Monday, November 12, 2012

87. The financial rewards are decreasing.

No one working in academe will be surprised to learn that among the most common search-engine queries bringing readers to this blog are queries concerning money (see What Brought You Here). When the supply of workers exceeds the demand for labor, workers' wages tend to fall. This is the situation in academe. There are far too many PhDs produced every year for the academic job market to absorb them all (see Reason 55), and universities fill most of their teaching positions with poorly paid graduate students and adjuncts (see Reason 14). While the "glut" of PhDs seems to be slowly attracting more and more attention, it is in fact nothing new. The problem has existed for decades. Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that the situation is getting worse. In January 2010, under the heading "Another Reason to Just Say No to a Ph.D.," Gabriela Montell posted an informative graph on the Chronicle of Higher Education hiring blog. It was the work of economist Michael Mandel, who used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine that the "real earnings for full-time workers with a doctoral degree" had dropped 10% between 1999 and 2008. Looking at these numbers, Mandel concluded, "there's no sense of a PhD being a desirable degree."

This is information that the public rarely sees. Note that Mandel found a 10% drop in the earnings of people with doctorates who were working (and working full-time). A growing number of people with PhDs cannot find anything but part-time work. The American Association of University Professors reports that part-time faculty members represent more than half of all faculty members in the United States. In June 2012, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce published a study [PDF] showing that more than 30% of part-time faculty members have doctoral degrees. (The Chronicle highlighted the authors' characterization of the study as a "dismal" portrayal of the life of a part-time professor.) And don't forget the thousands of Americans with doctorates who depend on food stamps to feed themselves (see Reason 83). Looking only at the salaries of tenured and tenure-track professors (who represent a shrinking share of the academic workforce) can leave you with a false impression of the economic advantages of having a PhD. With so many PhDs on the job market (and more arriving every year), there is little reason for universities or other employers to pay a premium to hire them. In monetary terms, the value of a PhD is steadily declining.



222 comments:

  1. Academics don't want to acknowledge that the PhD has a low return. Even with the current levels of graduate unemployment and underemployment, they don't want to hear it. When confronted with the truth that PhDs don't payoff, the delusional academic will say the pursuit of knowledge is more important than money. As if human beings can sustain themselves on personal satisfaction.

    Then again, why would professors want to educate their meal-tickets on this subject? Because it's the right thing to do? Ha! We can expect the education system to teach us everything BUT what's wrong with the education system. They aren't going to tattle on themselves.

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    1. The fact that a Harvard Ph.D. economist was surprised to discover this -- Mandel actually wrote "Yowza!" -- tells you what kind of grasp the experts have on the economic realities of academia.

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    2. I see the problem in three issues:

      1. Universities are in it for the money. Their studies and published research will always point to higher education as the cure for all things. However, for the average person, a PhD may be overkill.

      2. Ego. For the past decade, a PhD has been a status symbol. PhDs are only just now beginning to receive negative attention for being overvalued.

      3. Denial and Identity. Being told all your life that getting an education will provide you with a comfortable lifestyle or that only the really smart people have PhDs has poisoned the minds of graduate students. Many have adjusted so much to academia that they are scared to even think of life outside it.

      It doesn't matter if the financial rewards are decreasing, PhDs are "supposed" to be worth it. Some people are so invested in academia that telling them otherwise would be blasphemy.

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    3. The value of a PhD is dropping like a rock, especially in the US and Europe. NATURE published some interesting graphs based on a huge survey of people working in the sciences: http://tinyurl.com/bww46x8

      They show almost no difference in the average salary of people with and without PhDs 6-10 years after "achieving [their] highest qualification." That means that, in this sample, the people whose "highest qualification" is a bachelor's or master's degree must be several years younger than those whose highest qualification is a PhD.

      On average, there is no "financial reward" whatsoever for having a PhD. In fact, getting a PhD can mean making a lot less money than your less-credentialed colleagues in the long run.

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  2. How different is this from the situation in most of the rest of the labor market though? Declining real wages and prevalent part-time and contract labor are both growing realities across the board (with the exception of a few fields that nevertheless don't have limitless demand for workers). The number of people with PhDs who depend on food stamps is lower than for any other degree, too. When companies and institutions are all moving toward cutting costs by making workers less secure, it's a structural issue and individuals just not getting a PhD isn't going to make things better.

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    1. "individuals just not getting a PhD isn't going to make things better."

      Yes, it would make things better. Why would you take out more student loans if the job prospects aren't there? Now you've got a higher monthly loan payment and a job as a barista or file clerk.

      And if the declining real wages and labor are across the board, those PhD job statistics are getting more skewed. Just as this post has discussed Michael Mandel's findings about the "real earnings for full-time workers with a doctoral degree," I'd like to know how much more the average doctorate makes when you factor in loan payments and lost opportunity cost. If you're working that same job as a BA or MA holder then, in actuality, wouldn't you be making less? Who wants to spend 4+ years pursuing a degree that isn't going to highly increase their salary and marketability?

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    2. First, your first paragraph is a big "if." Why would you turn down a funded slot in a PhD program, with no loans, if you're going to get a raise from your barista-type job? And yes, this does happen. It's not always a choice between a full time job with benefits and advancement potential in favor of an unfunded grad program, sometimes it's the opposite. Opportunity cost still exists, sure, but debt doesn't necessarily. And it's hard to factor in lost opportunity cost to income without making assumptions about how quickly you'd get an equivalently good job if you weren't in school. Perhaps in that case, grad school is still not a great individual answer, but it's at least not that obviously black and white in financial terms.

      Second, when I said "isn't going to make things better," that immediately followed a clause talking about problems on a structural level. Your comment addresses what one individual should do to maximize income. That still doesn't fix the structural problem, unless you think it is not a problem at all because the increasing elimination of full time jobs in favor of part time contract work at all levels of education is something workers deserve.

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    3. You're assuming the average PhD student gets into a fully funded program. Most students take out loans through their college career and the interest is ever increasing.

      You're talking theory and idealism. We need to hear more from the actual PhD holders on this issue. What are they making and if it was worth it factoring in the loans and opportunity cost.

      We certainly need more work like Mandel's that goes against the grain. I don't expect universities and professors to ever acknowledge that the academic system is broken and PhDs in humanities and calisthenics are wasting the productive years of our youth. Just as a used car salesman will never tell you the car's a dud.

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    4. Even the most clueless professors tend to tell undergraduates, "Don't go unless you get into a top program and are fully funded." But this implies that if you _do_ enter graduate school under these conditions, you will be just fine. This is far from being the case. Sure, you might not have debt to worry about when you finish, but you're still much older and have no meaningful work experience.

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    5. The opportunity costs are huge and are not discussed nearly enough. By the time you come out of school, you have used up close to a decade of time otherwise spent in the workforce, including many of life's prime years. There are the lost wages, and then there are lost capital gains on what you could have invested in with those wages. e.g. you could have a sizable investment portfolio or a mortgage half paid off by the time one graduates.

      There also are professional opportunity costs. During those ten years, you could be acquiring skills, networking, getting promotions, and opening up other career opportunities. There is none of this in graduate school, where the degree only feeds into one career path and it's value isn't recognized outside academe.

      Graduate school has been a path to financial ruin for many. Even for those lucky few who do land tenure track jobs, it takes years to get out of debt and to afford basic things like cars and houses.

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    6. If Mandel is right, then PhD salaries are getting clobbered worse than JDs. It makes the law school crisis look mild.

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    7. Awol, those are great points. I'd also like to add that private sector employers don't care about non-professional degrees.

      I used to delude myself into thinking that my degree in psychology could translate into any working environment. I would apply for marketing jobs believing that my knowledge of the human mind would make me a great advertiser. Guess who got the job? The guy with the degree in marketing.

      People used to say just having a degree shows your employer you can learn, so I did my degree in something I was interested in. Thinking back it was incredibly foolish to believe that. Why hire an MA in Art over an MBA for a supervisory position. Because the MA in art can think of creative ways to manage?

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    8. Anon @ 4:51 is right. This is a structural issue affecting numerous sectors of the economy.

      All the arguments against consist of "If, if, if, if, if....."

      We're making big assumptions that IF someone considers a PhD and chooses NOT to go, he/she continue on and land a stable, secure job, get married, buy a house, have a kid or two, and all the while contribute to his IRA, baby's college fund (and make sure to indoctrinate that child about the futility of education in the arts), and put highly relevant experience on his resume.

      Yes, they will all do that.

      If only everyone's life was so perfect...

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    9. Sure - the grass is always greener on the other side.

      The difference is when you have dug yourself a hole of 50K debt from grad school - with no career prospects to show for it - you can't see sunlight let alone grass.

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  3. In my department, it was made very clear that the chances of finding a TT position after graduation (or ever) were very slim. And yet, people STILL worked for years as TAs despite knowing that their years of poverty now wouldn't translate into a comfortable middle class salary later.

    I think this is because going to grad school really skews your notion of finances. The worst part about grad school wasn't making very little money, it was getting used to making very little money. You get used to no raises, no cost of living increases, no bonuses at all. TA income is at least some income, right? Plus, you get to do something honorable and decent and live the life of the mind!

    Every year I saw people excited about the 'amazing chance' to earn $2000 for a class when they had issues like two kids to feed and a car that was constantly breaking down. It was so depressing that I had to leave after my MA exams and call it a day.

    Now I'm a state employee, and I haven't had a single raise or cost of living increase in four years. It was hard for me to find a job after I quit grad school. The job market is still a disaster. But I am slowly building a career that might enable me to make more money in the future, and I recognize that I do have financial worth, that I am worth a raise and a bonus every now and then. Many of my cohort didn't, for reasons that have been discussed on this blog a lot already.

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    1. I have a rule now for when people ask me about whether they should do a graduate degree in hopes of becoming a professor. I ask them - would you do it for free? Because you'll be competing with others who do.

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    2. "The worst part about grad school wasn't making very little money, it was getting used to making very little money."

      So true. And so it goes. You get used to being not done. Used to being looked down on. Used to spinning your wheels. Used to being of little value. Used to waiting for things to be better.

      Used to looking down on money. What’s money? It’s other people’s goods and services. Why do so many in grad school think so little of other people’s goods and services? I left grad school four years ago and I make 6ish times as much money as I was paid there (I had RA/TA's the whole time), and I’ll tell you that other people’s goods and services have improved my life tremendously.

      But being worth that money has improved my life even more. Having an employer who would have trouble replacing me; getting calls from recruiters. People value the services I provide, and are willing to exchange theirs. It was a weird feeling at first. It was hard (for a time) to accept the value that I had. But it sure does feel great now. . .

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    3. I agree. One of the most rewarding aspects of leaving academe for another career was gaining a sense that my work had actual value in the real world. Academics love to tell themselves that their work has inherent value for other peoples' lives, even though it's a statement that can never be quanitifed.

      Academic work is akin to that of a missionary. You espouse a unquestionable doctrine, eschew those with different beliefs, make huge personal and economic sacrifice to preach, and, in the end, end up a martyr for a cause with no following. All for what?

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    4. @Kyle re. valuing other people's goods and services: yes!! This was a major change for me as well after grad school. I now support all kinds of businesses and individuals with my money who I couldn't support before, and as you said, the services and goods that I get from these other people have really improved my life.

      When I made little money back in my TA days, I couldn't put much money into the economy. That whole time, I thought my frugality was noble, but my frugality really only benefited me. I am still a frugal person and I save/invest a lot of my money, but I do recognize now that spending can actually be good. I can also afford to donate more to non-profits and charities, the places that helped me out when I was a poor grad student.

      All this is to say, the financial rewards for seeking a PhD aren't just decreasing for the individual, but also for local communities who are losing out on money that PhD students and then graduates don't have to spend. This is a problem with low-wage earning in general, and definitely not limited to academia.

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  4. I was just talking to my friend the other day who had met a guy who is currently working for a video game company. The guy has a PhD in Religious Studies. From HARVARD. Do you think he got that PhD at Harvard to end up working for a video game developer? If this is what it's like for Harvard grads just give up now.

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  5. This reason makes sense except for this:

    "And don't forget the thousands of Americans with doctorates who depend on food stamps to feed themselves (see Reason 83)."

    I've discussed before how allowing the discussion of education to stoop to this level is not helpful. The PhD holders on food stamps are extreme cases.

    I might as well tell my kid, "Be careful when you choose your major. If you major in music, you'll grow up to be a homeless person. If you major in biology, you'll be a doctor. Choose now."

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    1. All one needs to do is google "graduate unemployment" to get tons of real-life examples of the graduate crisis.

      Here's just a few:

      1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed: http://news.yahoo.com/1-2-graduates-jobless-underemployed-140300522.html

      Is A Degree Worth The Money? In Hindsight, The Young And Unemployed Say 'No': http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/11/12/degree-not-worth-the-money-say-young-people_n_2116243.html?ncid=GEP

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    2. "I've discussed before how allowing the discussion of education to stoop to this level is not helpful."

