Another unemployed (on food stamps) PhD article.

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Koolcypher, May 10, 2012.

  1. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    I hate to admit it -- but it’s not totally absurd. Unfortunately, it makes sense from the cold, hard perspective of supply and demand.

    There is a need for PhD-trained college instructors in all fields, including humanities. The problem is that the US higher education system produces a lot more than are actually needed. So PhDs are devalued, and they become available at a steep discount -- just like any other product where the supply exceeds the demand.

    It would certainly be nice to pay adjuncts more, and to offer them benefits and job security. But if adjunct jobs are made more attractive, then more people will be inclined to get PhDs, which will only increase the fundamental problem of oversupply. The problem won’t go away until universities drastically reduce the size of their graduate programs, so that the PhD becomes a scarcer and more valuable commodity. So far that doesn’t seem to be happening.

    I have to agree. For maximum educational value, an adjunct professor should introduce himself on the first day of class, describe his degrees and qualifications, and then reveal what the university is paying him. This probably never happens, but the students would learn a lot if it did.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 11, 2012
  2. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    I thought historians get paid pretty well. There was something in the news about that guy who did consulting for Fredie Mac... :fest30:
  3. Ted Heiks

    Ted Heiks Moderator and Distinguished Senior Member

    Surely you jest.
  4. LearningAddict

    LearningAddict Well-Known Member

    Excellent points. Certainly from a business perspective, if you can get the desired output for less pay, it makes sense to do it. But then at the same time, morale considerations have to be examined. Typically, when employees are underpaid and undervalued the cumulative effect eventually boils over into production, and from there you begin to have a weakening of the structure. We hear that organizational behavior concept applied a lot to public K-12 education, and I'd bet the public as a whole doesn't give much thought to this in regards to collegiate education, perhaps because the perception is that college instructors are successful people.

    You bring up a great point about the graduate degree prevalence. Ever since the MBA became somewhat of a cultural buzzword, it feels like it's become "the thing to do". Not that there is anything at all wrong with getting an MBA or any grad degree for that matter, but there are some school names that make me cringe when I see someone earned a grad degree from there, because you know the offering and scope the school provides and you just know that what they have really doesn't extend beyond the Bachelor's level enough to be effective at the grad level.

    An RA that comes to mind would be Medaille which is a good school for undergrads, but at the grad level there have been questions about what research opportunities are being forged and just how adequate the access is. An NA example would be Ashworth College, which I personally feel does an excellent job with their Associate degree programs, a lesser job with their Bachelors programs, and really shouldn't be offering grad degrees at all because the system is just not adequate for graduate-level work that would add anything to its respective fields. Also, the fact that there are few if any changes to the way the program is modeled versus the lower degree levels has a negative value impact with anyone in the know.

    I get the impression that a lot of schools offer grad degrees to stay in competition with other schools, but not with any real intent to offer something useful to the fields of study their grads are supposed to gain a level of mastery in.

    I'd be cool with that, but I figure that schools would shoot that down to maintain the success mystique. I'd imagine that if many college educators were that direct in this manner, it would at some point cause students to ask "if all of these instructors are broke after reaching this level, what the hell am I doing here?". The "broke teacher" is a well-known reality that's been accepted in K-12, but I don't see the same level of awareness or acceptance about a similar situation at the college level. The media has always given most of the attention about the financial struggles of educators to the K-12 instructors, and only tidbits about the same problems in collegiate education, here and there.
  5. jumbodog

    jumbodog New Member

    It only makes sense if you accept facts that simply aren't true. The fact is the market for educational services is not a free market so the laws of supply and demand simply don't apply.

    Of course it's not happening because it's not a free market so pricing pressure cannot operate. There are no market incentives to reduce the size of the graduate school population. Student can borrow enormous amount of cash without securing it with any asset. So the supply of money coming into educational institutions is limited only by the ability to recruit bodies. Because of this huge supply of free money students are not at all sensitive to either the price or value of the commodity they purchase. So the cost of education continues to rise. Meanwhile the lack of viable opportunities elsewhere combined with the historical prestige of the degrees makes a ready supply of suckers willing to play the game.

