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Welcome to the Third World, Part 8: A PhD Is Now a “Path to Poverty”

Newly-minted anthropology PhD Sarah Kendzior has written a chilling piece for Aljazeera on what things are really like in academia these days:

The closing of American academia
It is 2011 and I’m sitting in the Palais des Congres in Montreal, watching anthropologists talk about structural inequality.


The American Anthropological Association meeting is held annually to showcase research from around the world, and like thousands of other anthropologists, I am paying to play: $650 for airfare, $400 for three nights in a “student” hotel, $70 for membership, and $94 for admission. The latter two fees are student rates. If I were an unemployed or underemployed scholar, the rates would double.


The theme of this year’s meeting is “Traces, Tidemarks and Legacies.” According to the explanation on the American Anthropological Association website, we live in a time when “the meaning and location of differences, both intellectually and morally, have been rearranged”. As the conference progresses, I begin to see what they mean. I am listening to the speaker bemoan the exploitative practices of the neoliberal model when a friend of mine taps me on the shoulder.


“I spent almost my entire salary to be here,” she says.


My friend is an adjunct. She has a PhD in anthropology and teaches at a university, where she is paid $2100 per course. While she is a professor, she is not a Professor. She is, like 67 per cent of American university faculty, a part-time employee on a contract that may or may not be renewed each semester. She receives no benefits or health care.


According to the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced website revealing adjunct wages – data which universities have long kept under wraps – her salary is about average. If she taught five classes a year, a typical full-time faculty course load, she would make $10,500, well below the poverty line. Some adjuncts make more. I have one friend who was offered $5000 per course, but he turned it down and requested less so that his children would still qualify for food stamps.


Why is my friend, a smart woman with no money, spending nearly $2000 to attend a conference she cannot afford? She is looking for a way out. In America, academic hiring is rigid and seasonal. Each discipline has a conference, usually held in the fall, where interviews take place. These interviews can be announced days or even hours in advance, so most people book beforehand, often to receive no interviews at all.


The American Anthropological Association tends to hold its meetings in America’s most expensive cities, although they do have one stipulation: “AAA staff responsible for negotiating and administering annual meeting contracts shall show preference to locales with living wage ordinances.” This rule does not apply, unfortunately, to those in attendance.


Below poverty line
In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course – literally. Teaching is touted as a “calling”, with compensation an afterthought. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the “opportunity” to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position “Senior Teaching Assistant” because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.


In addition to teaching, academics conduct research and publish, but they are not paid for this work either. Instead, all proceeds go to for-profit academic publishers, who block academic articles from the public through exorbitant download and subscription fees, making millions for themselves in the process. If authors want to make their research public, they have to pay the publisher an average of $3000 per article. Without an institutional affiliation, an academic cannot access scholarly research without paying, even for articles written by the scholar itself.


It may be hard to summon sympathy for people who walk willingly into such working conditions. “Bart, don’t make fun of grad students,” Marge told her son on an oft-quoted episode of The Simpsons. “They just made a terrible life choice.”


But all Americans should be concerned about adjuncts, and not only because adjuncts are the ones teaching our youth. The adjunct problem is emblematic of broader trends in American employment: the end of higher education as a means to prosperity, and the severing of opportunity to all but the most privileged.


In a searing commentary, political analyst Joshua Foust notes that the unpaid internships that were once limited to show business have now spread to nearly every industry. “It’s almost impossible to get a job working on policy in this town without an unpaid internship,” he writes from Washington DC, one of the most expensive cities in the country. Even law, once a safety net for American strivers, is now a profession where jobs pay as little as $10,000 a year – unfeasible for all but the wealthy, and devastating for those who have invested more than $100,000 into their degrees. One after another, the occupations that shape American society are becoming impossible for all but the most elite to enter.


The value of a degree
Academia is vaunted for being a meritocracy. Publications are judged on blind review, and good graduate programs offer free tuition and a decent stipend. But its reliance on adjuncts makes it no different than professions that cater to the elite through unpaid internships.


Anthropologists are known for their attentiveness to social inequality, but few have acknowledged the plight of their peers. When I expressed doubt about the job market to one colleague, she advised me, with total seriousness, to “re-evaluate what work means” and to consider “post-work imaginaries”. A popular video on post-graduate employment cuts to the chase: “Why don’t you tap into your trust fund?”


