America’s graduate programs are producing far too many aspiring professors for the market to handle, and it’s forcing an increasing number of newly minted PhDs to take underpaid jobs as adjuncts, or else seek employment outside of the Ivory Tower. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Production of doctorates in the U.S. climbed 28% in the decade ending in 2014 to an all-time high of 54,070. That surge has come as more Americans see a postgraduate degree as a hedge against stagnating wages and unemployment in an economy demanding increasingly specific skills and expertise.
Meanwhile, the academic job market—the largest employer of Ph.D.s—continues to wither as many universities move away from the model of only employing tenured professors and toward using greater numbers of relatively lowly paid adjunct teachers.
Part of the reason for the shortage of faculty positions is the academy’s continued adherence to the tenure-for-life model, which encourages professors to occupy their coveted positions until their last breath, and limits universities’ flexibility to move jobs and resources around. Professional academic life is increasingly unequal, with well-compensated tenure-track professors occupying the very top of the pyramid, and an army of instructors and adjuncts toiling below them.
Meanwhile, academics remain extraordinarily contemptuous of anyone who does not have those magic three letters after his name. As we reported earlier this month, indignant Northwestern faculty staged a rebellion when the University sought to name Karl Eikenberry—three-star general, former ambassador, holder of two master’s degrees—as head of a global studies institute on the grounds that he “lacks the intellectual and policy credentials” to execute the role adequately.
The professor glut does not reflect well on the academic model of governance, and its a grim sign for students already laboring to complete doctoral programs. But on the bright side, it means that more PhDs will end up working in institutions—companies, high schools, and government—that can perhaps make better use of their expertise.