The Corner

Education

Does America Need More People with Ph.D.s?

Amazingly enough, some people think the answer to that question is “Yes.” Even though a high percentage of doctorate holders wind up as harried adjuncts living on pitiably low pay or working in jobs that have nothing whatsoever to do with their years of study and research, an academic writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education has argued that America needs more Ph.D.s.

Taking issue with that in today’s Martin Center article, Professor Rob Jenkins argues that we have too many as it is. That is particularly true in the humanities. “We must stop perpetuating the fantasy that any significant percentage of humanities PhD candidates will ever find secure, full-time faculty positions,” he writes.

To earn a Ph.D., Jenkins points out, one must devote years to study and research. That research, however, is rarely of any use to anyone and the training involved to write in academic style about a narrow, often bizarre topic, is of little or no use in the world outside of academia. Businesses aren’t snapping up these degree holders and we don’t need them to teach, either.

The Ph.D. factories need to downsize if not shut down completely.

Jenkins concludes,

Of the thousands of people now in humanities graduate programs, only about 25 percent, if that, will ever become tenured professors — and that number is likely to shrink as tenured lines disappear while the ranks of PhDs continue to swell. The rest, if they remain on their present course, are doomed to become life-long adjuncts. Why should they invest all that time, effort, and money (including average debt at graduation of over $22,000) into an academic career that, odds are, will never materialize?

I think I know the answer here: Stop subsidizing higher education. If it weren’t for generous student aid from Uncle Sam, many students who now are drawn into Ph.D. programs would look more sensibly at the cost to benefit ratio and decide to do something else.

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

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