In May 2012, I received my PhD, but I still do not know what to do with it. I struggle with the closed off nature of academic work, which I think should be accessible to everyone, but most of all I struggle with the limited opportunities in academia for Americans like me, people for whom education was once a path out of poverty, and not a way into it.


My father, the first person in his family to go to college, tries to tell me my degree has value. “Our family came here with nothing,” he says of my great-grandparents, who fled Poland a century ago. “Do you know how incredible it is that you did this, how proud they would be?”


And my heart broke a little when he said that, because his illusion is so touching – so revealing of the values of his generation, and so alien to the experience of mine.


Some thoughts
Not so long ago, academia was both fairly wide-open and a pretty nice life. Get a PhD from a good school in an interesting discipline and there was probably a spot for you at a decent university. Work hard and publish prolifically for a few years and you’d be offered tenure, after which life was idyllic by most standards. You teach a bit, study a subject you love and hang out with like minded intellectuals – all while making acceptable money and building up a generous pension. It wasn’t always this smooth and agreeable, of course, but in many cases the reality matched ideal.

As the article above makes clear, today’s academia is a very different place. The reasons are many, but four stand out:

1) State and local governments have grossly overspent and overpromised, and are now almost universally broke. They can’t cover their pension obligations but can’t scale them back without declaring bankruptcy. So they’re cutting other things, one of which is aid to state schools. This widens the gap between tuition and actual per-student cost, which forces universities to cut costs to make up the difference. And “labor”, i.e. non-tenured faculty, is a juicy target.

2) Schools themselves have made the same mistakes as local governments, overspending on state-of-the-art sports facilities and luxurious dorms and rec centers. The resulting debt can’t be managed under the current cost structure, which adds another impetus for cuts in areas where cuts are possible.

3) The idea that a college education is a ticket to a better life is so ingrained in the middle-class mind that students and their parents are willing to pay pretty much anything for a degree. But they haven’t learned to differentiate between degrees that actually lead to good jobs (like computer science) and those that lead, in today’s world, to dead ends (like history, philosophy and minority studies). A decade ago you could get a PhD in one of the latter disciplines and hope for a job teaching the same subject. Now you’re either a fast food worker, an office temp, or – maybe worst of all – an adjunct “professor” who is effectively a serf in a suddenly-feudal system.

4) The federal government’s student loan program offers kids more money each year, which encourages colleges to raise tuition by a comparable amount, which is increasingly pricing their product out of the market. The US is full of middle-class families with kids who are accepted at Purdue or the University of Washington but who, even with loans, can’t cover the $30,000 – $40,000 annual tuition and instead opt for the home town junior college. The result is a shrinking pool of students willing to pay to attend a given high-priced school.

Add it all up, and what used to be a privileged group in a rich country – US academics – is suddenly an exploited Third World minority. The life they thought of as a birthright for being smart and American is gone, with nothing on the horizon to replace it.

The macro cause, as in all the other “Welcome to the Third World” columns published here, is debt. We’ve kept interest rates too low for too long, which encouraged too many people to borrow too much and expand too aggressively, and now that we can’t borrow as freely the choices made in easier times are blowing up. Universities that spent billions to expand are rapidly going bankrupt. Students who borrowed tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for degrees that aren’t in demand are crushed between high debt service and low income. Parents who thought they’d saved enough to put their kids through college now find that their interest income is miniscule while tuition is soaring – and that their college graduate kids still need help with health insurance and rent. The college bubble and the death of academia, in short, are playing major roles in the elimination of what’s left of the middle class.

119 thoughts on "Welcome to the Third World, Part 8: A PhD Is Now a “Path to Poverty”"

  1. Also, foreign grad students from India take all the admission seats allocated and eventually go on to take American jobs as well. So America in essence is becoming a third word country. You can’t get into a good school cause too much competition, you can’t get a good job because it’s too much competition. I guess no one cares about the American citizen anymore.

