this deterioration in ties do not garner the urgent attention of the Washington policy community and thus federal funding as they did during the Cold War. Indeed, the Obama administration cut Title VI funding for Russia/Eurasia Studies in 2014, the very year that Russia annexed Crimea, launched a war in Southeastern Ukraine and had far-reaching economic sanctions imposed on it by the United States. Indeed, it was hoped that at the end of the Cold War that stronger economic ties between US companies and Russia would create new job opportunities for M.A. graduates in the private sector. Those hopes, however, have been dashed by the difficulty of operating in the Russian market, the absence of a legal system that protects investors’ rights and the US-imposed economic sanctions that make engaging with Russia a very risky legal and economic proposition for American companies.

Director Survey Results

During the summer of 2018, the academic directors of Russian and Eastern European MA programs were surveyed from the following universities: Harvard, Indiana, Georgetown, Columbia, Stanford, Yale, and Wisconsin-Madison. The Fletcher School at Tufts University also provided a completed survey; however, the Russia and Eurasia Program was launched in 2018, and survey responses included data for the wider student body of the school.

Responses listed here have been standardized when needed to make summaries and comparisons. Data presented here, when not otherwise noted, starts in 2010 and ends with the spring semester of 2018.

Applications and Students

The programs included in the survey received over 2,200 applications from 2010 to 2018. Georgetown University received the largest number of applications, with 535, followed by Harvard and Columbia with 351 and 340. In general, about a quarter of applicants matriculate.

On average, Georgetown has the largest cohort size, while Stanford and the University of Wisconsin Madison have the smallest.

The directors of the MA programs described the average ages of the students in their programs to be in their mid-twenties. Georgetown noted that while the average age of the students was 28 in 2010, that number has been falling, and it was 23 by 2017. Harvard noted that their students’ ages range from their early twenties to their early thirties. Specific averages from 2010-2018 at UW-Madison and Columbia were 26.7 years and 24.4 years.

The number of international students varies widely by program. Over a third of Yale’s students come from abroad, while UW-Madison has no international students in its program.

While Harvard, Columbia, and Georgetown have had more women than men in their programs, Yale, Indiana, and UW-Madison have had more men.

Academic Requirements

There appear to be broad similarities in M.A. curriculum requirements. Each requires a thesis project including original research with potential to publish. Each has regional language requirements and course requirements on students’ focus of study. All programs with the exception of Stanford, which is a one-year program, are designed as two-year MA programs. Most offer the possibility of joint degrees, although few students choose this option. More common is for students to receive a less-demanding certificate in another area of expertise offered at the graduate level.

Language requirements to enter the MA programs vary among the schools. Georgetown, Stanford, and Indiana require previous regional language study. While the other programs do not have formal requirements, they emphasize that previous language study is important or strongly recommended. While most schools require students to complete a certain number of language courses to graduate, Indiana, Yale, and Columbia require demonstrated levels of proficiency to graduate.

The number of credits required to graduate and capstone requirements vary among programs. Most programs reported only minor changes to their curriculums since 2010. More significantly, Georgetown and UW-Madison both reduced the number of credits required to complete their MA programs. It should be noted that universities count credits in different ways, so the credit requirements listed below are not always comparable.

All of the programs surveyed offer either joint degrees or certificates, with the exception of Harvard. However, the number and proportion of students that choose to pursue these opportunities is different at each school.

Every program surveyed has a program common area or lounge, except for Indiana.

Faculty and Staff

Each program draws on faculty from a wide variety of disciplines to offer very diverse course offerings for their students thus accentuating the multidisciplinary nature of the institutes/centers themselves and the nature of the degrees awarded. While each program has significant degree credit requirements, it is possible for students to design their programs for a variety of job and continuing education outcomes. All programs rely primarily on full-time university faculty, but Columbia, Fletcher, and Georgetown take advantage of the wealth of expertise in the New York, Boston, and Washington areas by employing a significant number of part-time or adjunct faculty as well. Several programs also have the capacity to host many visiting scholars who both can enrich course offerings as well as the resident expertise on a wider number of number of issues and disciplines.

The number of faculty at each school is difficult to compare due to the multi-disciplinary nature of the area studies programs, where faculty are housed in different departments. Frequently because of this same reason, program directors explained that they have little to no input regarding faculty hiring.