    If we as a country are interested in fixing this issue (and for the record I don't believe we are) the only viable way to make this happen is to (a) drastically reduce the amount of money a student can borrow for financial aid and (B) make student loans discharged in bankruptcy. People cannot spend money they don't have and if the government doesn't it lend it to them no private lender is going to take that risk.

    The problem with this approach is that it is politically DOA because we have raised generations of kids on the notion of that access to education equal success. It's not true anymore but people still want it to be true. Attacking education is like attacking people's chances at financial success. It's not a good move.
  6. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    A little, but the story is true. The guy's name is Dr. Newt Gingrich. He was paid $1.6 million, and his role was that of a "historian". It's true, he said so himself. :)
  7. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Newt has a PhD in history from Tulane University, a highly ranked school. However, he rarely mentions this degree. It seems possible that a PhD from a top school may actually be a political liability for him, rather than an asset.

    Dr. Newt has received more than $1.5 million in consulting fees from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He has previously described his role as a "historian".

    Some skeptics have suggested that the fees seem unusually high for the services of a historian (even a PhD historian), and that perhaps Fannie and Freddie were really paying Newt for his political influence.
  8. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    Gee, you think?
  9. ryoder

    ryoder New Member

    Just a story about highly educated teachers:

    My shotokan karate instructor back in college drove a crappy minivan. He was 4th dan and basically dedicated his life to the art. He taught odd hours like night time, day time, weekends etc to make ends meet. He was an expert in his field and had trained in Japan many times. He also told us that he was basically asked to take a vow of poverty to pursue this esteemed level of education. He never regretted doing so.
  10. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    Sorry it took so long. We have been getting an extra healthy dose of spam lately and it has been more difficult than usual to approve legitimate posts. I just cleared the queue again and hopefully things will settle down.
  11. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Beautiful. Truly.
  12. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    No, not at all. This thread is trapped in an old, outdated paradigm. The days of expecting employment for your capabilities and accomplishments are over, and have been for a long time. (Personally, I peg it at 1981 with the death of the defined benefit retirement plan, substituted by the 401k.) No longer can one expect the employer to provide employment. Read Job Shift by William Bridges; he called this out years ago. We as individuals are faced with controlling our own careers like independent consultants, even if we "practice" within organizations that give us jobs. We have to control our own growth (horizontal) and development (vertical) and make our own mark. The subject of the article is crushed because the system won't employ him despite his fine credentials. Right. It won't. So what value can this guy create and can he sell it to others? That might be in the form of a job, but it might also come in several other ways. And if his Ph.D. isn't the credential that leads him to this success, I'm sorry. But he's in control of "the business of him," if you will. Heck, no one else is.
  13. cookderosa

    cookderosa Resident Chef

    I wondered that too....and yet, they've gone public in an article. Maybe I'm grouchy today, but I think it's simply the personality of the person. Some people are whiners- plain and simple. Other people take control. Can't get a job? Write a book, lecture, give adult/ community ed lectures, adjunct at a zillion schools, sub at the high school- some way- some how- MAKE your way. This is where being resourceful trumps the credential.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 12, 2012
  14. ITJD

    ITJD Active Member

    With respect: Place for this kind of stuff is
  15. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    But I was not talking about the market for educational services. That's a market where students buy education from schools. So students are the buyers and schools are the sellers. You can argue that this is not a free market, because governments restrict the establishment of schools and distort pricing through financial aid.

    I was talking instead about the market for educational staff. That's a market where schools buy teaching services from instructors. So schools are the buyers and teachers are the sellers. And that is a free market. The government does not restrict faculty hiring, or tell schools what they have to pay their instructors. The point is that it is currently a buyer's market, which means that buyers (schools) won't pay very much to sellers (instructors).

    OK, so now we shift to the market for educational services. And I basically agree with you here. In fact, I would add that universities have strong market incentives to keep graduate enrollments up. They rely on graduate students to provide inexpensive services as teaching and research assistants.