  2. To all the students out there:
    If you plan on getting a social science oriented degree, do not expect to have a great salary. At best, you might earn better than the national average in the public sector (Gov’t, Military, etc), but be prepared for challenging competition. My advice to all of you is to pursue a technical degree, stop analyzing the words of others in the social sciences, and actually create something the market requires.
    The Author does a great job here of holding a lot of other folks accountable, but look inward to yourself, author.
    Living under a rock from 2007-2012 and pursuing a Ph.D in Anthropology was a conscious decision that you made. You failed to understand the implications of such a decision, and you failed to recognize academia’s failures.
    Author: Academic work should not place you in the upper middle class, and the market shift that took your dream away from you is expected — all things change. You were riding the top of the academic bubble and hoping you could find your intellectual job at the end of the rainbow, but what you should have been doing is paying attention to what was capitalizing in the time you were earning your PhD.
    By continually paying into the institution, you have awarded yourself no market-reputable skills: what can you build? what can you create? what can you do? The market does not require your labor. You should have invested in yourself in another way. Your failures are yours alone, and while greater factors might have influenced them, you must account for your inability to see opportunity where it truly lay.
    Take my example:
    I graduated from school, debt free on a scholarship from a state university (that I earned, not because I had minority or special status.) Once I graduated, I entered Military service and defended your freedom. In so doing, I earned GI bill benefits to return to school. Now I am coupling my technical degree with an MBA, and have job prospects in the private sector. I am excited to enter the private workforce and greatful that my sacrifices have awarded me the opportunity; I am also excited to build our country again.

  3. You addressed the solution to the problem about which you are complaining. “Student’s haven’t learned to differentiate degrees”. You didn’t mention anthropology as one of the one’s that would land you flipping burgers when in reality that is exactly where it belongs. Sorry to say, those fields are useless.

    We live in a post-industrial society and no one is looking to employ anthropologists, sociologists etc. at comfortable salary levels. They simply don’t produce a service that people need/want. So unless you use a bachelor’s degree in one of those fields as a generic stepping stone to graduate or professional school to get a degree that will find you a job, you can’t really complain about how academics are being driven into poverty (that means getting a graduate degree in something ELSE), Academics are being driven into the ground because the fields they study that lead to their impoverishment are, for lack of a better phrase, worthless in today’s world.

  4. Education has NOTHING to do with a prosperous economy. Just ;look at Cuba. Plenty of PHd’s driving taxi cabs.

    Look at all the well educated Harvard Grads that have put America at the bottom of the heap.

  5. I think you have this about right, except for some high end careers where the demand, and money, is present (at least until it can be outsourced). But I doubt if there are even many of those anymore.

    Ph.D. ’83 (after 2 master’s). Pure geography–cultural/historical/social study (of the years have been to 92 countries, have published quite a bit, etc.)

    Didn’t get tenure ’86 (too liberal for my school)

    …7 years temp work while being asked why I wasn’t working in my field by people who always said there was a need…they just didn’t know where it was. Applied for everything I could find from Canberra to Nairobi.

    18 years at a for-profit “college” developing and teaching math & science courses; an embarrassing place with crappy pay, but did a little good until the “profit” of the corporation led to the end of any true education in its 80 school chain. Rather than accept giving only canned programs designed for students who couldn’t do 8th grade work but were proud to be getting “college degrees” I finally walked. No biggie, enrollment at the school had dropped about 75%, but tuition for an unaccredited degree was holding at $60k. Morale was in the toilet too. And welcome to the bottom side of American education.

    Part-time work ($2k/course) teaching math & science at a real school. When they need me.

    Recently wrote my old grad school professor. As far as he knows everything in the field is beautiful. Of course, he didn’t have much info on what former Ph.D. students were doing either.

  6. My wife teaches a graduate class as a “lecturer” at a major university. We both work full time so she doesn’t have to depend on it to survive like some do. She gets $3200 before taxes (about $2000 after) per semester to teach the class and usually teaches the class 2-3 times per year. But she has expenses for travel, equipment, books, and supplies which can run as much as $1000 per semester, typically running around $500. So in a typical semester she clears about $1500. Over the course of the semester she puts at least 200 hours of work in, probably more, so her take home pay per hour ends up around $7 to $7.50. As noted in the article this job offers no benefits (not important for us, but devestating to some others.) Note that to teach this class she was required to have at least a master’s degree and 15 years of experience, to earn $7.50 per hour with no benefits. Each class has between 15-30 students, with each paying about $2400 in tuition. This means the university brings in between $36,000 and $72,000 per semester from this class.

    We don’t know what the university spends their money on, but it sure doesn’t spend much of it on instructors.



  8. I love assertion-filled, research-free analysis. When in the last 20 years did most PhD graduates find jobs in academia?

