Grad School for Everyone?

Dr. Lee Skallerup responds to an article on how the new BA is an MA.

Soon, College Misery will be devoted not to the under-qualified and entitled undergrads, but to the under-qualified and entitled grad students that the college accepts because of the money and prestige. The MA will be the new BA, insofar as students will feel entitled to their degree on the basis of having a) been accepted and b) paid for it. The best and the brightest will continue to go to the “best” schools, while everyone else will move from one mediocre program to another. You’ll be able to say that you supervise grad students, but at what cost?

To reiterate, I hate it. We’re fooling ourselves within the academy into thinking that what we are doing is in the name of social justice and equality, when really we’re just providing excuses to governments and corporations to compress salaries, benefits, and cheapen our students’ educations, not to mention our own value as academics.

I have told students not to go to graduate school. I have counseled against (and for) graduate school, based on the individual’s needs and experience. (For example, see Is the Life of the Mind, Words of Wisdom, University: Fail.)

I don’t think anyone actually believes it is an issue of social justice (except the French, based on their expectations for college). I think most people just think that they went to college and loved it and wanted to teach, why shouldn’t everyone else?

Also, I think Dr. Skallerup (sorry, Lee) is focused on how people should know better, but they really shouldn’t. Most people teaching grad students have been doing it for years. They’re at R1s and Public Us and haven’t tried to get a job anywhere else. Their best and brightest students have all graduated and gotten jobs and, those who haven’t, well, I think most of the profs feel that is a failing on the student’s part, not the university’s.

Unfortunately, I am a poor person to counsel against grad school because, against all odds –including coming back into academia as a middle-aged woman– I have succeeded in finding not one but TWO great jobs. I got them, so surely the person talking to me could get them too. (At least, I expect that is what they think.)

Having seen my blog, a student who wanted to teach college wrote me and asked about possibilities.

This is what I said:

In a rural area that is not popular, you could perhaps get a full-time job teaching English with a master’s.

In a city, there are hundreds of applicants for the same job–even developmental writing. I got a developmental writing job but I had to have a PhD, multiple publications, and multiple years of full-time teaching to get that.

There is a significant overabundance of English professors at the college level. I would not recommend trying to get into that. Yes, some people get jobs. But there are hundreds each year who teach courses for $1600/semester and have no insurance, use up their cars driving to various campuses, etc.

Working overseas teaching English might be good. There are openings there. The pay is reasonably good, but you do have to live overseas. For some people that is a plus, for others it is not.

Writing jobs also exist. If you focus on writing, you might be able to get a business position writing.

Despite the fact that I say not to go to grad school, most people I have said that to continue on. They go because they WANT to. Yes, it’s not a wise career decision, but who am I to take their freedom away? As a future teacher of grad students, I will make sure that mine know the odds facing them. That’s the best that I can do right now.

2 thoughts on “Grad School for Everyone?”

  1. Thanks for engaging in the dialogue! I think you’re right that so many of us don’t know better, but that has to change. For a professor at an R1 institution to ignore the job market/placement statistics is…I can’t even think of a word right now that defines what I think a professor who does that. But what I was more focused on are the smaller schools that are creating graduate programs, despite the job market, etc. It’s all ego, and it’s not like their experiences can really blind them to the reality.

    I council many of my students, who are coming from small, regional, state schools to go to grad school as long as a) they aren’t paying for it and b) it represents an upgrade. Don’t just go from one mediocre school to another. And, make sure that it’s something you will need for your future job. Make sure it is somewhere with lots of other opportunities and you take advantage of them. For a first-generation college student, the name can matter an awful lot, and if they can get a big name grad degree (I’m talking masters), then they should. And, as you say, make sure that it’s really what they WANT to do.

  2. Glad to see this dialogue going on here too, and happy to find your blog! i think your position is absolutely the soundest one. Tell the truth about the economics and politics of graduate programs–teach students how to get into the best ones possible with the best funding possible. Graduate school is not bad if you don’t financially ruin yourself by going, and have a sound plan B for what to do upon finishing.

    I have my own post about this issue on my blog tomorrow. I hope you’ll check it out. We need to be heard! I kind of think that Pannapacker has been taking the heat for this (more or less) alone for a long time.

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