Graduate students in the humanities rarely intend to pursue non-faculty careers — but with more of them doing so, a new survey suggests that doctoral programs may need to change.

Carl Straumsheim of Inside Higher Ed has an analysis of this new trend:

Many humanities Ph.D.s have put their training to work in careers that aren’t on the faculty track, but a new survey shows their success is largely disconnected from the expectations and, in some cases, the skills fostered in graduate schools.

The Scholarly Communication Institute at the University of Virginia has recently explored how these graduates came to pursue alternative academic, or “alt-ac,” careers — or careers not even related to higher education — surveying over 700 graduates off the traditional faculty career path to see how their academic careers prepared them for employment outside academe.

“One thing seems clear: The persistent myth that there’s nothing but a single academic job market available to graduates is damaging, and extricating graduate education from the expectation of tenure-track employment has the potential to benefit students, institutions, and the health of the humanities more broadly,” Katina Rogers, a senior research specialist with the institute, writes in a preliminary report on the study’s findings. “However, as long as norms are reinforced within departments — by faculty and students both — it will be difficult for any change to be effective.”

The study represents an ongoing effort to reform graduate school education to close the yawning gap between students’ career expectations and the realities of the job market — a gap that appears to be growing. A 2011 report by the National Science Foundation found that less than half, or 43 percent, of humanities Ph.D. recipients did not have any job commitments after completing their academic programs.

“What this signals to me is that we are failing at bringing informed students into the graduate education system,” Rogers wrote.

Part of that disconnect may be related to the career advice students receive while enrolled. Of the 779 graduates surveyed, 74 percent said at the beginning of their programs that they intended to become tenured professors — 80 percent of them saying they were fairly or completely certain.

Perhaps because none of those surveyed ended up becoming tenured professors, only 18 percent said they were to some degree satisfied with their career counseling while in graduate school. Fifty-six percent responded negatively, while 26 percent held a neutral opinion.

Ideally, the report reads, humanities departments should temper their students’ expectations about finding a career in academe before even admitting them, and continue to highlight alt-ac opportunities through career counseling.

“To be honest, I see this as an ethical issue: It is deeply problematic to admit students to a program if their expectations for the program’s outcome are not accurate,” Rogers wrote.