Does It Really Pay to Get a Ph.D.?

William Deresiewicz of the Nation writes about the high unemployment rate of Ph.D.s and the creation of an academic underclass.

Posted:
 
black20professor
Does it pay to get a Ph.D.? (Thinkstock Images)

Many people believe that pursuing and obtaining a Ph.D. guarantees a young scholar employment at a competitive college or university. The Nation's William Deresiewicz deconstructs that myth, citing rampant unemployment among Ph.D.s and the creation of an academic underclass through the use of part-time and non-tenure-track faculty.

Deresiewicz highlights professors that dissuade students from pursuing doctoral degrees because of the limited number of jobs available. Do you agree? Check out what Deresiewicz has to say in the excerpt below:

It wasn't supposed to be like this. When I started graduate school in 1989, we were told that the disastrous job market of the previous two decades would be coming to an end because the large cohort of people who had started their careers in the 1960s, when the postwar boom and the baby boom combined to more than double college enrollments, was going to start retiring. Well, it did, but things kept getting worse. Instead of replacing retirees with new tenure-eligible hires, departments gradually shifted the teaching load to part-timers: adjuncts, postdocs, graduate students. From 1991 to 2003, the number of full-time faculty members increased by 18 percent. The number of part-timers increased by 87 percent -- to almost half the entire faculty.

But as Jack Schuster and Martin Finkelstein point out in their comprehensive study The American Faculty (2006), the move to part-time labor is already an old story. Less visible but equally important has been the advent and rapid expansion of full-time positions that are not tenure-eligible. No one talks about this transformation -- the creation of yet another academic underclass -- and yet as far back as 1993, such positions already constituted the majority of new appointees. As of 2003, more than a third of full-time faculty were working off the tenure track. By the same year, tenure-track professors -- the "normal" kind of academic appointment -- represented no more than 35 percent of the American faculty.

The reasons for these trends can be expressed in a single word, or buzzword: efficiency. Contingent academic labor, as non-tenure-track faculty, part-time and full-time, are formally known, is cheaper to hire and easier to fire. It saves departments money and gives them greater flexibility in staffing courses. Over the past twenty years, in other words -- or really, over the past forty -- what has happened in academia is what has happened throughout the American economy. Good, secure, well-paid positions—tenured appointments in the academy, union jobs on the factory floor -- are being replaced by temporary, low-wage employment ...

Read more at the Nation.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter

Comments
The Root encourages respectful debate and dialogue in our commenting community. To improve the commenting experience for all our readers we will be experimenting with some new formats over the next few weeks. During this transition period the comments section will be unavailable to users.

We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your continued support of The Root.

While we are experimenting, please feel free to leave feedback below about your past experiences commenting at The Root.