Graduate study began at Brown in 1850 with a program that foreshadowed our current 5th-Year Master’s — that is, that a student could receive a master’s degree with an additional year of study. This option was discontinued in 1857, but graduate study was again revived again in 1887, when the faculty and University Fellows added the master’s and the PhD degrees to Brown’s repertoire. The first master’s degrees were awarded in 1888, and the first PhD in 1889. Brown was part of a distinguished cohort of early doctoral granting institutions, including Chicago, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Cornell, adding doctoral programs in the late 19th century. In that era, Princeton resisted, arguing that the PhD should remain an honorary rather than an earned degree. At the turn of the century, then, Brown was part of a pre-eminent group of leaders in graduate education.
The early part of the 20th century saw a relatively modest investment in doctoral education, with only 106,000 total master’s and doctoral degrees awarded nationally, 7% of all higher education degrees. This led to a “pipeline” problem, with both industry and teaching compromised by a lack of qualified individuals. The early 1940s were a critical growth period for the academy, with graduate enrollment doubling between 1940 and 1950. In 1950, 237,000 higher degrees were awarded.
In 1903, a Graduate Department was established with its own dean. (Deans and their portraits are on the second floor hallway of the Horace Mann building.) In May 1927, the Graduate Department became the Graduate School.
While Brown led the charge for graduate, and especially doctoral, education in the 1880s-1930s, its embrace of graduate education remained modest in scale. Undergraduate enrollment grew at Brown in the 20th century, but its graduate population remained stable — so that by the 1970s, it was one of the smallest graduate schools among its cohort. New master’s programs were added in the 1990s and early 21st century.
On October 12, 1968, the Graduate Center was dedicated. It brought graduate housing together with administrative offices for the deans. The Graduate School moved in 2004 to its current home in the Horace Mann building.