I have to say I was more than a little flatter that William Pannapacker (aka Thomas H. Benton from the Chronicle) liked my response. And WorstProf wrote an absolutely hysterical Onion-esque response: “Education Secretary to Today’s Youth: Stop Getting So Many Fucking Degrees.” I do want to expand on my facebook comment, because it does reflect on how the economics of the universities are getting more and more screwed up.
I’ve written before about the economic realities of getting PhD, especially in the humanities. But what about from the other side, from the perspective of the universities that are increasingly offering MA programs. Faculty, particularly at public universities, are seeing their salaries if not get cut, then certainly decrease in purchasing power. One way to appease faculty is to create graduate programs; it’s like a perk! Smaller classes! Better students! More prestige! Never mind that it’s actually more work to recruit and retain these students, not to mention mentor and supervise them. From the university’s perspective, they’re getting the faculty to do more work for less money. And, the added prestige of graduate programs. Win-win.
Actually, it’s a win-win-win. Grad students are cash-cows. You can charge more for grad programs (even though they aren’t hiring any more faculty, or paying the current faculty more) and they’ll pay. Plus, you can then use the grad students a cheap labor, working on campus, for professors, and maybe even teaching some of those pesky intro classes that no one else wants to. And did I mention the prestige? Rankings love grad programs.
But does the student really win? It keeps them out of the work force longer, usually will end up putting them further into debt, and makes them over-qualified for many of the jobs they may want. And, for the most part, this will benefit the same students who are benefitting from a BA anyway; the wealthy and upper-middle-class. Applying for graduate school is perhaps even more difficult and complex than applying for university. And even more expensive. To get into the best graduate programs, you have to not only be outstanding, but also know the right people. It’s a big circle jerk, and those who benefit are those who have always been a part of it.
And do the professors really win? 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 out own value as academics.