The Overselling of Ph.D.s

On Minding the Campus, Charlotte Allen has an excellent essay on the dismal state of affairs for many students who have been lured into Ph.D. programs. As is the case with law school (I wrote here about the deceptions used to keep law-school enrollments high), there aren’t nearly enough jobs for all the graduates. Allen writes, “Ph.D. programs, especially in the humanities, can be viewed as career colleges for the highly educated.”

She notes that these programs tend to have high dropout rates. I have never heard any of the people who regularly lament the fact that many people drop out of college say that we face a crisis (or even a minor problem) because so many students drop out without getting their doctorates. In the latter case, dropping out is obviously a rational decision for individuals who realize that they have overestimated the likely benefits and/or underestimated the costs involved. Shouldn’t we look at the undergraduate “dropout problem” in the same way?

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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