  9. This is all a product of the technical globalization that has taken over. Sociologists have been writing about this trend for decades (Spengler, Heidegger, Ellul, Vanderburg). All facets of our lives are dominated by efficiency, productivity, and profit. Government, academia, the economy, etc… if it’s more efficient, hence more productive/profitable you must do it. It’s much more efficient to hire adjuncts (keeping costs low), and pump money into buildings (wowing the student into enrolling). With this trend administrations must grow. Just look at any college/university in the country. It’s administration is bigger than the faculty. The means has become the end. The question that is only beginning to be asked now is…at what cost? Communities, cultures, the biosphere are all being devastated by our need for the new and improved. The interest rate argument is only a small “technic” (technology) that is a part of a larger set of technics that dominate our lives. Teacherless classes are beginning to be conceived in higher ed. Think about it…how efficient it would be to plug in a student’s learning profile, only to have the computer analyze it through a set of algorithms to then formulate a computerized class to fit that student’s learning style. If this bothers you, IT SHOULD. Computers/technology do not have the capacity to feel. This article about academia is just one issue in this technicization of our world. More and more in all areas of our daily lives people will not be needed. I’m sure you’ve heard the talk of doing away with libraries now that we have an internet that will eventually have all books on-line. Again, at what cost to our to our communities? Wake up everyone, we’re all responsible for this trend. We all need to start asking different questions. If you question the implementation of the newest technology strictly within the context of efficiency, productivity, and profitability, hence scientific logic, you will always implement it. It is the only logical thing to do. But if you begin to question what will be the social cost to the implementation (which may not necessarily be quantified) you will begin to see that it might not be wise to implement it just because it’s more efficient.

    1. Hey, I’m all for a new educational paradigm, but my employer still wants a degree from an accredited college, and I’m competing with 3 minority women from Harvard for the same job.

    1. True… And there are few other more online academies. Straighterline, Aleks, Study.com and few others.

  10. it may be silly to ask that, but, if academies are as reliant on assistent
    work as you say, why can’t the assistent go on a strike and
    DEMAND decent pay?

  11. I do not feel the least bit sorry for this Ph.d.

    She ADMITS that she wanted the very same position that led to this situation. Teach a little and just stick around for a pension..

    Disgusting. She should teach ALL DAY and save her own money for her own future and not stick it to the students nor state. She is the EXACT cause of the problem.

    Anthropology offers NO VALUE to society. Want to produce value? Grow something or MAKE something. Wealth is excess production, be it apples or chairs or coffee. Going to a fancy school with parties and football is a waste. Learn how to fix air conditioners or dishwashers. That is a useful job.
    In addition, who the hell needs “anthropology”. Useless. Even more useless when they whine about “inequality”. Hey, Anthropologist, NATURE IS UN-EQAUL and un-equal is NORMAL.

  12. Another important factor which discourages pursuit of higher education and contributions to the natural sciences is child support. Men seldom get custody of their children after divorce. And family courts seldom order shared parenting because federal subsidies to states match child support transferred from father to mothers and encourages courts to award women custody and order child support from men which exceeds actual cost of raising children by a multiple of between two and three. Incomes are imputed for calculating child support in part by education. So the more education a man has, the more child support he is ordered to pay. Approximately one-third of adult men in the US have been ordered to pay child support during the past forty-four years. Any man who has an education and has been ordered to pay child support has seen little to no financial advantage in pursuing an education. As a matter of fact, an education is not just not adventagious but greatly disadventagious. Education, particularly in the natural sciences, is fundamental to civilization. By discouraging it or punishing it with mechanisms like child support, governments are undermining civilization. Instead of child support being a funciton of education, it should be based upon the actual and absolute and average cost of raising a child. Or better yet, there should be defaul shared parenting in all divorces. As evidence of the impact child support and other punishments for men but not women have had on education, the ratio of men to women at university has declined precipitously during the past twenty years from 1:1 to 2:3. Anyone who does not understand the implications for this development needs their head examined.

  13. A quick note on who’s who: Several people post here under similar names, including “John”, “JR” and myself. I’m the site moderator and post comments under my full name, while John and JR are readers who weigh in (generally with valuable insights — thanks guys) on subjects that interest them.

    1. Wikipedia (admittedly a bad source for something like this) says that the executive order was made null and moot by 1982 legislation and then was formally revoked by Reagan in 1987 in EO 12608. It may be technically true that Reagan’s order “did not change or alter any part of Kennedy’s EO 11110,” but only because it rescinded the entire thing. Wiki isn’t a great source but JFK’s order would seem to have been canceled twice over.