While Georgetown and Columbia’s programs have control over adjunct hires, they do not control other related departments’ hiring. The other programs surveyed have no direct control over hiring.

Programs reported that art history, political science, and Central Asia represent gaps in disciplines and subjects taught at the universities.

Program Funding and Student Aid

The programs surveyed are funded by a mix of private and public funds. While Georgetown and Columbia use private sources to offer funding to incoming students, Stanford and UW-Madison use public aid sources. Harvard, Indiana, and Yale use both public and private sources to provide student aid. Yale, Stanford, UW-Madison, Harvard, and Indiana receive FLAS funding from the Department of Education.

Programs offer substantial aid to incoming students. Most programs offer financial aid as well as fellowships and assistantships. While Stanford and Harvard do not provide fellowships or assistantships, they do provide some aid to nearly all students.

Nearly every program director voluntarily expressed concerns regarding the availability of student aid funding and program financing in the future. Responses to a survey question asking, “What are your greatest institutional concerns?” explained that government and university funding for regional studies are declining, and that less aid will mean fewer well qualified students.

Program costs and tuition varies depending on whether the schools are public or private, and the number of credits required to graduate. Indiana and UW-Madison, both public schools, offer the lowest tuition. Columbia and Harvard have the highest tuition rates. Few students, however, pay the full tuition rate.

Program Directors’ Concerns about their Institutions and the Field

Program directors’ concerns about the status of their position within their universities and broader concerns about the field produced a diverse set of responses, and in some cases it was difficult to separate concerns within their university from broader concerns about the field. But, unsurprisingly, a few common themes emerged.

Virtually all programs shared concerns about financial support for their programs. The greatest concern was the cutbacks in federal funding for scholarships, but the state schools also expressed concerns about cutbacks in state funding. Several institutions expressed concern about continued support from their universities, and one director stated a perception that their university was cutting back more broadly on support for international and area studies, not just Russia and Eurasia. Another director observed that their university had cut back on funding for staff support for their MA program despite the fact it continued to matriculate the same number of students. Another concern expressed by several directors was the lack of interest their university’s development office to support fundraising from private donors. The main worry about financial support across the board was insufficient funding for prospective students, especially those who may be very strong and motivated but are already overwhelmed with student debt burden.

The second issue that received the most attention in the survey was the drift of social sciences away from regional studies—an issue that earned much attention also in the 2015 ASEEES Report. Centers administering MA ERES study programs have no institutional power over departmental hires. The principal means to influence this is through Center faculty participation on departmental search committees.

Another concern articulated by several program directors was the lack of qualified undergraduates for advanced MA studies, as one observed that overall the level of regional expertise and language skills developed at the undergraduate level has decreased in recent years. Another program director expressed this concern in a rather different way, the risk of “oversaturation of REES MA programs given the pool of qualified students.”

The final category of observations to be noted have to do with the fall-out from deteriorating bilateral US-Russia relations and the domestic political environment in both countries. For example, the large cutbacks in embassy/consulate staffs in both countries has significantly prolonged the process of obtaining visas on both sides. More broadly , the political environment in both countries has resulted in greater ideological and bureaucratic barriers to partnerships, for example the Foreign Agents legislation in Russia as well as increasing constraints on USG funding for travel and study in Russia.

Student Outcomes

Every program surveyed offers tailored career services, and where the data is available, graduates from the programs successfully find employment. Most programs did not know how many students left the Russian and East European studies field. Stanford estimated that fewer than a quarter of their graduates left the field, while UW-Madison estimated that about half of their graduates left the field.

In sum, the picture gleaned from these surveys suggests a field clearly facing challenges, but hardly in crisis. The two factors that could darken this picture would be a more dramatic decrease in social science PhDs to maintain these interdisciplinary programs and further cutbacks in financial aid available for students. It should be noted, however, that there is a selection bias in this study since we purposefully sought data from the top 10 rated programs in the country, so virtually by definition they are less likely to be experiencing difficulties as lesser rated programs.

Student Survey

During the summer of 2018, 86 students of Russian and Eastern European MA programs were surveyed from the following universities: Harvard, Indiana, Georgetown, Columbia, Stanford, Yale, Wisconsin-Madison, and Fletcher. Because of the varied nature of the responses, rather than present a narrative we present selected answers to questions, tables and a graph. Responses listed here have been standardized when needed to make summaries and comparisons.