      Perhaps you mean stooping to practicality? This isn't fantasy land. People aren't taking out thousands in student loans for the joy of learning. As it stands, more education isn't getting people jobs.

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    3. I'm more than happy to talk about those larger problems with education in general which are a function of our general economic malaise.

      If education isn't going to get them jobs, then what?

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    4. Yeah, but grad school isn't education. It's half training for pumping out papers, and half low-paid qualified homework grading labor.

      Education is when you go read Ben Franklin, Plutarch, Plato, some history of the world maybe Toynbee, etc, and then you look for something that needs to be done and spend some time figuring out how to do it.
      Grad school != education.

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    5. I agree somewhat.

      I see the increased grad school enrollment as basically an inflation problem. More people graduate high school than ever before, more go to college than ever before, and more grad school as well.

      The value of the degrees falls as a result and the bell curve is lowered of the people who have them.

      That's why it doesn't guarantee you a job. In the past it basically did because by virtue of graduating from a college you were a member of an elite. That's no longer the case.

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    6. In addition, the number of institutions granting degrees increased over the last 30 years. In my region, a number of junior colleges became "universities" or "university colleges" largely because legislation was changed allowing them to do that.

      The result is that just about anyone can get a degree from almost anywhere.

      As well, I noticed how my alma mater changed from a university into a degree factory. A campus that was designed for 20,000 students when I was an undergrad in the mid-70s now caters to at least double that number.

      Things changed in the early 1980s during the recession at the start of that decade. Many people who had lost their jobs thought they could sit it out in school, thereby filling a hole in their CVs. When things improved later, there were a lot of workers with graduate degrees who never got to use that added education. Some, perhaps, never intended to as being a student looks better than being unemployed.

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  6. The real point of this post is that becoming a humanities professor won't give you the sort of lifestyle it offered to professors of generations past.

    You're not likely to live in a big, old antique-filled house in or near a college town. You're not likely to summer in a foreign country. And you're not going to be invited to cocktail parties with the horsey set.

    Moreover, you won't be able to afford a car that's less than five years old--if you can afford one at all. And you won't have those quirkily charming tweedy wardrobes of your parents' profs.

    If you become a humanites prof--assuming, of course, you get a job--large chunks of your paycheck are going to pay off your loans, even if you were funded. Unless, of course, you were independently wealthy when you enrolled in graduate school.

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    1. I think the lifestyle you're outlining was always one enjoyed by the independently wealthy.

      I knew professors that lived like that -- the ones who were married to someone rich.

      "Professor" was always one step above "teacher." That's it, unless we're talking elite institutions. Today, it's about the same as teacher.

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  7. Did you guys hear the one about the guy who got a dual JD/PhD? He's collecting two separate unemployment checks now

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  8. The ten percent average income drop includes folks with every kind of Ph.D. from English Literature to Computer Science. I wonder which end of that spectrum is taking the bigger income hit. It's a mess across the board, but the STEM folks presumably have more marketable skills outside of the academy.

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  9. How are the prospects in Asia? Is it true that India has a demand for PhDs that an unemployed PhD from the U.S. could presumably fill? I'm glad that I don't see a PhD in my future, but if I were, I would think of taking it to a developing country where there's arguably more interest in my credentials.

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    1. I remember hearing there's a glut of graduates in Asia as well. I definitely know there's a graduate crisis in Europe.

      The one thing American graduates have over others is teaching English. That seems to be the most marketable skill for finding work outside of the country. I mean, if other countries already have an overflow of graduates, English is the one skill that sets our graduates apart.

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    2. Teaching English in Asia is a great job choice--if you are a perky blonde in your 20s with a BA. Last time I checked, there's an age cap and appearance bias in hiring. Not bad as An Adventure Before Settling Down or an immersion opportunity to brush up your Japanese, but not much of a career, especially for people with grad degrees. I think if you've got to go abroad to teach English just to put food on the table you've really got to work on brushing up your skill set.

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    3. The only person I know who "taught English" in Asia was a randy fratboy whose sole qualifications consisted of barely managing to graduate (BA) without flunking out, and blue eyes.

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    4. The people with serious--yes, even tenured--jobs teaching English abroad are the ones who have formal degrees and systematic training in teaching English as a second language. My husband and I both work in a university outside the U.S. where the language of instruction is English, and believe me, at our institution the teaching of English to students who are trying to use it at the university level is a highly professionalized undertaking. It has nothing to do with age and looks, and everything to do with credentials and experience. You can't just up and do it on a lark. (Neither of us teaches English, by the way; he's in a different academic department, and I have a non-academic professional position.)

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    5. Okay, people with training in ESL are teaching it. They may not be the ONLY ones doing so, but they got the job they trained for. I don't think that's what anon 11/15 3:18 was referencing when s/he wrote, "English is the one skill that sets our graduates apart."

      Regardless, if you gotta go abroad to make a buck as an academic, something is seriously wrong with the system HERE.

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    6. "You can always go to [insert former Soviet Bloc country here] and teach English" has been a constant refrain I've heard ever since I was a college senior looking into grad school. I noticed no one ever said whether such a job would make you look better to future employers or prepare you for an ultimate career doing something else -- it always sounded like a guaranteed fall-back job if you were desperate and needed to make money until you figured out what you wanted to do.

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    7. Anon 11/16 10:43 AM, I was just throwing out the only skill that I know regular graduates use to go abroad. When I searched job boards and looked for careers for graduate students in this dire economy, teaching English abroad always came up. However, salary was hardly ever discussed, so it didn't seem like a lucrative career, like Russkiy mentions.

      The sentiment I also found was that it's highly unlikely for a foreign company to hire you for just any kind of degree (PhD or otherwise). Unless you are truly brilliant, they aren't going to go through the hassle of hiring you over another graduate on their doorstep.

      Regardless, I'm in agreement with those who said it's ridiculous to have to leave the country just to get a job with your degree.

      Unless the pay is worth leaving your home country, becoming a stranger in a strange land, learning a new language and then learning to teach your material in that language, and living on an average or below-average salary is all not worth it. I might just take a job at McDonald's down the street instead.

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    8. I heard the Middle East has a lot of opportunities for professor positions as well.

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  10. " I noticed no one ever said whether such a job would make you look better to future employers or prepare you for an ultimate career doing something else -- it always sounded like a guaranteed fall-back job if you were desperate and needed to make money until you figured out what you wanted to do."

    This sounds like VAPing to me. VAP always sounded like the brass ring of fallbacks: FT, benefits. Until you think about it. Not only are people I know dashing back and forth across the nation from fetid backwater to barren ghost town to claim these "prize" gigs, departments seem to actively be preying upon the desperation that drives people to accept them. The refrain I always hear is, "Well, it's a VAP, but it's basically an audition for the T-T job they're going to post the next year. If they like me, I'm in." Nine times out to ten, all the VAP-er has to show at the end of the year are a giant stack of graded papers and yet another moving bill.

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    1. VAP = Visiting Assistant Professor(ship)

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    2. "VAP = Visiting Assistant Professor(ship)"

      Yes, it does. And...?

      My point was that teaching English overseas sounds like the type of crummy deal people settle for when they get VAP gigs. Long term prospects are similarly sucky, and both point to a broken system.

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  11. I almost went to South Korea as an ESL teacher because I was an English major with no idea what to do with my life.

    I know many people who did it in China - it's a total dead end. These kids go out there in an adventurous spirit, and it's all wonderful for the first 2 years. Your medical is covered, you get a trip home every year, you get a comfortable little salary that nicely supports your still-cheap student lifestyle in a country with a low CoL, and everyone wants to sleep with you because you're a glamorous foreigner. What's not to like?

    These people end up getting accustomed to this life, partly because they don't know what to do next and are afraid to leave their comfort zone to take the risk, and end up being 30-year old ESL teachers with no idea where the past decade went.

    I've seen them at bars in Beijing and Seoul...do not take that route.

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    1. I know lots of people who went down the ESL in Foreign Country route, and you're pretty much correct. It's just like grad school - exciting when you're young and willing to live a cheap student lifestyle, and you get to live out your young adult years a little longer. But suddenly you're 30 and you're doing the same stuff you were doing 8 years ago, with nothing to show for it.

      Nothing wrong with doing ESL teaching, or grad school, or anything else for a few years in your early 20s to figure out your goals or what you want to do in life. It makes a fun story to tell later on. But as this reason makes quite clear, there are financial penalties for continuing to do this kind of thing for years, and as other reasons have made clear, there are personal consequences as well. The stuff I want in life now, I never wanted when I started grad school. If I'd stayed in grad school, I wouldn't be able to have that stuff, and things would not be going well for me.

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  12. At this point it takes a BA just to get a minimum wage or entry-level job. For an entry-level accounting job that pays $10/hr it takes a BA in accounting. Masters and Doctorate degrees are following the same trend. More job requirements, less pay.

    Wages are decreasing but student debt is heavily increasing. It's not worth it if you don't have a guaranteed career path or a full-ride scholarship. You'll be stuck with a PhD in a dead end job, and you'll likely have to default on your high student loans to have money to eat.

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    1. It's very sad. I wish there was an easier answer to change this.

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    2. There's also the possibility the career will be gone by the time you finish. A lot can happen in 5 or more years. The job market may not be in your favor upon completion.

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  13. Just a suggestion, but can you mention how deceptive it can be as an undergrad to only see your own professors, who are by definition the success stories? My profs were world-class teachers and researchers, by and large happy with what they were doing, but what I didn't realize at the time was how rare their experiences are. They pretty much started out at the head of the pack. They got most of what they wanted from their career (not everything--we were a state school) because they were the small slice of people who thrive in academia.

    When I went to grad school (terminal master's, thank God) I had my eye on a doctoral program, but I ultimately decided to scrap that plan because I just couldn't see a way through it that made financial sense. Their disappointment was palpable. They saw everything through rose-colored glasses: of course some of their classmates had failed, but I wouldn't, because they liked me!

    Now, two years later, I'm squinting at med school--I have one interview, at the school where my odds are the best--and having a very similar conversation with myself about what I want out of life. It's scary and there are no guaranteed right answers. It's not like you show up and work hard and good things happen as an inevitable result of that. Advancement through merit alone is a load of horse-shit. It always was, but it's a lot more visible up close.

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    1. "Advancement through merit alone is a load of horse-shit. It always was, but it's a lot more visible up close."

      Amen. Well said. The folks I know who breezed through grad school were all the privileged baby private school silver spoon set. They study things like "inequality" even as they claim that academia is a meritocracy. Very silly.

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    2. I love this suggestion - yes, of course, being a professor seems like a perfectly reasonable career path, because who do you see? The success stories. A bunch of people who went to famous universities, wear nice clothes, have houses in the nice part of town - that they share with their spouses, who are also professors at the same university or one not more than 45 minutes away, and kids if they wanted some - and really seem to like their jobs. I now understand that the people who were my favorite professors were not only really smart and hardworking (I knew that going in); they'd basically hit the lottery. But especially as a freshman/sophomore, it really looked like a good career path.

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    3. A prof one told our class that we should major in something we liked, that we could do, and that someone would pay us to do. Unless the student can fill all three requirements perhaps he should not be in college at all, much less graduate school. No harm in waiting a year or so to let things sort themselves out.

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    4. It is shameful how professors pretend that their careers are the result of a meritocratic process, as though it is like working hard in class and getting an A. Academe is far less meritocratic than the corporate world or government. Yet faculty will never admit this as it undermines their credibility, as both a profession and as fortunate individuals who got jobs over many others who were probably as or more quaified for the job.

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    5. For real. If it were a meritocracy, it'd be one thing. Instead this is a world where you can be the "best" student in your cohort at Harvard and wind up with no job or (as is increasingly becoming *the dream*) a string of short-term contracts which might have you moving lordknowswhere from one year to the next.

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  14. The PhD glut, the Architect glut, the Lawyer glut have beeen going on for decades now. What have the high school "guidence" counselors and their collegate counterparts been doing for the last twenty or thirty years, selling snake oil? There really needs to be an annual ranking published that tells students that certain specific majors from certain specific schools give one an excellent opportunity of be gainfully employed. And other specific majors from certain schools are economically worthless and should be pursued by the independently wealthy or retired.

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    1. Looking back, I would have been deterred from doing my grad degrees had the depts, university admissions offices, or career centers had quantitative information on just how many grads landed jobs directly as a result of their degree. Key word - directly - where the degree was a specifically requisite for the job.

      But universities do not track such information nor would they ever disclose it if they did since it would only expose just how useless many of their depts are. Far too many depts operate as ponzi schemes that depend on a steady flow of new capital in the form of uninformed and naive students.

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    2. I believe the Dept. of Labor puts out statistics along the lines you're talking about. There are also salary figures by major that you can find, but I don't find that very useful.