      Anyhow, I don’t think the US Treasury has any silver anymore, do they? They mint coins, but do they store any? I’m thinking not.

    2. Lincoln used the Treasury to print debt free United States Notes. Got a bullet in his head.

      Kennedy wanted the Treasury to issue United States Silver Certificates. Got a bullet in his head (same location……..signature hit…………)

      LBJ rescinded the executive order.

  14. Room and board: $50,000

    4-year Tuition: $240,000

    Realizing that you accomplished little more than becoming a debt slave to the bankers and their orgy of debt: Priceless.

    1. Room and board are everyday expenses. When I talk with my children about costs of education….it is the education costs we discuss, not living costs. Whether in school or the school of life, one must house and feed one’s self.

      Yes, it is foolish to go into debt at an ivy league college, but it is stupid not to get a higher education. Live in a house you can afford and send your children to a university they (you) can afford.

      I for one “invest” in my children’s future by covering most of their cost of education so they don’t have to borrow money to attend university. Although I would like to retire, it is more important to provide for my children’s future.

      1. It’s a real shame easy student loans have driven up the cost of education to such a degree. Unintended consequences of government intervention. If your children can graduate with a much reduced debt burden, you’ve done them a real service.

  15. It strikes me as just plain silly to get a degree that will require you to live on virtually no pay. It’s OK if you are set financially, otherwise it not a smart move.
    What are they thinking?
    Were they lied to about job prospects?
    Were they expecting to marry into money?
    It’s OK being noble, if you come from nobility. Otherwise, duh.

  16. daddy Bush, baby Bush, Obama, Romney, Clinton = Same thing.
    Yes, so true, so wake-up USA!! The gun toting population of u.s. believes they are superior to the rest of us in the global village, think again, we live in a changing world. The banksters have stripped wealth from the dumb public and are continuing on their plundering way! Focus your fire power on this gang of shinny suited marauders, because it seems they are immune to main stream justice, and the above pollies have perpetuated their activities.

    1. It is the gun toting population that keeps you free.

      One of the world’s former leaders said: “The people don’t need guns. The State will take care of them”.

      Wanna guess who said that? He proceeded to round up the “Juden” and stuff them in gas chambers, burn the bodies and bury them in pits. They sure would have been better off as gun toting……………

  17. “Higher-ed” is way overdue for a ‘crash and burn’ similar to real estate, banking,and the old Soviet Union. It is bloated, parasitic, useless,and outdated.

    The constant ‘surge’ in tuition rates simply insures their days are numbered,because fewer students are enrolling.

      1. Dear John, life is much better for many people with a higher education degree, however, there are many more people who have higher education degrees, but have inadequate skills to survive in the marketplace. In fact, there is a flood of higher ed graduates who can’t find work in this current depression. It seems the skills of a plumber or a mechanic are more valuable than many higher education degrees. The real sad part is that many of these people were duped into getting these degrees, and are now burdened with a massive student loan debt.

      2. Pretty mush exactly the same as it is now. The aerospace, computer sci, and manufacturing sectors of our economy will still have crashed or left the country. The money is still about 5% of what it was worth in the 60’s.

        Yep, pretty much the same.

      3. I have a trade. I repair things. I make a lot of money. I learned my trade at a trade school. As for “education” like music ( I play the piano, guitar and drums ALL WHICH I TAUGHT MYSELF) and I love to read (I have my own library), all of which is paid for by my trade which I learned in trade school.

        I am an eye doc,. I fix things with tools. It is MY JOB. I went to school for a JOB and with this great JOB I can read all about Anthropology and do “critical thinking” and pay for great classic books and music……..all because I do repair work with tools that I picked up in my trade…………..

  18. John said, “Education is key to democracy, to society and a future without being slaves to those who have an education.”

    Theoretically, this would seem to be more than obvious. One problem I have with the statement is that more highly educated people don’t seem to grasp any better than high school dropouts that the two party system is a sham. They are better at articulating why they vote Republican or Democrat, but they seem incapable of grasping the gravity of the present path.

    Btw, I’m a liberal arts major that is very happy with my education and the ability to think critically that comes with it.

    One possible explanation is that the process of aligning one’s self with a political party is an emotional one, and that education, intelligence, and the ability to reason is somehow sidestepped, and that even moral values are twisted or distorted in some way as to be only a minor factor.

