The other day, I blogged about a William Pannapacker column in the Chronicle of Higher Ed surveying the grim situation of humanities grad students and job-seeking PhDs. I’ve since discovered another Pannapacker column, from about a year ago, that was succinctly titled: “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.” The column had legs; it’s currently the most read article on chronicle.com. Pannacker’s counsel in a nutshell:
“I can only identify a few circumstances under which one might reasonably consider going to graduate school in the humanities:
- You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.
- You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.
- You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.
- You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.”
With all this anti-grad school buzz in the air, it’s that much stranger to read in today’s NY Times that the number of people who took the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) rose 13 percent in 2009 to a record 670,000.
The disconnect isn’t as great as it may first appear. Pannapacker’s columns are strictly and explicitly about humanities PhD programs—literature, history, philosophy—where the traditional goal is a college teaching job. Presumably a lot of the 670,000 will go into shorter-term programs more likely to lead to real, and real useful, jobs–nursing, K-12 teaching, engineering-type programs (emphasis on the green energy), and such.
Still, my heart sank a little when I read a quote in the Times story from a recent college grad who’s been unemployed since May and is preparing the take the GRE:
With every job going to someone who has more experience and who is willing to take a pay cut to have a job, I’m left with what amounts to slim pickings. With no income, I’ve turned to the idea of higher education.
Doesn’t sound like the best reason to take a couple of years out of your life and many thousands of dollars out of your treasure.