      Still, it doesn't take a genius to see that "nursing" is a good field right now.

      I don't know what will happen circa 2030 when the baby boomers start to die off en masse and there is a glut of millenial nurses in their 40s and 50s, but oh well....

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  15. I agree with the annual ranking idea, and there's definitely a PhD glut.

    There's a Doctorate of Design, Canon Law, Forestry, Humane Letters, Social Science, Theology, Practical Theology, Ministry, Musical Arts, Arts, Fine Arts.

    And you can get a Bachelor or Master's in virtually anything.

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  16. Hey, let's not pile on too heavily. "Doctor of Humane Letters" is strictly an honorary degree. (You might not agree that there should be such a thing, but no one is touting it as an actual academic degree that prepares someone for an academic career.) The Canon Law, Theology, Practical Theology, and Ministry varieties are professional degrees--the approximate equivalent of law or business degrees for people in professional church positions. Musical Arts, Arts, and Fine Arts are for practicing artists and musicians, although they're usually pursued by people who also wish to teach at the university/conservatory level. Design and Forestry also sound to me like professional degrees. In other words, most of these degrees have specific professional orientations attached to them, not just vague academic hopes.

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    1. Great point, April W. I remain shocked the many on this site (and elsewhere) who still can't figure out the difference between graduate degrees and professional degrees. If you're not sure, ask yourself whether there might possibly be some real world application to the topic under investigation. If so--> professional. If the word "imbricate" (or similar) is in the dissertation title, it's academic. Good luck, Charlie.

      I think the reason that fields like "forestry" and "landscape architecture" and the like get bandied about as examples of how one "can get a doctorate in anything these days" is that academics have been trained to look down upon applied work. It's inferior and polluted by commerce, so what's to study, right? I mean how complicated could it be that a doctorate is warranted? That attitude is just a holdover from the academic cult's brainwashing. Believe it or not, other areas of work are interesting, valuable, and require learning and expertise.

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    2. Unemployed is unemployed whether it is a professional or academic degree. Epic fail in either case for the folks who run higher education both at the graduate and undergraduate level.

      There really needs to be a register where a high school kid can go and find out that he can stay in Alabama, for example, pay low in-state tuition at Auburn, major in mechanical engineering and start out with a good job averaging $60,000. Or he can go to Sarah Lawrence, major in "Africana" while paying $50,000 a year in tuition and starve upon graduation. I mean, really, this happy BS has got to end!

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    3. "There really needs to be a register where a high school kid can go and find out that he can stay in Alabama, for example, pay low in-state tuition at Auburn, major in mechanical engineering and start out with a good job averaging $60,000. Or he can go to Sarah Lawrence, major in "Africana" while paying $50,000 a year in tuition and starve upon graduation. I mean, really, this happy BS has got to end!"

      Your comment is the embodiment of our culture's lack of respect for the arts and humanities and the pointless arts v. sciences war that's been going on for decades. High school students are already scared of majoring in humanities subjects. Every time I talk to high school students I get asked "Should I do something I love, or something that will make me money?" Everyone thinks it has to be one or the other.

      Your post represents a false dichotomy too: you can of course stay in state and major in what interests you. I would fail out of an Engineering program because it's boring as hell to me. I wouldn't do that well in Africana Studies either, but that's because it doesn't really interest me.

      My background is Computer Science. I minored in Philosophy because it fascinated me. My minor helps me find creative ways to approach the problems and puzzles I have to face at work daily. I was hired because my employer recognized the importance of humanities training alongside my scientific/tech training. If you can't see the benefit of humanities training, that's your loss, and also your employer's loss.

      Delete
    4. I CAN see the benefits of a Liberal Arts degree. I have a double major in Biology and and Chemistry. Later I picked an MBA at night while working full time. My gripe is that colleges are sending kids Into a brutal job market with no skills. There are legions of unemployed Philosophy majors. There are not very many unemployed engineers. You would likely be in the soup line with only your Philosophy studies. And the taxpayers would eventually picking up the tab tab on your defaulted student loans.

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    5. The point is why do colleges offer degrees in subjects that have low returns? Education is not free and people need to eat. Every time we talk about unemployed degree holders and useless subjects, someone mentions how much better society is for offering degrees in Art, Music, etc. That's an argument for another day. Perhaps when higher education is free for all. But NOW, people still need to eat.

      I wholeheartedly agree with the previous poster that suggested a registry for high school students. Students should be made fully aware of the job prospects and average salaries of degrees holders by major. They should know how many jobs specifically REQUIRE their degree and how many other degree holders are on the market trying to land those jobs.

      What we're seeing more of today is someone majors in a degree with limited prospects, graduates to finds no job in sight, and thus cannot payoff their students loans nor establish a decent lifestyle from their McJob. The student debt and graduate unemployment crisis has woken quite a few graduates up.

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    6. Those are exactly the people that grad schools prey on. How many English/ Philosophy/ Poli Sci/ Sociology/ Psych/ International Relations/ Art History majors graduate from college, start to feel unemployable after a couple of months, and then panic and jump into grad school?

      Graduate degree programs feed on these people. They're the warm bodies that fill up empty TA slots and keep department numbers up.

      For the students, it just compounds their problems, but degree programs don't exist to serve students. They exist to justify the jobs and the budgets of the people who run them.

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  17. "Or he can go to Sarah Lawrence, major in "Africana" while paying $50,000 a year in tuition and starve upon graduation. I mean, really, this happy BS has got to end!"

    Have any of you actually worked at a college? Do you know what your students' majors are??

    This idea that the problem involves "worthless" degrees like "English" is IGNORANT WITH A CAPITAL 'I!'

    University of California system keeps good stats, you can find degrees awarded by major and by year quite easily.

    "Gender studies," "Africana" and other nonsense have actually been in decline since the late 1970s, when they were most popular. So much so that many schools have closed those departments. The "classic" degrees- English, History, Political Science, Economics, Sociology, Music, Art, whatever, are awarded in more or less in the same proportion that they were 40 years ago. Pure Mathematics and Physics have actually experienced a drastic decline. Hell, 60 years ago, the "classic" Art, Liberal Art, or Science degrees were what most students got! Nursing, teaching certifications, or applied science certifications were NOT what you went to university for! There were "normal schools," technical schools, or dedicated academies for those things.

    The growth majors since the 1980s are: Business, Nursing, Biology, "Applied" Sciences of all kinds, and Psychology.

    The students are not STUPID. They've been TRYING to major in useful things - Business has been the most popular major over the last 20 years.

    The economy is what failed them.

    Case in point -
    I easily found this private university's historical catalog from 1959 - it had 25-30 different bachelor degree offerings to choose from that I can tell. Its 2012 catalog lists at least 63 majors by my count. Most of the new offerings are applied degrees of some sort.

    http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth41610/m1/9/

    http://www.hsutx.edu/offices/registrar/catalog

    In graduate degrees: they offered 5 master's degrees in 1959, in 2012 there were 17 master's and 2 doctorates. 10 of those 19 are applied degrees, more if you count their specializations in music as applied - 2 of them look geared toward music ministry positions.

    Again - lack of "application" for our college degrees is NOT the problem. Lack of jobs to apply those skills is the problem.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "The economy is what failed them."
      Doesn't the economy consist of those not stupid students who graduated with all those wonderful degrees?
      Did the economy fail them or did they fail the economy?

      In fact, how come the economy failed? Don't we have all sorts of robots and nuclear energies and computers and globalizations and other wonders nowadays? And a super-educated work-force led by an army of expert sexy technocratic PhDs? Shouldn't the economy be booming? Or are all those wonderful degrees and diplomas just so much paper?

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    2. Globalization is part of the failure. There are more people than good jobs to support them because of the pyramidal structure we've created - dependent on minimally-compensated workers.

      In the already rich countries including the USA, people have responded by trying to armor themselves up with degrees. Globalization is like weapons advancement - the old armor, which used to be more than worth the cost, no longer protects you as well as it once did. So you put on MORE armor at higher cost. Eventually you have to give up the armor completely and change your thinking about how you fight. In this analogy, that would mean retooling education bottom to top - we're nowhere near that right now.

      Still, the data demonstrate very clearly that people with degrees are better off than those without, and people with advanced degrees are better off than people with lower ones. Dept. of Labor stats demonstrate that without question. The unemployed English PhDs on food stamps as well as the millionaire college dropouts are exceptional anecdotes.

      Whether the degrees are a cause - better degree = better job prospects, or an effect - people with more aptitude and work ethic tend to earn degrees - is not clear.

      Delete
  18. "The point is why do colleges offer degrees in subjects that have low returns?"

    This is particularly maddening. What are you classifying as "low return?"

    Art, history, mathematics, philosophy, languages, etc... have been important to humanity for thousands of years. The Computer Information Science someone learned in 2002 is now mostly obsolete.

    If we want degree choice to be tied directly to salary or economic utility upon graduation, we need to radically rethink the way education works. In fact, I would suggest to employers that they start investing in training academies of their own, because universities become useless in that context. Of course they prefer not to take on that expense, while simultaneously complaining that universities do not produce the specific skills they're looking for.

    The military has task-oriented education and it works quite well ie: it only takes about a year to train a UAV operator - one of the most difficult jobs in the military. So if doing a particular job is all education should be about - there's your model.

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    1. UAV operator? The old put-downs won't die will they?
      On the University of Houston web site there is a video interview with the Dean of Petroleum Engineering. He was asked about the ages and backgrounds of students in the program. He said the had students from 18 to students in their 40s. He also said that quite a few of his students already had one degree or were well along in another degree when they switched to petroleum engineering in order to have a more fulfilling and stable career. And he said it without the least hint of arrogance or put down toward the students who had switched or re-tooled their education.

      This is not your father's job market where you can major in anthropology, spend a year in Europe bumming around after graduation with zero debt, and come back and enter law school or grad school for a pittance after finding out your degree is economically worthless. Your undergraduate loans are due, law school is $50,000 a year and there are no jobs available after you get the JD or PhD.

      Why is it so hard to grasp the concept that there are multiple reasons for getting a degree? Wanting to have a fulfilling and stable career does not make a person some unwashed yahoo.

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    2. Please make that "...getting a useful, in-demand degree?" above.

      Delete
    3. "UAV operator? The old put-downs won't die will they?"

      How is UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operator a put down?? I was in the military and that was one of the hardest specialties to get. It's a highly technical and specialized occupation. AND it's in demand since drones are President Obama's preferred method of raining death from above. So someone with that military training would have civilian options.

      *The point is* - the military has an education system. It trains people for specialized occupations and does so quickly. You learn your job, nothing but your job along with the associated skills of being a soldier.

      If we want utilitarian education, IF all we care about is educating people for a particular profession - the military provides us with an EXCELLENT model. Most military occupational training programs are 24 weeks or less, the most highly specialized ones are 40-60 weeks.

      Is that what we want?

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    4. Well, let's take another example- an Army medic. Training is 27 weeks and can lead to a civilian job as an EMT and on to even more sophisticated medical specialities such as Physician's Assistant or even MD. I had much rather my kid start on that route than study "Sociology" or "Psychology" which is a complete waste of time and money and ranks right up there with "Africana Studies", "Women's Studies", "Latina Studies" and all the rest. The traditional Liberal Arts have been hopelessly corrupted by the far left. The real joke is that the faculties of these schools crap all over their recent graduates by reducing to offer tenure track or even jobs paying middle-class wages.

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    5. ""Africana Studies", "Women's Studies", "Latina Studies""

      I said before, those 'studies' degrees have been in decline since circa 1978 when they saw their (proportional) peak, at least in the University of California system. Maybe they've been on the upsurge elsewhere, I don't know.

      Think about what you're saying - education is only worth it for career path it leads to; there is little value in the knowledge for its own sake, ie: how society works (sociology) or how the human mind works (psychology).

      If that's the case, we might as well demolish most universities and instead open academies directly related to labor needs. This would require resources from the private sector and they are LOATHE to do that, unfortunately, so universities have become expensive mish-mashes of education and training.

      Ironically, that is a more Soviet-style approach than a Western-oriented one.

      You might say, well, people can get liberal education for free on their own time! Information is freely available online! But they don't. They don't even need the internet. There have been public libraries for well over 100 years but when I assign books that every library has and you can now find free over the internet, I very rarely hear someone say "I already read that."



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  19. My friends and I were talking about this the other day. I want to ask everyone here.

    Do you think the next generation will pursue higher education?

    Tuition is still increasing like crazy. Many graduates are starting off their working life shackled with a payment the size of a small mortgage. That's before they even have their first meaningful job! Then we have topics and conversations like in this blog that say pay is decreasing for degree holders.

    I wonder what this current generation who grew up on the "go to college so you can get a good job" speech will tell their own kids.