    Once the dollar collapses, as your website’s title predicts, and some sort of honest money system emerges, I think we will enter an era where education is much more revered. Without student loans, education will be seen as something that is acquired only with extreme effort and sacrifice, for most people, with commensurate value.

    1. Jason
      You are right about “educated people” in the US not being able to grasp the lack of our two part system and lack of democracy. The reason (I think); is most don’t receive a “good” education…only a mediocre one. Students is public schools in the US are tought to take tests, not to think, and then when you mix in religion, and people are really confused!!! Then through in a health dose of misinformation repeated over and over again for months on end via the news media…..voila”, a mixed up nation of uneducated consumer slaves!

      PS: I’m not Mr. Rubino and this is not my site; although I wish I could claim credit!

      1. John – wow dude!!!! First of all, a “higher education” degree doesn’t equal intelligence or good critical thinking skills. Many colleges and universities are indoctrination grounds which espouse Marxist ideals. I have met many, many people without higher education degrees who are very successful and intelligent. Did you know that Steve Jobs was a college dropout? And with the internet today, we can have a world of information right on our doorstep!

        You seem to worship higher education, and overestimate its virtues and benefits. I’m not sure if you are college educated, but you sure have been brainwashed to think that religion is “the enemy.” America was founded as a Christian nation, with people teaching respect for their fellow man. It’s ironic with the wars in the Middle East, gang problems, drugs, crime, and all the hatred in this world, that you somehow have been duped into thinking that “religion is the enemy.” I wouldn’t be surprised if you “learned” those ideals in a college or university, but after you say “Then through in a health dose of misinformation,” I have my doubts.

        Higher education CAN help people learn more and it can enrich people’s lives, but higher education DOES NOT make someone smart and CANNOT guarantee success nor intelligence.

      2. “religion” is where we get the “Thou shalt not murder.” concept. The atheist heathens of the world have been the most vile and murderous people the world has ever seen–80-100 million people murdered by their own government under communism… Deny the sanctity (which requires God) of human life and this is what happens eventually..

  19. So, no one is an advocate for education for education’s sake? Where we all would like to make amazing money or at least a living wage with our education, one need to be reminded that education for education’s sake is of greater importance than money (I know blasphemy).

    Whether you use your education, either BS, MS or PhD in philosophy, business, engineering, science, fine arts, basket making, or whatever. The fact remains you do have an education with all that goes with it. An education provides a foundation of thought, critical thought, a foundation of understanding, a broad base of knowledge to think from and skills in writing, mathematics, reading, etc. critical to be successful life. An education allows one to listen or read the news with an understanding that those with a very poor high school education cannot muster. Matter of fact it is more likely that one will pay attention to the news and read the newspaper with an education than without and as a result are more informed than many.

    Without an education, few can protect themselves from the medical industry, business, insurance, etc. by writing letters of complaint, mustering a firm argument with facts and logic to support your positions, and of course the ability to write a damning letter to the editor of the local or national newspaper, or to your Congressman.

    Without education you are POWERLESS!!! And those that profess that an advanced education is worthless simply want to keep YOU ignorant, uninformed and weak. Education is key to democracy, to society and a future without being slaves to those who have an education. Education allows one to choose between religious dogma or reality, between Church directions or a secular life, to choose between freedom of thought or being susceptible to propaganda and misinformation. An education is a key corner stone to critical thought that is sorely lacking in the United States. Get an advanced education or remain a slave and ignorant….remaining susceptible to those who have the education and POWER!

    1. Okay, but education does not equal schooling. One does not have to pay $50,000 a year to study philosophy; you just need books, some peers with similar interests and a mentor or two. There are some fields where you can’t easily self-educate (medicine, some parts of chemistry and physics, etc), but many or even most fields could be studied in other ways which don’t necessitate going tens of thousands into debt.

      Suppose a kid cobbled together some community college classes, a lengthy reading list in their area of study, and a couple of unpaid internships or some job experience in their field. They could itemize their knowledge & skills in a sort of transcript format (much as homeschoolers do when applying to colleges), take that transcript to a prospective employer and say “I think this is better than a bachelor’s degree.” Given the number of employers out there complaining about new grads needing hand-holding, I would think this self-directed approach would appeal to many. And it wouldn’t involve massive debt.

