5 thoughts on “The bursting of the higher education bubble

  1. Although the cost of attending a university as an undergraduate, including allowances for scholarships and other financial aid, may have increased much faster than inflation during the past generation, to what extent is there an impact with respect to attending graduate school? Has the percentage of graduate students that receive teaching or research assistantships changed during a similar period?

    As a newly admitted graduate student in philosophy at a state university for 2010-2011, I’ve been offered an annual graduate teaching assistantship that requires 20-24 hours of my time per week (so that I will only be taking two 3-hour graduate courses each semester, rather than the normal full time load of at least three such courses). The assistantship provides exemption from tuition (including out of state tuition) and also provides a stipend of nearly $1K per month for 12 months.
    Are similar graduate assistantships (or scholarships), sufficient to offset tuition and most or all of the annual expenses of room/board while earning a graduate degree, relatively common among graduate schools? Though teaching assistantships may have the effect of extending the length of time needed to earn an advanced degree and thus postpone earning a post-graduation income, they otherwise seem to make attending graduate school virtually free.

  2. Paomi: The main financial cost of your program is the opportunity cost. Had you gone to work for the government, for example, instead of staying in school, you could have been earning much more than $1K/month. A bus driver here in the Boston area, for example, can start at age 18, skip the cost of college tuition (a degree is not required), and retire at age 41 with a full pension. Age 41 is when a lot of philosophy PhDs are looking for their first “real job”!

  3. Paomi,

    Phil is correct. The opportunity cost is much more than you think. I’ve been in graduate school for three years now and my non-PhD peers are incredibly far ahead. When I’m done with the PhD and then complete postdocs, I will barely be starting my career in industry at the age of 30-32!! My peers already make 3-4X more than me, by the time they are 30, they are mid-career professionals, with incredible social networks, a wide breadth of experiences and entering a stable phase of their careers. They are ready to take on marriage, kids and large financial obligations such as houses and have already contributed to retirement accounts. Me? I’ll barely have much to show for all those hours in lab besides a publication people will barely cite, much less understand.

    Unfortunately the “free” look of graduate school snags a lot of people. When they finally realize how much it actually “costs”, it’s very hard to undue the damage. A person’s peers are fierce competitors by that time and are unlikely to give an ex-graduate student much of a chance. Leaving a PhD program leads to awkward interview questions as my friends have found out. How do you answer “So why did you quit?” without looking like a clueless idiot?

    Sorry Paomi, nothing is free. Anyone who tells you something like graduate school is free is a moron.

  4. Totally agree with your point. I’m an engineer with a master’s degree and a lot of people I work with never finished a bachelor’s defree. What matters is passion and talent. In my six years of college, I think I had 4 or 5 classes that actually taught me skills I use today.

    The problem of “I paid $100k for a degree in social work that nets me a job for $20k/year” has been around since I was in college 15 years ago.

    In your article, I think your a little hard on the intern and student. For the second guy, professional video cameras have glass lenses so I can see him not expecting problems. You contributed to his education in an unintended way. I’m sure he made a mental note that lights can be harmful to consumer video recorders. He probably won’t make that mistake again 🙂

  5. Ryan: The $3000 Sony camcorder that the Emerson College (graduate by now) nearly destroyed had a glass lens. It was not the lens (at the front of the camera) that he nearly melted, but the LCD screen (towards the back of the camera). The Sony professional camcorders are physically identical to the one that he nearly melted with hot lights, except that they have XLR connectors for audio.

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