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    1. It's hard to say what the next generation will do. There is something structural going on, and the exploitation within academia is a manifestation of exploitation within the larger economy itself. This recent article at the NY Times is particularly interesting about how employers decry a skills shortage, but such shortages only exist because employers wish to pay wages not commiserate with experience, education, or skills:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/magazine/skills-dont-pay-the-bills.html?pagewanted=all

      People might (incorrectly) argue that only students with "useless" majors struggle after graduation. But such proclamations about a skills shortage are being used to depress wages even in the STEM fields. And right now STEM graduates might have relatively high salaries, but it is not hard to imagine a world in which even STEM graduates struggle. In fact, for PhD's in the life sciences, this is already a reality: There are more postdoc positions in industry than permanent jobs. And from what I have personally seen, more PhD's from STEM end up in management consulting or patent law than end up doing what they were trained for.

      (Sadly, these days getting an industry research job in STEM often requires as many political connections as getting a faculty position requires. I know of an industry position for a PhD in a highly specialized sub-sub-field in STEM that got around 200 job applications, because there are so few industrial uses for the research.)

      If this continues to happen, then what is not a "useless" major? And what is the point of pursuing higher education at all? On the other hand, employers are blindly pushing for credentials in new hires, and I think this will ensure that people continue to pursue higher education. What is lost in the conversation here is that people without college educations are being hit even harder. I think what we are likely to see are some combination of (a) extremely low-cost for-profit universities powered by online courses, and (b) some form of higher education reform similar to recent healthcare reform.

      Delete
    2. "some form of higher education reform similar to recent healthcare reform"

      Do you mean that everyone will be required to take several classes per year and only from in-state colleges?

      Delete
    3. The only people worse off than college graduates are people who are NOT college graduates. They are FAR worse off. Far more. They may or may not have student debt, but their job prospects are severely restricted.

      The data does not support an industry-wide enrollment crisis.

      http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98

      Here's what I see:

      37% increase in undergraduate enrollment 2000-2010. A similar 36% increase in graduate enrollment for the same period. The projections to 2020 are for a smaller increase, about 14% undergrad and 20% graduate enrollment.

      However, this reflects a pretty large absolute increase in the number of total college students, grad and undergrad, compared to prior decades. Ie: 1990 - 14 million
      2021 - 23 million (projected)

      It's still a growth sector with strong demand - a lot of money to be made there.

      I completely agree with anon @ 12:26 that the increase in total degrees will make even STEM degrees worth less in the market. I also forsee major reform.

      Education faces similar problems as health care:

      Strong demand, out of control costs, minimal accountability or explanation for the costs. It costs MORE every year and no one knows why. The proportion of doctors has remained stable and their compensation is relatively the same as in prior decades. BUT health care administration, facilities, and other bells & whistles have seen ENORMOUS bloat.

      Same exact thing that's wrong with education - except educators are not and never were as well paid as doctors.

      I expect comprehensive reform to occur probably in the late 2020s as the student debt issue looks increasingly like the health insurance issue.

      It will probably be just as contentious if not more so than health care, but I don't forsee an implosion of the system (beyond what's already happened in the part-time/full-time situation).

      We can look to Idaho for an example - state leaders recently tried to push though a number of cost saving reforms that included merit pay and significant migration to online education. It was MASSIVELY defeated in the 2012 election in one of the most conservative states in the country. So I don't see online as a major threat for now; the perception of online is still second-rate among most of the public.

      So most universities should survive - their perception of quality, reflected in things like the US News rankings, are very, very strong.



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    4. High tuition coupled with nondischargeable loans have crippled higher education. And now wages are decreasing for all degree holders. Even in this recession, tuition increases as if all degrees are the holy grail. Higher education needs to wake up.

      You'd be a fool to think our best and brightest will keep paying into a system that destroys their livelihood. I doubt the next generation will go through this madness if things don't change. And since tuition is still rising, I don't think it will change.

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    5. What else will they do? High schools don't prepare you to start a business or do anything very useful at all for that matter.

      Unless we somehow start a societal apprenticeship system or every high school grad suddenly thinks the retail sector is fine for them, I don't see college demand dropping off any kind of cliff, although the increase will slow.

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    6. "What else will they do?"

      Ha! That kind of thinking is what's gotten higher ed into this situation. Degree holders do not have a monopoly over the job market anymore. Experience is prized more than higher education. Have you seen the new entry level jobs requiring 3 years experience in the field?

      If all this debt is going to be attached to pursuing a degree, like anything else, Americans will find least costly alternatives. Higher ed better get a clue before this happens. The higher tuition gets, the sense it makes to get a degree in one the "useless" fields.

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    7. "Americans will find least costly alternatives"

      Like they have for health care? Sure they will.

      You must never have taught K-12. I did. It prepares you (poorly) for college and little else.

      How is an 18 year old high school graduate, with no experience, going to apply for those jobs? This is part of the vicious cycle of our economy. Employers want experience, but you don't have any, you get experience in something else but it's not relevant, apply for other types of jobs, told you have no experience, etc...

      Your choices other than college as a high school grad are: 1) retail, service sector minimum wage level, 2) military, 3) connection from a family member in another sector.

      Not that those are bad options, in any one of them with some persistence and drive, by age 30 you should be a professional or manager in that field making 40-60K a year, BUT you're stuck in that line of work for the most part.

      One of my friends followed that path with PetsMart. He makes 50K a year now as a store manager. In his words, "I make okay money but I'm stuck in a shitty job for the rest of my life."

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  20. There are no "useless" majors but there are a lot of "economically useless" majors. There is no point in saying there isn't or wishing things were different. There are a handful of majors that still provide a graduate with a decent starting salary. A lot of the people who graduate with a major in the usual suspects more or less drifted through school and compounded their mistake by going to graduate school in the same dismal field.

    If someone really has the hots for Etruscan Art, perhaps they should consider a double major with the second major being in a field that will enable them to support themselves, pay taxes,
    donate to their college, as opposed to living on the dole in their parents basement?

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    1. "the second major being in a field that will enable them to support themselves, pay taxes,"

      The point I was trying to make above, is that students have been trying this. Double majors have seen a stark increase (this was unheard of several decades ago). Applied degrees have seen a major increase. Art and related subjects have increased in absolute terms because more students go to college now but have NOT increased in proportional terms. At most universities arts degrees awarded have decreased in a relative sense.

      Art is not the problem. The economy is.

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    2. Aaron, I was in college in the 1970s, and double majors weren't uncommon at all. And it was rarely a matter of balancing an impractical major with a practical one, because "practical" majors were hard to find at liberal-arts colleges. People double-majored because they wanted to. But it was also easier to get a job with a BA. The economy is certainly part of the problem, but so is, ironically, the rise in applied fields of study. The advertising and journalism jobs that used to attract English majors are now open only to people who have studied journalism, marketing, and "mass communications." The nonprofit sector that hired humanities and social-science graduates now prefers business and marketing majors. All of those fields barely existed at the undergraduate level forty years ago. It isn't that liberal-arts grads are intrinsically incapable of productive work; it's that they've been increasingly crowded out of their traditional space in the labor market by narrower undergraduate specializations.

      If I were in college now, of course, I'd study accounting instead of foreign languages. Times have changed.

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    3. I totally agree with you, April. I've been trying to get journalism jobs, but people with journalism degrees are hired, although they often write low quality articles.

      "It isn't that liberal-arts grads are intrinsically incapable of productive work; it's that they've been increasingly crowded out of their traditional space in the labor market by narrower undergraduate specializations.”

      You are right! Those degree holders usually have a narrower vision and less in-depth knowledge than humanities or social science graduates.

      Delete
    4. "If I were in college now, of course, I'd study accounting instead of foreign languages. Times have changed."

      Would you be happy doing that? What if you took some accounting classes and hated them?

      Delete
    5. I supposed the knowledge that she could afford food for the rest of her life would sustain her through the unpleasant courses.

      Delete
    6. There's no guarantee of that. Like I said before, Computer Information Systems was a big deal when I started college. The economy changed and that degree was worth a lot less all of a sudden.

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    7. I was blissfully happy studying French and German. I've been underemployed (though, thankfully, not outright unemployed) and financially fragile for most of the 36 years since then. If I really couldn't stick accounting, I'd try something else--knowing what I know now about the uncertain value of a "liberal education."

      There's no guarantee of anything. You make your decisions based on what you can see at that moment, and then you work with the results. As I'm sure we all remember, the original point of this whole blog was precisely to allow potential graduate students to see more of the picture, so that they can make more informed decisions. I never seriously considered graduate study in my undergraduate field, and I've been increasingly grateful for that as the years have gone by. I do have the vicarious experience of having supported a husband through eight years of graduate work and his subsequent academic career. Be warned, all you grad-students-to-be: it has had its rewards, but it's also been very difficult and insecure. "Doing what you love" isn't always a viable decision in the long term.

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  21. It's not that particular subjects are useless. The arts have value; they've existed in their various forms for thousands of years. It's the degrees that are useless. We started treating learning like it was something that you could measure in "credits." Somehow, it worked for a while, but the stupidity of that is becoming obvious.

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    1. Bingo! I'm with you on that one.

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  22. In some sense, the STEM subjects are just like the arts. Both bring value to a society. But both pursuits are a luxury that only a wealthy nation can afford.

    Academic STEM folks have had a great ride since the time of the Cold War. Their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor have been tied to heavy government funding of scientific research that was largely justified by the need to stay ahead of the bad guys.

    But these days, as our nation careens toward financial oblivion, it seems likely that the endless wells of STEM funding are going to dry up along with everything else.

    These days, I don't see any point in arguing whether the humanities majors are any more "useless" than the STEM majors. Any student who debt-finances their education in either type of major is simply a lemming following the other lemmings off of the cliff.

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  23. I think the humanities side of the Liberal Arts are extremely important. That said, the Humanities graduates are having a very tough time finding a job. Not only are their lives adversely impacted by poverty they are not supporting the country through taxes and not supporting their colleges through donations as they simply do not have the resources.

    A lot of the small, liberal arts colleges simply do not have the money to start engineering programs or high-tech science departments. Most could start or improve their math departments, math being one of the original Liberal Arts. Perhaps we will be entering a phase where the History or English major will also take a Math major as a vocational backstop?

    It is a quandary that then schools have got to start addressing.

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    1. Isn't personal choice a factor? You choose what college you go to, you choose your major. At least I did. When I started college in 2001, I didn't feel coerced at all about my choice of college or course of study. The advisors were very clear about what was economically in demand and what was not at the time - back then CIS was the big thing... until a few years later when a lot of those jobs moved to India at a rapid pace.

      Had I been more prescient at ages 14-18, I would have done better in high school so I would be more eligible for scholarships and grants (top 10% of a high school class should have a wide array of funding options), commuted to the local university while living at home and working (high GPA so get transfer scholarships), then transfer to the state flagship school after my sophomore year, live off campus and work PT or close to FT so I would have to take out minimal loans - total debt load probably ~10K. My experience was that the the "experience" of college at a state university - the room & board, living costs, etc... were much more expensive than tuition - doubling the cost more or less.

      I still managed to get 2 BAs and an MA for under $35K of debt load, and now my employer will help subsidize a PhD. But still, I look back on it now and I could have done it so much smarter, taken on half the debt or less.

      How many teenagers have that kind of prescience? Most teenage boys are thinking primarily about how to get their favorite girl naked.

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    2. There are a couple of points to make. While the traditional Liberal Arts are important anyone who calls into question some of the latest trends is viewed as some unwashed heathen. At Sarah Lawrence, for example, a student can pay the $61,000 tuition and major in "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies". Is this not clinically insane? The Liberal Arts are being destroyed quite effectively from within. About half of SL undergraduate degrees are in pure fluff majors.

      Another point to consider is that many very good Liberal Arts colleges teaching both the Humanities and the the sciences are eventually going belly-up unless their graduates find some employment, hopefully rewarding employment, at graduation.

      Saying that employable majors may change with time and are not precise and exactly accurate so we might as well keep on cranking or Sociology graduates seems the height of stupidity, at least to me.

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    3. "At Sarah Lawrence, for example, a student can pay the $61,000 tuition and major in "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies"."

      This is part of academia's attempt to vocationalize, and also representative of the professionalization of person life. It's not enough to, say, own a cupcake store - one has to get a degree in Baking Administration before attempting to open the cupcake store. Universities are trying to capitalize on this trend of professionalization, and trying to make their degrees look applicable to the "real world".

      Of course, these attempts to vocationalize are being done in a charmingly academic way. "If students want to be LGBT activists or work with LGBT youth, they could benefit from a degree in LGBT Studies!" Only academics would think like that.

      Maybe one should applaud the academy for trying to innovate in some way, and to respond to student demands in regards to majors that are offered. But it seems there is still a huge, huge disconnected between what the academy is offering and what employers want to see. And that, of course, is part of a much larger conversation.