Entering the Field

In answering why they chose to pursue an MA, students spoke of their future careers, the desire to build language skills, and the path to a PhD. Specifically, in the 86 responses received, “career” was mentioned 23 times and “PhD” 18 times.

Examples of typical responses include:

– “To increase career opportunities”
– “To gain additional regional expertise and explore the possibility of pursuing a PhD in Soviet/Russian history”
– “More interesting employment opportunities”
– “I did not want to immediately enter the workforce after undergrad”
– “To improve my language skills and understanding of the region”
– “Better job prospects, higher pay, more networking”

Students answered that they chose their particular field for similar reasons, listing their desire to pursue a field that would enhance their future careers and wanting to improve Russian language skills. In addition, students noted that they were interested in the region and the subject matter.

Examples of illustrative responses include:
– “It is a way to apply my prior academic experience in real-world situations”
– “Russia is an important country to know more about and Russian is a useful language to know”
– “Interest in international relations, prior language study”
– “Russian is a [U.S. Government] critical needs language”

Students entering MA programs had obtained bachelor’s degrees in a number of fields. Most common were students who had majored in social sciences, followed closely by regional languages. Next were students who had majored in Russian and East European Studies, followed by other humanities.

Of the students surveyed, about 65% had some full-time work experience. Of those 65%, each student had, on average, 3.9 years of work experience.

Language Studies

Student respondents had a variety of backgrounds in Russian language studies. Excluding native speakers and those choosing not to take Russian, students had on average a bit more than three and a half years of Russian language study before joining their MA programs.

Native speakers of Russian represented about a quarter of those who matriculated.

Students expected their level of Russian to improve over the course of their studies, estimating that they would improve by half of a year’s equivalent of language study by the end of their program.

About a quarter (23%) of respondents indicated that they studied at least one other regional language while studying in their MA program. The most common languages listed were Ukrainian, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, and Persian.

Program Perceptions

Student respondents listed several reasons for choosing their particular institutions and programs.

The most common reasons concerned finances. In the 86 responses, students explained that they made their program choice by mentioning the term “financial” 17 times, “funding” 16 times, and “aid” 11 times. “Reputation” was mentioned 16 times by students. “Location” was used 14 times and “professors” 10 times.

Examples of illustrative responses include:
– “Excellent reputation and was recommended by mentors”
– “Because it has a very good international reputation and because they have a good financial aid program”
– “Academic rigor and prestige”
– “Location, prestige, course offerings”
– “Generous financial aid”
– “Close to a lot of opportunities, especially federal”

When describing what is exceptional about their MA programs, respondents mentioned “professors” most often, using the word 22 times, with the term “faculty” being used an additional 11 times. “Courses” was used 14 times, “flexibility” 13 times, and “opportunities” 12 times.

Examples of typical responses include:
– “Faculty and flexibility in course requirements”
– “Courses are very practical, i.e. professors try to teach you skills you can actually apply to a real life job”
– “Flexibility of program
– Support for innovative and creative projects
– Warmth of atmosphere”
– “The interdisciplinary approach (ability to choose courses across departments), the course content, the endless career opportunities, and most importantly, in my opinion, the professors”

Respondents were asked to rate their programs on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. Overall, students responded that they were very satisfied with their programs, rating them 4.56 out of 5, on average.

Student Satisfaction with Programs

When describing what is missing from their MA programs, students listed a variety of deficiencies. The word “courses” was mentioned 14 times, “opportunities” 11 times, and “career” 6 times. “Support” and “funding” were each discussed 6 times.

Examples of typical responses include:

– “I am very content with everything my program has to offer”
-“More opportunities to study abroad”
– “I wish all incoming students were fully funded”
– “More Russia-focused classes, scholarships/grants to travel abroad, Russia/Eurasia-related paid research positions”
– “A more tightly knit cohort, an advisor that could actually advise students keeping their particular interests in mind”
– “Student diversity from US (i.e. lack of African-Americans, Latino-Americans, etc.)”
– “I believe there is sometimes too much of a focus on Russia, and less on other FSU countries”
– “Funding. Transparency about funding”

Employment During and After the Program

The number of students who interned during their MA studies varied widely among programs. Overall, about 39% of students responded that they had interned at least once during their programs.

In describing which sector they expected to enter after graduating, a plurality of students (39%) responded that they would enter the public sector. About a quarter (23%) expect to work in the private sector, and 14% intend to continue their education.