      1. Yes! An education is an education where ever it comes from as long as the education is secular, complete and well rounded. If you wish to study theology, than do so, but with the understanding it may not provide the critical thought I seek for all. It is the skill sets and basics of education required to continue your education throughout your entire life that is important.

        An education….would allow an African man who now thinks that having as many cows as possible and as many children possible (all starving) to consider five cows are better than 50 (one of them a milk cow) and two children are better than 10 (all healthy and feed).

        A sound education for all Americans would mean that most would understand that our two party is not, or money is fake, and women’s right to her own decisions regarding her health are between her and her Doctor, and not the government or church.

        1. You obviously don’t have any education, because if you did you would not use the African-Cow analogy

    2. Education is NOT education. A PhD in Crap is still Crap. Actually, I know several people who deal mostly in real crap and business is booming.
      The market decides what education is worth, Not the educators, Or the students. Just because you know more about medieval nose flute music than anyone else in the world, well bucky, it still isn’t worth anything. Even the engineering students are finding this out as the ‘education’ they get is increasingly obsolete.
      You simply can’t equate whatever is in your head as self worth.

    3. What do you mean by “education”? Typical college propaganda?

      Education is: The ability to READ.

      The ability to THINK does not come from college, but rather, college STOPS you from thinking and only forces one to agree to the party line. I tried critical thinking in various classes at college and was hated for it.

      Don’t go to church and say “prove it”. Don’t go to college and ask “says who?”.

      Real education comes from within and it is free. College is 4 years of sports and sex for 90% of the students.

  20. john rubino, above, shows how sad usa has become,,,,,,

    if obumma had not
    squandered our money and at same time put us into a $16 Trillion debt which
    will take a few lifetimes for us taxpayers to pay off,

    and if obumma was not hot to make a name for himself via sustaining a stupid afghan “war” and the like

    and if he was not
    so busy subsidizing Syria Rebels and the like while usSoldiers got killed

    and he obumma got to be known as an idiot by the world forums, etc etc etc,,.

    meaning any wise man would spend his money at home, making his kids prosper, not give his money to some idiot village 12,000 miles away on other side of the planet who will waste the loot and still be in poverty and never pay back the “loan” and never make contributions to mankind,,,,

    hey hey hey, i say obumma did us wrong, college ed should be free in usa, tuition and books and room and board for free,

    after all when a kid gets ed in upper realms, he has to use it somehow and the only way he can use upper ed is to the benefit of usa, all of us……

    but dont tell obumma that he will only go outside the oval office into the rose garden and smoke a lot of weed until he is more fuzzy brained than ever, etc etc

    1. @ bob D,

      ”if obumma had not squandered our money and at same time put us into a $16 Trillion debt… i say obumma did us wrong, college ed should be free in usa, tuition and books and room and board for free”

      I don’t even need to point out the absurdity of your comments.

  21. What we have here is a simple story of depreciation of the educational currency minted by colleges and universities bent soley on extracting every dollar they can get out of their student body and our government matched only by the intent of every parent on insisting that their little Jane or John is the smartest and either “gets that A or we’ll sue!”

    Since I graduated from a Liberal Arts School back in 1976 when they gave real courses on real subjects issuing real grades for real work we have plunged to a level of academic nonsense so divorced from reality that, upon graduation, the majority of college BA’s and BS’s don’t have an education that would stand up to what we got in highschool during the 1950’s and 60’s.

    Until we start teaching our children starting at age 5 on up and demand more and challenge and teach the three r’s, geography, history, civics, logic, and instill some self discipline through issuing real grades the value of a diploma will remain = 0 regardless of how many a student pursues.

    That means returning colleges and universities to an academic goal not a financial goal or, for the big universities, sports goal. Will this happen? I hope so for the sake of our country.

    Have a good weekend everyone.

    Mark OCD [Overly Concerned Dude]

    1. Since the 50’s and 60’s we had to dumb down all education so that we could embrace the religion of “equality”. Make the class work so easy EVERYBODY could pass thus everybody was equal.

      You all know what I mean.

        1. All the graphs I’ve seen put the average IQ for ‘blacks’ at 85; and show that half of all whites have IQ’s below that average of 100.