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    4. "Maybe one should applaud the academy for trying to innovate in some way, and to respond to student demands in regards to majors that are offered. But it seems there is still a huge, huge disconnected between what the academy is offering and what employers want to see."

      I think you've touched on the major problem here. Student demand and employer demand are fundamentally different. Universities have mostly responded to the demand of their immediate customers - the students.

      The other option is to make college much more rigorous and dogmatic across all disciplines - decreasing supply and increasing demand. But this would cause enrollment problems and put institutional viability at risk.

      Tough problem.

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  24. STEM Doc, you can't just say any student who uses debt is a lemming. When you take out a loan, you should be sure you can pay it off. There's a big difference between someone who spent $50,000 to get a degree in Underwater Icelandic Fishing as opposed to a STEM degree.

    America has made college so expensive that students must major in lucrative fields to have any hope of paying off their student loans. What I see in this topic is people trying to justify any and every degree, yet consciously trying to avoid the tuition and student loans issue. You can blame the economy, structure, Santa, or whatever, but the loan collectors don't care.

    Sallie-Mae: "I'm glad you're a more well-rounded person because of your art degree, but I still want my money."

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  25. We who work in higher education (where I have spent most of my life) are experts when it comes to rationalization. We find every possible excuse to justify what we're doing. We pretend that the apathy of our students (who would probably be much better off somewhere other than in our classrooms) is proof that they need more of everything we do, rather than proof of its futility.

    In my more cynical moments, I reflect on what appears to be a world in which fewer and fewer people are required to provide the necessities of life. The rest of us are left to find ways to fill our time until we die. I look at the utter pointlessness of so much of what goes on in higher education and see a giant hamster wheel full of students, professors, and administrators running stupidly toward nothing while staring proudly at the little mirror in our cage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anselm wrote: "In my more cynical moments, I reflect on what appears to be a world in which fewer and fewer people are required to provide the necessities of life"

      Another way to phrase what you just said:

      "We live in a world where more and more people are dependent upon a few to provide the necessities of life"

      This is frightening because the "few" will control whether or not the "more and more people" get to eat.

      Delete
  26. In the case of humanities grad school, I think the post is trying to explain why it's less a decision between doing something you love and something that will make you money, and more about showing why in many cases the degree is neither of those things. I've "loved" the subject matter of my field for years, am doing well in a top program, and am fully funded. I "loved" the idea that was sold to me of graduate school: getting paid to read books, even though I was aware that this didn't contribute much to society and I might end up teaching high school. Hell, it's a six-year job, I thought. When I stopped loving it was when I realized a few things: a) that my department trains people to do research as though they were all going to get tenure-track positions at places like Harvard, when most of them can barely get VAP positions, b) that most people doing this work ended the program in their 30s and willing to take jobs in the Middle East, c) that the critical work that is hailed as "groundbreaking" or "genius" is only determined to be so by a handful of individuals reading it in other similar departments. Which would be fine, in and of itself, if people did not pretend otherwise.

    In sum, I guess I just think there needs to be a lot more honesty. Very few jobs really "change the world" or are profoundly fulfilling. Maybe humanities professor jobs are, for some people. But the fact that many of them use this as a smug and almost sanctimonious excuse for the miserable state of humanities PhD prospects - "Don't do this unless you truly, truly love it, for it will be a long road ahead, my child" - is, I think, harmful. People who love "the poetics of doorknobs in Virginia Woolf" enough to move to Bumfuck, Idaho for hunger wages are probably awful, and should be discouraged in society at all costs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought getting my Ph.D. was going to be a six-year job, too, but it took me way longer than that.

      Delete
    2. 6:00 puts it very well. I too was sold on the idea of the life of the mind. I too had professors say how they are paid to read books and tell me, "guess what, you can too!" I too told myself day in day out as a grad student fixated on the myopia of doorknobs, my labors benefitted the world, somewhere, somehow. What a crock.

      I think that if there was more honest dialogue about the realities of academic life - both the work of faculty and graduate students - you would not see blogs like this. But the fact it, students are systematically misled by faculty from the day they enter university.

      The life of the mind is the same as the life of an artist or musician. You do it for love, and you do it for free. To suggest anything otherwise is irresponsible.

      Delete
    3. When I started grad studies in the late 1970s, I bought into the image of academic life as portrayed by Hollywood and popular literature. One rarely heard about the political games that are played and how grad students are quite often exploited by their supervisors.

      It didn't take me long to see that much of it was simply that: an image.

      Delete
    4. Why would schools want to have an honest dialogue if that meant less graduate students? Our major problem is we expect professors to deliver truthful information to naive students.

      Universities are run like businesses and they want as many graduate students as possible. It would be counterproductive to have something like a life-skills class that says a PhD probably isn't worth it. Add to the fact that some academics are trying to convince themselves that the job was worth all the sacrifice.

      Really, the only place you will get honest dialogue is blogs like this.

      Delete
    5. Back when I was an undergrad in the mid-70s, universities were actually educational institutions, or so people were led to believe. They openly became corporations starting with the recession during the early 1980s.

      My own alma mater looks more like a factory complex than an institution of higher learning.

      Delete
    6. No Longer An Academic, that was back when educational institutions were more about the welfare of society.

      Now higher education operates like a monopoly. Overcharging for education and raising tuition higher than inflation because they think they can get away with it. It doesn't occur to them that students will eventually wise up and forgo higher ed to avoid a lifetime of debt for limited prospects.

      Delete
    7. It isn't just that it operates as a monopoly. It operates as a predatory system.

      When I was an undergraduate in engineering in the mid-1970s, I got a comprehensive education. I could go into any number of fields where my discipline would be well-suited. An analogy to that would be driver ed where the students learn not just how to operate a motor vehicle but how to drive it properly.

      Nowadays, I suspect that the engineering curriculum has been diluted and for a reason: the doctrine of life-long learning. Students appear to be barely taught just what is necessary to get a job but that has a limited lifetime. As a result, they have to take further courses under the guise of "upgrading". That's like teaching driver ed but one keeps coming back in order to learn another aspect of driving a motor vehicle. One course teaches all about steering, another about signal lights, and so on.

      Delete
  27. Will you all stop arguing with Aaron. It's depressing seeing intellectuals argue tooth and nail with one obviously out of touch individual. Let him continue to drink the academic kool-aid if that makes him happy.

    We have to realize this is a subject that isn't supposed to be discussed. Of course we'll have some who don't want to admit the higher ed system is broken. Can you blame them? Only now are these "is it worth it" topics starting to pop up everywhere. It's looking like higher ed isn't as much of a necessity as gas and food, and it's starting to scare university faculty.

    Kids, get the engineering degree. Get a STEM degree. Get a degree that people aren't regularly debating its usefulness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He's admitted here that he has only 9 hours of experience in a doctoral program. It's obvious he needs to go back for more.

      Delete
    2. Boo hoo.

      I like arguing with all of you bitter folks. So angry at the system.

      What I find hilarious is that you almost never hear people who don't have degrees whining about their uselessness. It's always the people that are degreed up who complain.

      Delete
    3. Getting a STEM degree is no guarantee of success, particularly beyond the bachelor's level.

      Most of the jobs I did since I got my B. Sc. in the late 1970s could have been done by a 2-year technology program graduate. While I gained some valuable professional experience and earned a paycheque, most of those jobs were intellectually unfulfilling and, frankly, boring.

      Nowadays, those jobs requiring a graduate STEM degree are either in academe (where the main requirement appears to be having the right political connections) or have been farmed out overseas. Trying to get a job where a grad degree isn't required can be difficult as potential employers are afraid one might leave for something better (which has always been a risk) or possibly bored (I once received a rejection letter citing that as a reason for not interviewing me).

      Delete
  28. I have 3 graduate degrees in a STEM discipline and, quite frankly, I never made a dime from any of them. At worst, they were yet another decoration on my wall. At best, they were simply another ticket in the job lottery by showing that I have a brain between my ears and that I can finish something I started.

    Most of the jobs I had since I received my first graduate degree didn't require one, though it didn't hurt to have a master's or better. Often, though, I ended up doing stuff that a graduate from a 2-year technologist program could do and I was frequently bored with my work. The only reason I took those jobs was because I needed a paycheque.

    I don't regret getting those degrees but I feel short-changed by a system that encouraged me to further my education only to find that there was little return on my investment.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Once in a while, I'll hear an academic mention how "privileged" he or she feels to be in this line of work. A few years ago, I started noticing that academics who say this rarely look like they mean what they're saying. They look like they're trying to convince themselves that they mean what they're saying.

    A newly hired tenure-track professor once confided in me that he didn't know what else he would do if he weren't doing what he was doing. He didn't say that as someone who loved his job, but as someone resigned to his fate. He was exasperated. After so many years of grad school and adjunct work, he did not know what else he could do with himself. I never forgot what he said because it was such a rare bit of honesty.

    The morale in academia was low even before the wages went into free fall.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, that's what it's come to. I taught at a technical college for several years. It wasn't because I liked teaching but because there weren't any jobs in my country that I was qualified for with my education.

      Someone I knew while we were working on our Ph. D.s took a job with a prominent firm in her field. The company wasn't in the best financial shape and she quit a few years later. She's now at an assistant prof but, considering how academic departments function, she might have traded one set of miseries for another.

      Delete
    2. I think the only professors who really know how "privileged" they are came into the job after working in non-academic fields. Someone who went straight into university from high school and spent all of their 20s in grad school has no perspective on academic careers - or much of life for that matter. If they did, you certainly would't hear faculty whine about parts of their jobs that really are trivial in the grand scheme of things.

      Delete
    3. AWOL:

      Perhaps what you described applied 2 generations ago, but in the last 30 or so years, many engineering profs are hired without any industrial experience, often having been in school their entire adult lives.

      Having thereby been insulated from the harsh realities of the outside world, they have no sense of how to deal with it. Any deviation from the order to which they've accustomed could cause great distress. They have little experience in adapting, improving, and, possibly, overcoming their difficulties.

      Those who've done their time in the field often have the experience in how to deal with such things where things going cockeyed are an everyday occurrence.

      Delete
    4. Hmm... well I work at a community college now and had been in the military and worked in the private sector for 2 large companies in retail & sales. At one of them, the larger one, I was on an upward trajectory.

      The advantages over other jobs:

      1) Considerable control over your work schedule. Actual "contact" or "duty" hours through class, office hours, meetings, etc.. amount to around 20 hours per week - after that you decide when you work, which usually does amount to well over 40, but still, you control it.

      2) More vacation time - even if you teach summers, you should get about 4 weeks off a year (1-2 weeks between spring/summer and summer/fall, 1 week spring break, 2 weeks Christmas). About double what the average worker gets elsewhere. You get some holidays the private sector doesn't and never have to go in on weekends.

      3) Somewhat more power over your workplace conditions through faculty associations or shared governance which can act like a union. Some schools have actual unions. I still haven't adjusted to the fact that I have a say instead of take-it-or-leave-it situations.

      4) Good health insurance and retirement benefits, much better than the equivalent for similar-salaried workers in the private sector usually.

      For the pay level, I don't find anything better than that. The pay is less. That's true, but you are stretching a 9 month salary over 12 months.

      Had I stayed on and if I kept moving up in the middle management of "big, heartless company" at this point I'd probably be making at least 30% more than I do now and possibly double when you include sales bonuses. But I hated myself when I was there. No money is worth that. To add to that as a salaried manager you often had to work 10-12 hour days that included at least one weekend day and most holidays.

      As for politics, bureaucracy, admin b.s. & incompetence, and so forth that's true for any big company as well as government sector.

      Maybe small businesses are better. I don't know. Everywhere I've worked is big.

      All this is if...IF you're full-time or tenured. Which the majority of faculty certainly are not.

      Delete
    5. The 9-month contract might make sense for community-college faculty, but at places where research is a requirement for tenure, you're working 12 months and getting paid for 9.

      Delete
    6. Aaron:

      I spent several years in industry before I started my Ph. D. One reason I did that was because I wanted to actually put into practice what I learned for my B. Sc. before returning to university.

      Out there, I learned how to deal with actual problems as well as their consequences. Design errors could have drastic consequences. Documents have to be prepared. Bids have to be submitted or else there's no work and no paycheque. Parts have to be ordered and can sometimes be delayed. Deadlines have to be met but can slip, and there is often a financial penalty.

      In the real world, one learns to handle such situations and finds ways of working around them.

      Many of the career academics that I knew, particularly those younger than me, never had to deal with such things. Few, if any, ever found themselves in the dole queue because they were either fired or laid off. If they made mistakes, they were usually on paper or in the lab with few consequences. Out there, if one goofs up, one could easily lose one's job or end up in a professional disciplinary hearing, and people sometimes get hurt.

      When I was an undergrad, most of my profs had spent time in industry and my classmates and I appreciated their insights. Many of my profs while I was a grad students taught their courses as if they had no idea of what they were talking about.