    Again, I basically agree. But I think that (B) may be politically feasible. There is growing awareness that people are being financially crippled for life by student loans, and there is little sympathy for private lenders. If (B) occurs, that may be sufficient to immediately choke off most of the stupidest loans. Although it may be too late for those who already have such loans; the lenders obviously won't accept a change in terms retroactively.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 12, 2012
  16. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    I'm afraid that you are basically correct; the subject of the article is probably not going to find a secure well-paying teaching position with his History PhD from a top school. So he will need to reinvent himself somehow. And eventually, he probably will. Most underemployed PhDs are not stupid; they just need some time to adjust and adapt to the Real World.

    He may even have one thing going for him (though he probably doesn't realize it): relatively limited student loan debt. Traditional B&M PhD programs typically provide tuition waivers and small stipends to their students, in return for acting as teaching or research assistants. So the PhD may cost little or nothing (not including the opportunity costs, of course). You can afford to start over.

    The people who are really in trouble right now are the JD graduates who can't find decent jobs -- and there are a lot of them. Law students routinely graduate now with debts in the $100,000 to $150,000 range, plus whatever they owe for their undergraduate degrees. That's a hole that many may never climb out of. You need a relatively high starting salary to make a dent in that kind of debt; otherwise the interest accumulates faster than you can pay it off. But many young JDs can only find low-paying temporary work, the equivalent of adjunct positions for PhDs.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2012
  17. PaulC

    PaulC Member

    My doctorate has, and still does, served me well. It has provided a reasonable return on the investment, has enabled me to be active in various domains that I would not have been without it, has provided a continuous and fairly dependable stream of good extra income, has opened doors that would never have opened without it....

    ...that being said, what it has done for me has been in partnership to what the rest of my resume and experience has done for it. My PhD alone, that is to say without the benefit of my other experiences and competencies, would have netted me limited value; maybe negative value.

    I has opened doors and opportunities ni direct and subtle ways, but not without the foundation of my 30 years of experience. One of many examples for me is that my current (non academic - corporate type) position listed graduate level academic/research experience as one of the requirements. My PhD long ago enabled me to embed one foot in the world of academe teaching and mentoring research methods to MS students. I would not have had that experience, which enabled me to be qualified for the position I know hold, had I not had been doing part time program development and adjunct teaching for the last 10 years.

    A well planned PhD can very much help you achieve your professional goals. But, in my experience, you have to have clear vision as to how you expect to use it, an executable tactical plan that is reasonable and realistic, and above all persistence and self direction as personality traits.
  18. dl_mba

    dl_mba Member

  19. jumbodog

    jumbodog New Member

    The market for educational services by potential students is intrinsically linked to the market for educational jobs sought by potential professors. The output of educational services (phds) is the input for educational staff (professor jobs).

    The price of a good is reflective of the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded. In this case price is salary. The government does control the salary because the government controls both the quantity supplied (through its educational subsides=student loans) and the quantity demanded through the legislative budgeting process. It's true that much of the hiring decisions are made at the state level and the funding made at the federal level but states are very sensitive to the amount of federal funding received.

    In writing that I'm not suggesting there is some big conspiracy or some wizard of Oz pulling the strings. But if students loans are cut back then the amount of phds being produced gets cut back and then the supply of professors gets cut back and logically salary must rise, all other things being equal.
  20. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    I understand your logic, but there are a couple of reasons why it might not work that way.


    (1) Most students who enroll in traditional, residential, B&M PhD programs don't rely on student loans. Such programs typically offer tuition waivers and small stipends to their students, in return for serving as teaching or research assistants. In other words, they pay you to pursue a PhD (though not very much).

    This means that you can spend several years living the frugal grad school lifestyle while accumulating little or no debt. You won't get much richer while you pursue the PhD, but you won't get much poorer either. That's one of the reasons that people do it.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed a total of 72 adjuncts for their recent story on welfare profs. Most of them reported less than $20,000 in student loan debt. That's quite low by current standards, especially considering that it includes both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

    So cutting back on student loans won't greatly affect most traditional residential PhD programs. Those programs don't expect their students to take out loans anyway.


    (2) The supply of potential professors currently exceeds the demand. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the imbalance is quite large. If that is the case, you could reduce the supply significantly, and yet there could still be an imbalance.

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