My latest for the Chronicle of Higher Education is on the academic job market recovery that never came:
We are at the point where the academic job market has been dismal for so long that one could have entered a Ph.D. program at the start of the recession and graduated, six years later, into a market still waiting to recover. In contrast, new graduate students today enter more aware of the limited job opportunities in store for Ph.D.’s. Unlike previous cohorts, they cannot claim ignorance of academia’s economic conditions, nor can they reasonably expect full-time, tenure-track employment in a university upon graduation.
This raises the question of why anyone would get a Ph.D. Some students talk of “callings,” some talk of love, but the reality might be that, in a rigged economic system, graduate school is no worse a bet than many others.
“What can you do with a Ph.D.?” people ask. Here are a few things: You can defer undergraduate student loans, which are at record highs. You can get a stipend and health benefits as a teaching or research assistant, versus working in an unpaid internship that you cannot afford. You can drop out with a free M.A. often required in a market defined by credentialism and the diminishing value of a bachelor’s degree.
You can bide your time, waiting for the economy to turn around, because that is the main pastime of the post-recession economy: waiting.
In 2008, Obama was elected on rhetoric of hope and change. But the hope that things would change for the better soon transformed into hope that they would simply not get worse. They are worse — much worse — because in academia, the effect is cumulative. The nonacademic job market – particularly in areas like scientific research or policy that have traditionally hired Ph.D.’s – is in comparable disarray, hurting from the same austerity and greed that decimated the university system.
Six years later, the problems of higher education are on the table, piling up, remarked upon and reread and rarely rebutted. Academics no longer have their heads in the sand but their eyes wide open — surveying the damage, trying to avoid being hit.