      Delete
  30. The blog author should talk about how academia and graduate school is not a meritocracy. Every area is touched by politics and privilege, including admissions (like the link below), faculty hiring, fellowships, peer-review decisions, etc. This is not to say that outside of academia is a pure meritocracy, but at least outside people are honest about this fact. Inside academia, faculty and others push this idea that they are where they are because of what they have done and based on pure merit, when the truth is often far from that. This lie leads many smart people to pursue graduate studies, and then they get to the end and they realize that they have excelled but there is no place for them because they were never privileged or politically connected enough to get a faculty position. If more people had known how non-meritocratic academia is, I believe that many graduate students would not have done a PhD.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I've long believed that if getting a Ph. D. had anything to do with IQ, talent, or hard work, many universities would have to close because they wouldn't find enough faculty to stay in business. Grad studies, particularly at the doctoral level, is largely a game of politics.

      The first supervisor I had for my first master's degree exploited his students. If one finished one's degree under his supervision, it was an accident and he would try to make sure it wouldn't happen again. That was one reason I abandoned what I was doing and transferred to another university to finish my degree.

      My Ph. D. supervisor didn't do squat for me. I knew my research topic wasn't of great interest to him, but, as it turned out, for most of the time I spent on my degree, he put in only a token effort.

      I think he did that on purpose to force me to abandon what I was working on and grovel and plead to finish my thesis using his pet project as a basis. Instead, I effectively kicked him out of the way, rolled up my sleeves, and finished it with next to no input from him except when required to do so by the university.

      As far as he was concerned, if he wasn't interested, he wasn't obligated to do anything. However, I'm sure that there was another reason for his lukewarm style of supervision. A certain grad student was working on what he was investigating and I'm not convinced that their relationship was entirely professional.

      Delete
    2. I've said for years that a PhD program is not nearly as hard to get into and to complete as faculty wuld make you believe. The challense is a matter of endurance, economic deprivation, and staying focussed on what is really required to complete program requirements. Of course, faculty want you to believe that it is harder than it is as to not lose face. Many also seem to like to have their students stick around for longer than they should, mostly as they are cheap labor who do a lot of their heavy lifting when it comes to research.

      And your deadbeat advisor is one of many that exist. Only at the doctoral level do students really get to see how truly limited the knowledge and fields of interest are of their advisors. I can count the meetings I had with my advisor over the course of my entire degree with two hands. He basically was an administrator for my degree.

      Delete
    3. Do Ph.D. programs require extraordinary talent and IQ? No, definitely not. However, I would argue that they are very difficult and require extraordinary endurance to complete, largely because of impediments like useless advisors, bureaucracy, and energy-sapping busywork.

      Delete
    4. AWOL:

      I nearly pulled the ejection handle on my Ph. D. about halfway during my residency. I ran into severe problems at the time and that useless lump of a supervisor didn't lift a finger to help. His answer was that it was part of the "graduate student experience".

      I rarely met with him after he admitted he wasn't interested in what I was working on--only after I had already spent 4 years on it. Often, when I did, the fur flew and he almost always was the one who started the dispute.

      It got so bad I seriously considered firing him and taking on someone else, provided they were willing to supervise my project. I decided to stick with him because my thesis required as much of my attention as I could spare in order to finish it on time.

      Delete
    5. Anonymous @ 2012-11-29, 1:36 PM:

      Before I started my Ph. D., I had several years of experience in industry. I worked on a number of projects varying in degrees of difficulty and complexity. Working on my doctorate wasn't, in most respects, much different than some of the things I already did.

      My supervisor, however, found that view unsettling as he thought I should have treated my thesis as a sacred quest or some such thing.

      As it turned out, my time in industry was of enormous benefit as many of the things I learned out there were applicable.

      Delete
  31. The article posted by Anonymous 8:35 is fascinating.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/

    The disturbing statistics cited in the article make it clear that there is SYSTEMATIC DISCRIMINATION against Asians in admissions policies at elite universities (just like there was against Jews before World War II).

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It's disgusting, but not surprising. Academia is rife with hypocrisy. The first graph in that piece makes it look like CalTech is the only elite school that isn't discriminating. CalTech students are 40 percent Asian, but the Ivies have all managed to keep Asian students below the 20 percent line. This, despite the fact that the Asian students have average SAT scores 140 points higher than the white students.

      Delete
    2. Quite a read! It's so long that I had to read it over three days, but it seems pretty obvious that there's something very fishy going on. Asians (and gentile whites) are big losers in the admissions game. I suppose that I always figured this was true to some extent (at least with respect to Asians), but I had no idea how rigged the system was.

      I wonder if this kind of blatant (but never discussed) discrimination also happens at the graduate level.

      I also wonder if this report will make waves or get buried.

      Delete
    3. By the way, don't let the title of the magazine discourage you. It's 95 percent irrelevant to the content of the article.

      Delete
    4. > By the way, don't let the title of the magazine discourage you. It's 95 percent irrelevant to the content of the article.

      Behold, the open-mindedness of an academic! Who could've imagined that a conservative magazine (demonstratively holds nose between thumb and index finger) could print something of value?

      Delete
    5. Sorry, that was a bit mean of me (I'm Anon 1:58 AM). I don't even know if Anon 2:11 PM is an academic.

      But you have to admit the hilarity of the situation: Much of academia (and certainly the liberal arts) consists of a game of oneupmanship where each party is trying to demonstrate which is the most open-minded, tolerant and - to be frank - leftist. Yet these supposedly open-minded people can't be trusted to read an article in a conservative magazine, unless someone vets the article as not being conservative.

      Delete
    6. Say what you will about political conservatives, but they have essentially zero influence in the Ivy League.

      You can't blame conservatives for anti-Asian racism at the highest levels of academia.

      This looks like more of a problem at the top. My institution is a major public research university. We have several programs in which the grad students are overwhelmingly Asian. That's not to say that there isn't discrimination against Asian Americans. Many (most?) of these graduate students come directly from China.

      Let's be honest, though. A Ph.D. from my school is like a wooden nickel compared to a Ph.D. from Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

      It's sickening that our 'best' universities are doing this and getting away with it in the 21st century. Academia has got to put its house in order.

      Delete
    7. Despite the article coming from "The American Conservative," and the author's admitted anti-liberal-elitist prejudices, his conclusion of how to solve the problem seemed fairly liberal to me. Essentially a lottery. Liberal with a small "l" at least.

      He also said that his data led him to believe the discrimination is not really intentional, rather a product of various policies and systems that on their own are justifiable but combined make for a mess. A remarkable admission since he thought otherwise going in. Have to respect his brevity willingness to admit he was originally wrong.

      A better solution might be to decouple the stranglehold a handful of schools' graduates have on the top positions in the USA.

      Delete
    8. From the Ron Unz article:

      "Princeton sociologist Thomas J. Espenshade and his colleagues have demonstrated that among undergraduates at highly selective schools such as the Ivy League, white students have mean scores 310 points higher on the 1600 SAT scale than their black classmates, but Asian students average 140 points above whites. The former gap is an automatic consequence of officially acknowledged affirmative action policies, while the latter appears somewhat mysterious...

      The largely constant Asian numbers at these elite colleges are particularly strange when we consider that the underlying population of Asians in America has been anything but static, instead growing at the fastest pace of any American racial group, having increased by almost 50 percent during the last decade, and more than doubling since 1993...

      ...the percentage of college-age Asian-Americans attending Harvard peaked around 1993, and has since dropped by over 50 percent, a decline somewhat larger than the fall in Jewish enrollment which followed the imposition of secret quotas in 1925. And we have noted the parallel trends in the other Ivy League schools, which also replicates the historical pattern."

      What does the Ivy League have against Asians? I don't get it. It's hard to believe that it's not intentional when the pattern is so consistent across the Ivy League.

      Delete
    9. Conservatives are not the problem. Liberals are the closet racist. They are funded by Jews. Jews know that the existence of Asian people threaten their power and control of the world.

      I dated a couple of girls and one got cut off because of their parents, another got cut off as she filed a fake police report for stalking. Both are Obama supporter. I am Asian, and I know outright that both are example of racism.

      Delete
  32. http://youtu.be/X2EtOy3sBBQ

    See 5:30 to 6:14. He nailed it on the head about "intellectuals"

    ReplyDelete
  33. "A better solution might be to decouple the stranglehold a handful of schools' graduates have on the top positions in the USA."

    That would be nice, but the safe bet is that the elite schools won't be changing anytime soon. If you want to maximize your chances in academia, then you've got to be at a top school.

    I'm guessing that the salaries for Yale Ph.D.s haven't been falling.

    ReplyDelete
  34. The financial rewards of life are decreasing.
    The amount of daily stress is increasing.

    That's just a fact of our coming of age past the peak of the current economic model.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I already commented up thread somewhere but I can't remember where, and I wanted to come back to mention something I didn't before. Reason #87 here is the single biggest reason why I left graduate school.

    After 5 years in grad school I looked at my TA salary one night and did a rough calculation: how much would I be ahead financially if I'd taken the job I turned down in order to go to grad school with a TAship? I would currently be about $26,000 a year ahead, times five.

    I had just gotten engaged. We had our eye on a house, and I suddenly needed a fairly major surgery. The car was dying and desperately needed replacing. The latter two were particularly urgent issues. That extra money, minus taxes and a higher cost of living, would have really come in handy and taken a lot of stress out of my life.

    I felt crushed by this realization in the way that only a naïve 27-year-old could be, and in my heightened emotional state I actually emailed my advisor and said that I was quitting the program effective immediately. I awoke the next day to a concerned husband and a very terse response from my advisor, explaining the paperwork I needed to file in order to withdraw. The only thing preventing me from telling him it was just a mistake and I didn't mean it was sheer embarrassment, I couldn't face my department again.

    I look back on that night and think about all the unknowns. What if I'd been fired or laid off from that post-college job and ended up in grad school anyway? What if I'd finished my PhD and found a job as a professor, making more money than I am now? There's no way of knowing. But I ended up with a better paying job than a TAship and with more support, and I didn't have to write a dissertation. That's pretty much a win-win.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I guess you turned down a job that paid in the 40K range when you were 23 or so. If I were making guesses I'd say this happened pre-2008, because since then I know almost nobody that would willingly let go of a halfway decent job with benefits.

      There are a lot of what-ifs in life; it's what makes us who we are. But it sounds like you're okay now and grad school didn't *hurt* you, although maybe it didn't help all that much.

      As you said, there's no guarantee the job would have been stable, the house you would have bought held value, or even that you would have managed the extra $25K a year that well between ages 23-27. Who knows?

      Delete
    2. I said it in a previous comment - the opportunity costs are huge. And only are they seen once it is too late.

      The penny drops only after you are well into grad school, or finished, and you start to notice others your age who went into the workforce earlier in life. They have houses, new cars, kids, a social life, etc. You, on the othe hand, have a rented apartment, a beater (if a car at all), a cat instead of kids, no social life (or skills often). And if you leave academe, you have to start out in a entry level job working for the former person.

      Delete
    3. Aaron, yes I turned down the job pre-2008, but there's a whole new group of people in my old program who are coming in this year and have turned down good jobs to be there just like I did. Don't kid yourself that people necessarily got any smarter since the economy went under.

      The whole point of an opportunity cost is that you don't know what could have happened if you'd gone through one door instead of the other. No, grad school didn't scar me or ruin my life. And I might have lost that job, or hated it, or anything else.

      But I feel that very few would-be grads do any kind of opportunity cost analysis before they embark on grad school, as evidenced by the fact that so many of my cohort refused to give themselves permission to quit, ever, even if they're completely miserable and on food stamps. If I hated my current job and couldn't fix the problem, I'd find another job elsewhere. Many grad students don't think that way.

      Delete
  36. "They have houses, new cars, kids, a social life, etc."

    Do *all* of them really? The social life, or lack of it, is more of a personal thing. As for the job/house/car, from my high school cohort that I still know of, some have that but a lot don't regardless of educational attainment. Ironically, a lot of them that didn't get through college and grad school are jealous of those who did. It's human nature as we get older to second guess our decisions when we were younger.

    I agree with you on to the extent that more needs to be taught to high school and undergraduates about economics. Concepts like "opportunity cost" aren't even understood. If you want to build a family in your 20s grad school is not the place to do it, no one should be deluded into thinking otherwise.

    I don't agree about the economy, there are 33 yr-olds and 22 yr-olds competing against each other for every entry level job out there regardless. Given the unemployment rate for people in their young 20s, I'm not convinced they have an advantage, whether or not their competitor went to grad school.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do think that grad school actually gave me a competitive edge in my job hunt a few years ago (this was post 2008). My employer even told me so. But grad school was a gamble, and the nature of a gamble is that one never knows, but as with most gambles you have to assess the risk. For me, the risk associated with spending my early 20s in grad school to get an MA with a Teaching Assistant gig and no loans was low. So I told myself, that's what I would do. I took a lot longer to finish my MA than anyone reasonably should because I kind of got sucked into the grad school machine, but I kept my promise to myself and finished at the MA level. I'd say that even if my MA doesn't help me get any other job ever, it was still worth it.

      When people talk about "permission to quit" I think that's a good way of getting people to think about the opportunity cost of grad school. Too many people get encouraged to stay on longer than they should.

      Delete
    2. I have to agree with Aaron that economics (among lots of other things) needs to be much better taught in high schools. It could be one more particularly useful tool in everyone's decision-making arsenal, and not just with respect to graduate school either.

      Delete
    3. Economics is easy these days. You need to know one easy formula: Ctrl+P.

      Delete
  37. Off-topic. I've started a petition at the White House. It needs 150 signatures to be publicly listed, and 25,000 to insure a response from the government. What it proposes could empower students to effect change on the crap that is higher ed (graduate and undergrad).

    http://wh.gov/NyC1


    Abolish student governments in state-supported schools. Replace them with parliaments of all students.

    Students of state-supported universities and colleges are citizens as well as students. They (and/or their parents) pay tuition and taxes to fund the schools, and give years of their lives to earn degrees. They all should have a direct say in those schools, not just a handful of student representatives. Schools are small enough for direct democracy to work.

    We ask that the federal government mandate replacing student governments with eParliaments consisting of every enrolled student. With rules allowing enough time for all interested students to propose and vote on actions, but without mandatory quorums, with regulations to prevent spamming, and with protection of minority rights and individual liberties.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Take it to the school, not the fools in Washington. The federal government is too large, and it's been the bane of all states.

      Delete
  38. I just had a talk with someone who's applying to grad school today.

    The blogger should offer the following reason:

    "The GRE is expensive and stressful, yet pointless."

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    1. I wasn't required to submit GRE scores for my program, so I decided to not take the GRE. I think if I had been required to take it I wouldn't have applied to grad school, because it required too much time and money. Hmm, food for thought.

      I'd like to point out that I did perfectly well in grad school without it too, so it's definitely not necessary for success or to gauge aptitude. The idea of some kind of entrance test for grad school is silly, your undergraduate work and grades should speak for themselves.

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    2. I've often questioned the value of the GRE.

      Before I began working on my M. Sc., I wrote the GRE. My scores weren't impressive, but I got offers from several universities. Later, when I applied to start on my Ph. D., the advisor told me not to mention the GRE results on the application. I was accepted, partly because I had that M. Sc. and I got my second master's from that department. Six years later, I finished my doctorate.

      Go figure.

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    3. It's administered by ETS, the same company that does the SAT, LSAT, etc... I did a little research and found that their CEO makes a million a year. It now costs $175 to take it and another $30 or so to send scores - there's where the money's going.

      The student I talked to about it was really freaking out, and I almost suggested to him not to apply to grad school at all if that test was such an issue.

      It's part of the standardized testing fetish that infects education up and down. I also have spoken with members of graduate admission committees that think the scores are predictive and take them very seriously.

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    4. You want to know what's nasty? Putting GRE scores at the very top of graduate transcripts. There are universities that do that.

      Eight years of classes, comps, research, dissertation... and the first thing prospective employers see is your score on a test that you took one morning nine years ago.

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    5. One thing GRE test scores or, for that matter, academic transcripts indicate for sure is whether or not one was lucky on exam day.

      While I was a student, I sometimes wrote exams during which my mind went blank, or so it seemed. I knew the material before I entered the exam room and knew it after I left. Yet, the results of my mind going walkabout during those 2 or 3 hours are regarded as an effective indicator of how well I knew the material and what my future prospects might be.

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  39. Some of the comments above mentioned opportunity cost and risk. Both of those terms should appear in the first line of every grad school prospectus.

    I'm ashamed to admit that I've never thought of it that way before. I've been in grad school a long time. It's never presented as a risk, or ever really discussed as a risk, but that's exactly what grad school is.

    Thinking about it in those terms would have made me a lot more careful about the choices I made. I didn't really consider what I was giving up to go to grad school. Instead I concentrated on the positive. As I get older, what I gave up seems a lot more important that what I gained.

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    1. Speaking of prospectuses, every mutual fund prospectus says, "Past performance does not guarantee future results."

      In the case of my department, that "warning" could be interpreted as a message of hope. The job placement rate of PhDs from my department over the last few years has been atrociously bad.

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    2. What doesn't help the situation is that many people are considering grad school very early in their adult lives (i.e. right after college), so the idea of opportunity cost is something they don't have much experience with. Although you have to make many academic choices in high school and college, there's still a safety net. Once you graduate, it's completely up to you to figure out what might be a small opportunity cost vs. a very large one.

      It goes without saying that this is the same for everyone post college, regardless of what they decide to do with their future, and the early 20s usually represent a great leap of faith into some venture or another. Having a warning upfront can help when you're very starry eyed and enthusiastic and you have people telling you that you're simply perfect for grad school.



      Delete
    3. I worked in industry for 2 years before I started on my first master's degree. In hindsight, I should have stayed out longer, partly because it would have helped me with my research.

      I went back into industry after I finished it and, later, taught at a tech college. I eventually returned to university and got a second master's and a Ph. D. That extra time helped me a lot because I not only could deal with the academic politics but I found that my industrial experience was useful when I did my research. In addition, I was able to set aside some of my own money which let me buy things my supervisor didn't want to pay for.

      Delete
  40. This reason is disturbing. Academics never made much money in the first place. Now they make less than they did just a few years ago?

    Is this downward salary trend limited to post-secondary education? I don't think that this is happening to teacher salaries.

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    1. No, because teachers understand what it means to be part of a collective profession. They watch for each other, look out for their own best interests in the future, and understand what it means to be part of a professional vocation.

      Academics, on the other hand, have no such sense. It is evident everywhere, from the treatment of adjuncts to the abuse of graduate students to the petty politics that pervade every department.

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    2. While I was a grad student, I found that most academics I knew were completely disconnected from the real world. Out there, goof up and there are penalties. Contracts can be cancelled if certain conditions aren't met or one could get fired. In an academic setting, people behave as if they are insulated from such things.

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    3. Because they are. As a number of people have commented in connection with earlier posts, one of the reasons it's so hard to complete a graduate degree in a timely fashion is that the deadlines are completely arbitrary and no one pays attention to them anyway, precisely because there are no serious consequences if you don't. Just apply for another extension. . . . The world will just have to wait another semester for your groundbreaking thesis to hit the presses.

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    4. That's close to how my Ph. D. supervisor behaved.

      The university had a specific policy that there was a limited amount of time in which a someone could complete a degree. That was meant to prevent grad students from turning their time there into an endless holiday. (I knew someone at a different university who took 6 years to complete his master's degree, but he spent much of that time courting the department secretary, who he later married.)

      My supervisor, however, kept coming up with excuses as to why that deadline had to be elastic and kept pushing things off. When I passed my defence, I had a few days in which to wrap things up to meet the convocation cut-off date. For years I put up with his wishy-washy handling of my thesis and I finally blew my cork, basically telling him to get the lead out. He reluctantly signed my thesis and I was done with him.

      He wasn't that way, however, with his favourite grad student (a very clever young lady) but, then, I strongly suspected that their relationship was less than arm's length (wink wink nudge nudge).

      On the other hand, it wouldn't surprise me that his lukewarm attitude towards what I was working on was a form of constructive dismissal. He had a tendency to treat anything he didn't want to be responsible for (such as certain departmental duties) in that fashion, so maybe he was hoping I'd quit.

      Delete
  41. The few faculty unions that exist have done next to nothing to protect the most vulnerable members of the profession. They're useless.

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    1. At the place I used to teach at, the staff association was largely that: useless. Most of the association's presidents would rubber-stamp whatever the institution's administrators put before it, though it didn't help that, by law, we couldn't go on strike.

      We had a president who, I thought, stood by and represented the individual members of the teaching staff. It wasn't until I had a major dispute with my department head and our dean that I found out about that president's true character. It turned out that he collaborated with the DH and the dean to try and have me turfed out, so long as it was according to the rules. He knew very well that certain regulations and protocols in that dispute were clearly violated and he did nothing. (One example was when material was put into my personnel file by that department head without my knowledge. The regulations clearly stated that I was to not only receive a copy and that I was entitled to comment on it. Since I didn't comment on it, I, clearly, must have approved, right?) Maybe the SOB had a personal grudge against me.

      During my years at that institution, only once did we have a president who was willing to go to bat for an instructor. (It was through her efforts that I found out about the illicit material in my personnel file.) However, she was soon hounded out of office due to internal staff association politics. Soon it was back to having administration lapdogs as staff association presidents.

      The association represented the instructors during contract negotiations but the negotiators were usually long-time staff who were looking forward to retiring. It seemed that all they were interested in was arranging for nice exit packages for themselves while the rights of the rest were slowly frittered away. One of those was that if an instructor was threatened with disciplinary action that he or she was entitled to a tribunal and could call their own witnesses. During my last year at that place, I was informed that there was no such arrangement. Thanks a lot, guys.

      In other words, don't ever trust your union or staff association. If you get into hot water, you're pretty much on your own.

      Delete
  42. Is there any group of employees in the country who gripe more about their employment conditions than academics? Is there any group of employees in the country who have been more ineffectual in improving their employment conditions?

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    1. No Longer An AcademicDecember 18, 2012 5:00 PM

      That's hardly surprising. In the department where I completed my last 2 grad degrees, many of the academics I knew felt they deserved to be privileged and entitled. Why not--they could spend other people's money, have nothing to show for it, grovel for more, and often get it.

      In the real world, if one keeps spending money without any results, either the funding is cut off or one gets the sack. I don't know of any academics who had that happen to them.

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    2. Is there any group of employees who, in the larger picture, have *less* to gripe about than tenured faculty? An ultra-secure job, a steady (if perhaps not munificent) paycheck, and little to no real-world responsibility in the sense that No Longer An Academic speaks of--that is, no one will be seriously harmed if you do your job late, poorly, or not at all.

      Non-tenured faculty are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, of course. They *should* be complaining, striking, refusing exploitative positions, and warning impressionable youngsters that, while a real academic career is nice work if you can get it, it's almost impossible to get.

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    3. That's the real problem, April. Tenured professors are a small (and shrinking) percentage of faculty members. Their interests and the interests of everyone else (the great majority) in the profession are not the same. At least, that's how they see things.

      I'm not so sure, though. What's bad for the profession is ultimately bad for everybody. If tenured faculty did more to look out for the interests of grad students and adjuncts, there would be a lot more people speaking with one voice.

      Instead, the two groups (tenured and untenured) tend to treat each other as rivals for scarce resources. (When someone makes it into the ranks of the tenured, he never looks back.)

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    4. Anonymous @ 3:55:

      It seems to me that when someone receives tenure, it isn't a case of he or she not looking back. It's more like shutting and locking the gate lest someone of the "wrong" sort might get in.

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    5. I'm now on tenure track at a CC. I'll agree about working conditions - it's a sweet gig. The money's on the low side of what I could make elsewhere - good 20K lower in some cases, BUT there is health care and a pension (!).

      Despite the annoying issues that go with it and relatively low pay, it is a SWEET gig. I get to control a lot of my own work schedule and the majority of my job is doing something I enjoy. Those two things are worth their weight in gold.

      In previous lives I was in the military and was a manager in the retail sector. So I can help students if they're thinking about a military career or if they want to know how to move into management and succeed at a merciless big box retailer. There are plenty of those jobs. Too many.

      I'll add that I don't know about everything about everything in "the real world." I think it's unfair to demand that people whose primary business is education to know about all economic sectors.

      I also worked as an adjunct for 2 years at as many as 3 schools at one time. I try to do my best by our part-timers. Ie: I'll adjust my schedule if it means they can teach another class, because I have that flexibility and power to do so, they don't. I won't poach an adjunct's class, I'll request an online class instead. But that's parsley on a pig.

      The problem with adjuncts is money management, and neither faculty nor faculty associations/unions control that, administrators do.

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    6. Many of the instructors at the tech school I used to teach at treated their jobs as high-intensity training for retirement. Once they were made permanent, they did as little as possible and slowly went to seed. The assistant head in the department I was in was the laziest manager I ever met.

      Cushy? For those people, it was.

      However, that teaching job was the only place I ever worked at for more than 2 years. (Before I worked there, I was laid off from most of my other employers, quit one, and was fired by another.) I was also able to take some time to add 2 more graduate degrees to my credentials, including a Ph. D.

      But those benefits to me came at a high price. I was often under stress and not necessarily because of my students. Cheap office politics was a way of life there.

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    7. Compared to retail management, it is amazingly cushy.

      The salary is at best equivalent - really quite a bit less when you factor in sales bonuses. The "financial rewards" are less than most other work.

      However, as a salaried manager I could expect to work 10 hour days regularly, 12 or sometimes more during busy season. And I worked practically EVERY holiday. That was the curse of being on salary.

      Now I get 3 weeks off for Christmas, one week off Spring Break, and I'm off contract for 8 weeks in summer and can do whatever I please .

      Academics will complain that they're working on off times. Well, yes, we are. Maybe I put in some hours grading, some hours prepping, worked on whatever committee thing I need to do, etc... But seriously, that's not onerous work and it doesn't take 10 hours a day.

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    8. "Academics will complain that they're working on off times. Well, yes, we are. Maybe I put in some hours grading, some hours prepping, worked on whatever committee thing I need to do, etc... But seriously, that's not onerous work and it doesn't take 10 hours a day."

      Well, Aaron, as people have tried to tell you at various points during the increasingly boring Aaron-vs.-Everyone slugfest, you're not the same kind of academic this blog is designed for, are you? "Prepping" and "grading" are what a teacher does. Researching, writing (articles, chapters, and books), editing, submitting, revising, publishing, presenting at conferences. In some fields, add in obtaining IRB approval, recruiting participants, and writing grants. This is where the rest of the academic workload comes from. If you find academia "cushy" compared to other jobs, perhaps it's because you're on the fringes and your workload reflects that.

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    9. And yes, it does appear that I could have spent a few more moments on one of those tasks: editing. That doesn't undermine the basic point. If you think "academia" is cushy because you happen to be a teacher whose employment duties end with "prepping" and "grading," your ideas about the cushiness of academia are grossly misinformed.

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    10. " Researching, writing (articles, chapters, and books), editing, submitting, revising, publishing, presenting at conferences."

      You also missed my point while engaging in not-so-subtle condescension; I wasn't trying to say *my* job was harder. The point was comparing the work or a 4-yr university professor to similarly-salaried work in other sectors. I admitted that as a 2-yr college professor I get paid less and rightly so.

      I do find the time in my schedule to research for and write at least one article every year, with a high teaching load. Granted, the disciplinary impact of said articles or presentations and the publications or conferences they appear in matter less than the fact I did them.

      But still, seriously. Would you trade working on your book for spending every Thanksgiving day at Target on the hook for whatever merchandise didn't come in? Because I'm quite sure the subordinate managers at your local Target make at least as much and probably more than any humanities/SS professor in the area. I'm not even talking the store manager, who probably pulls in 6 figures easy.

      Writing that book is work you have to do, but work that YOU can control and work that is satisfying in a number of ways.

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    11. Aaron is right about the advantages of an academic career. Long ago, one of my professors - tenured in social sciences and management and a vice president of the university - advised me to stay on the path to grad school. Coincidentally, he also noted the demands of retail management. Now I wish I had taken his advice.

      Delete
    12. Of course the winners of the academic lottery have a nice life and career. It is the same outside of academia as well. I really think one of the big tricks that academia plays is the meritocracy myth. (At least outside of academia people generally agree that it is not a meritocracy.) Academia takes hardworking and creative people that contribute immensely to their fields. And then when time for faculty hiring comes around, the person with the better political connections gets hired. Or even worse, people are actively discriminated against. It is far too easy to get caught up in this idea that: "Sure the probability of failure in academia is high, but that doesn't apply to me because I do fantastic work that is getting recognized. And because of my excellent research, I will have a nice life and a wonderful career in academia." Only when people start to go on the faculty job market do the realities, politics, and discrimination in hiring become clear, and they start to realize that their advisors were often dishonest about hiring and academia in general. The old trope about: "There are always positions for good people."...

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    13. Two things can be added to what you wrote.

      One is that the academic system has always been portrayed as being objective, unbiased, and impartial. It isn't. If someone in authority wants to make one's life miserable, there's always a way to do it. Having the right sort of friends (depending upon who's in charge, of course) is the only way to success.

      The other thing is the age-old notion that one should concentrate on doing a good job and the monetary rewards will follow. That's also a crock of baloney. The academic system loves cheap labour and, like industry, wants to pay as little as possible.

      The place I used to teach at was part of a group of colleges and institutes. Each year, a report was published and the one set off numbers most of the staff was interested in was the pay ranking. The place I was at was almost always at the bottom. One or two years during my time there, it was next to last and I'm sure that the administration worked hard to return the institution to its "rightful" lowest place. Ah, but our true "reward" was the success of our students, or so we were supposed to believe. (Yeah, right.)

      Delete
  43. " 'New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.'

    Had I been a Bokononist then, that statement would have made me howl."

    Kurt Vonnegut, _Cat's Cradle_

    (Substitute "Bokononist" for "grad student"?)

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    1. One thing I discovered during my time as a grad student is that there isn't a whole lot of original research being done. Often, what was called "original" was merely themes and variations on an established idea. The result was that people tend to become intellectually root-bound because they often deal with others thinking like themselves.

      But, since what's being investigated nowadays is largely dependent upon available funding, and funding agencies are reluctant to take risks, there aren't too many people entertaining bold new ideas. If people like Newton or Tesla were alive today, they may find their research careers difficult and brief.

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    2. My friends are I used to joke that our undergraduate degrees taught us everything we needed to know, and our graduate degrees taught us to unlearn everything we knew.

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    3. Most of the work I did in industry didn't require a graduate degree. But returning to university wasn't a waste as I studied concepts that I might not have encountered with only a B. Sc. I found that non-linear differential equations can be quite interesting and I also found that I liked numerical modelling.

      Had I stayed in industry, I would have been bored with doing things such as checking piping drawings and doing bolt stress calculations, which was what I did for most of the time.

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  44. What taught me to unlearn everything I learned in my undergraduate training was working in a business environment after I graduated. I spent eight years (if you count high school) writing literary analysis in the kind of language you're taught to use for literary analysis: long sentences, big words, abstract ideas, plenty of subordinate clauses. I then went to work as a technical writer for an insurance company, and learned to write succinct, informative English from my supervisor--who, as a fellow liberal-arts grad, had gone through the same process herself years earlier. Undergraduate programs in the humanities always say that they teach you how to write well, but that's only if you're going to be writing academese for the rest of your life.

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    1. I worked for a large multi-national oil company after I received my B. Sc. I thought I was hired on the basis of having a degree in my discipline but, it turned out, what I had studied didn't matter. I was expected to, in effect, throw 4 years of education away and become an apprentice company employee. The only purpose my degree really served was as an entry ticket.

      Then it became apparent that I wasn't really expected to practice my profession. Instead, my objective was, apparently, to get promoted as high and as fast as possible.

      I left the company less than a year after I started.

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    2. Undergrad degrees should be 3 years.

      If undergrad is just a ticket into an industry at worst, or at best a primer in background material of the industry -- my proposal makes sense.

      Cut off an extra year of wasted time, student loans, govt subsidies, and faculty resources.

      Most importantly of all, this would let the student get on with his/her life faster and cheaper.

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    3. It's already done. It's called a Bachelor of Applied Technology degree.

      Having taught at a tech school for many years, I'm rather skeptical about how much worth those credentials are. At that place, the graduates studied 2 years for their diplomas, and, to be honest, it was pretty easy for them to finish. (I often asked myself, "Just how dumb does one have to be to flunk out of this place?") Adding an extra year to their studies seemed to me like a marketing trick on the part of the institution to get companies to hire its graduates as well as an exercise in money-grubbing.

      I wanted to continue into graduate studies and 4 years provided the background I required.

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    4. We are over-educated in a number of ways. Almost everywhere I ever worked, my "education" was needed for at most 10-20% of the job, everything else was OTJ. For professor it's slightly different - maybe 50% of the education is useful on a regular basis.

      Still, my feeling is higher ed mostly does what K-12 should be doing. Ie: at my CC there are FIVE available prep classes in the sequence to COLLEGE ALGEBRA and we never have trouble filling the lowest ones up. Seriously, the first is approx. 6th grade level - how to add & subtract fractions, convert them to decimals, etc...

      And we have people with at least Master's and several with PhDs, in the sciences no less, teaching adults how to add and subtract fractions. If that isn't overkill I don't know what is.

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    5. All of the jobs I had while I was industry needed, at most, a B. Sc. An M. Sc. or M. Eng. were sometimes helpful, but not necessary. All a graduate degree really showed was that one was capable of further learning and that one could work, largely independently, on a specific project.

      Much of what's taught at the post-secondary level nowadays appears to have been handled by the primary-secondary system, or at least it was that way when I was a university freshman nearly 40 year ago.

      Many of the students I used to teach came fresh out of high school and they were arithmetically illiterate. For many of them, simple fractions seemed over their heads, factoring low-order polynomials difficult, and elementary trigonometry an alien concept. I had one student who couldn't solve a quadratic equation, something I learned in Grade 9.

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    6. When I started my university studies nearly 40 years ago, many professors didn't have Ph. D.s, nor did they need them. Their experience in their field was enough of a credential that an extra degree wouldn't have made much different. Today, one can't even be considered for many university faculty positions without a doctorate in one's discipline. Professional qualifications in that discipline won't count.

      Then again, many universities won't even consider an applicant for a faculty position if they've spent time in the field. So what we have now are professors in, say, engineering teaching students what's apparently necessary for the real world without any actual experience there.

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    7. "When I started my university studies nearly 40 years ago, many professors didn't have Ph. D.s, nor did they need them."

      They are mostly unnecessary for teaching 100 and 200 level courses, and only partially useful for teaching 300 and 400 level courses. A master's is more than sufficient for that. Really the only use for a PhD from a teaching standpoint would be honors practicums and graduate seminars.

      Below the top tiers, most university humanities and social science departments used to have only a minority of their professors hold PhDs - typically 30-50%. This began to change, as you say, around 40 years ago.

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  45. " I was expected to, in effect, throw 4 years of education away and become an apprentice company employee."

    I think that is the experience in a lot of workplaces. It's also why I don't understand when employers complain about graduates. If they don't like what schools are doing, why don't they open their own training academies or apprenticeship programs?

    The military does it. It expects you to know how to basically function, but then it teaches you exactly how to do your job, at its own expense.

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    1. Some educational institutions are, in effect, that. Employers wipe their training expenses off their books by dictating to post-secondary educational institutions what sort of courses they expect the graduates they'd hire should take.

      It didn't seem that way when I was an undergraduate in the mid- to late 1970s.

      Delete
  46. Anonymous 11:29 wrote: "Academia takes hardworking and creative people that contribute immensely to their fields. And then when time for faculty hiring comes around, the person with the better political connections gets hired."

    I'm even more cynical than that. The sad fact is that virtually none of us (no matter how hard we work and how many ulcers we give ourselves) "contributes immensely" to our field. Most of our work as academics is pretty pointless.

    That's why "who you know" and "where you go" matters so much to a successful academic career. Most of our work is not measured (and cannot be measured) by objective standards. You see this especially clearly on the inside (at the editorial level) of the peer review process.

    Competence matters when the work being done is important. Our work could hardly matter less. That's why having the right connections is so important.

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    1. That's not much different in industry. That's one reason many people who work for a given company go into management. Until that happens, they are treated like replaceable parts.

      Delete
    2. I was about to write a comment saying that the original post makes sense, because rational market forces are recognizing the worthlessness of academic work and driving academic wages down...

      Then I thought for a second about all the big "administration" salaries in Higher Ed and decided that the market isn't very rational at all. The administrators can't possibly be doing anything less worthless than the faculty.

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    3. While I was still teaching at a technical college, I dealt with my share of useless administrators.

      The last dean I had didn't do much except try to convince people how important he was. He did, however, find time to insult at least one department in our area and butt heads with people like me. He retired with full honours.

      My last department head wasn't around all that often, which wasn't entirely bad. He was more interested in advancing himself in the pecking order until he shot himself in the foot when he seriously violated internal regulations in his campaign to have me sacked.

      From what I've heard since I quit, he spent most of his time schmoozing with various administrators in an effort to make himself appear irreplaceable. His lips must have been sore from all the butts he was kissing.

      Most of our department's operations were handled by our assistant head and he was the laziest manager I ever met. The only duties he didn't dump on other people's desks were those which specifically required his signature and he whined and moaned whenever he had to do them. Typically, he started the day by sitting on his backside in someone's office chewing the rag for an hour or so.

      He was the epitome of someone who, in industry, we used to say spent his time doing the dog. Apparently, when he retired, people asked how one could tell that he did.

      It's a good thing that the college was a publicly-funded institution. If it had been a corporation traded on the stock exchange, the shareholders would likely try to vote those bums out of office. Talk about a complete waste of money.

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  47. It might be interesting to see some of the views expressed about people outside of the academic system at:

    http://collegemisery.blogspot.ca/2013/01/early-thirsty-penny-at-mla.html
    http://collegemisery.blogspot.ca/2012/12/why-i-have-big-problem-with-academic.html

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