  22. The basics of a country must be right and the rest will flow along. The problem is that the country is bleeding if it is having deficits year in year out. This will lead to scarcity and scarcity lead to internal squabbling. The problemis that the people at the top pay themselves too much and to justify their pay, they squeeze the bottom. The other problem is that the technology is developed in USA using the infrastructure that cost alot of money with gains extracted from poor students and part time professors and then these inventors take the product overseas to be manufactured there, thereby sending all the productive jobs overseas while the country is saddled with an unproductive workforce. They will be considered productive if the manufacturing had been done in the country. There is no way for any industries to replace manufacturing as other industries are usually supporting industries supporting the productive manufacturing industries. Get your macro planning right and USA will be the most ideal country to live in.

  23. No sympathy here for unemployed PhD’s. If you want to get paid then make yourself useful by getting a real job, one that produces goods and services that can be exported.
    If we actually needed more PhD’s we could just import them from China or India for less. When I was at UF in the late 70’s we got ours from China. Actual quote from a student on the last day of math class just before finals: “Doctor Wu, I’ve been meaning all semester to ask you, what the h*ll is a ‘wector’?

    1. Yeah, but a civilized society should have room for scholars, artists, ministers, etc, even though they don’t usually produce goods for trade. The real question is whether academia is providing us with scholars who are actually free to innovate, and I’d say the answer is largely “No”. The much-vaunted peer review process acts as a way for academic elites to suppress new theories which contradict their ideas (or at least, the ideas of their generation). And although tenured professors should be free to say what they like (in theory…), in order to get to that point a typical professor goes through 13 years of K-12, 8 years or more of college, and up to a dozen years of trying to impress the academic elites with carefully chosen (inoffensive) research. So in other words, about 3 decades of directed, coercive learning and jumping through hoops– and then suddenly they’re supposed to innovate?

      Some interesting advances lately have come from high school students: bacteria that eat otherwise non-biodegradable plastics; a super-cheap and quick test for certain cancers; solar panels arranged at angles mimicking oak tree leaves to increase sunlight exposure. They may have less knowledge than grad students, but more of their creativity is intact.

      I don’t think the problem is that PhD’s don’t produce exportable goods– there’s plenty of other dead wood to cut out of our hallucinated economy before we take the scholars. I think the problem is that our educational system doesn’t actually promote novel scholarship. If it did, we’d more readily see the value.

      1. Pay for “novel” scholarship on your own time. Why should I be taxed for “scholarship”? Or Music, or Art? If that has any value, people will buy it with their own money and I won’t have a gun shoved up my ass by the government and taxes extracted to pay for “scholarship”.

        What “scholarship’? Socialist crap? Leftist crap? Republican/Democratic crap? “Pay my fair share crap”?

        Society needs production of goods. We don’t need “scholarship”.

  24. The plight of the Ph.D today is not different than the 1980’s. I had friends at UCR who were teaching assistants in literature, stuck in the same exact story you are telling here. Critical thinking in supply and demand as an undergrad would easily reveal what was ahead. There is a lot of ego involved in those three little letters after one’s name.

    1. Right, the article is way off base in its overly rose-tinted assessment of historical job prospects. Ph.Ds in non-technical fields have always been extremely poor financial investments since forever, with the possible exception of a very few postwar years when the schools were glutted with returning veterans.

      The only difference now is that tuition levels and debt loads are sky-high compared with earlier generations.

  25. If everyone has a house, then what’s the value of having a house? Answer: houses are things people want and NEED. The worthless degrees being put out by many universities are showing their true value. What if everyone in the U.S. had a PhD? No factories, no production…just PhD’s. China produced everything: cars, food, computers, machinery, clothing, heavy equiptment, electronics, etc. Wealth is a result of production and savings. PhD’s (and other degrees), if not used in the capacity to produce (or design) things, are the downfall of society. Such degrees have enriched the institutions that grant them, and have enslaved the students that have earned them.

    A quick search of alternative meanings for PhD found this: Permanent Head Damage, Please Hire Desperate, Pretty Heavy Drinker, Post Hole Digger, Pizza Home Delivery, Power Hungry Dog, Pretty High Dude, Pre Historic Dinosaur, and Poor-Hungry-Desperate. Good for a laugh, and very appropriate today.

    1. ANTHROPOLOGY is a hobby. Not a job.

      Get a real job and then read books from the Library about Egypt and such for free.

      I am an eye doc. I love history and have perhaps 3,000 books in my library. But it is a HOBBY. History is not something you go to college for or borrow money so as to listen in some class to some lefty commie tell you his stack of lies. History is a hobby.

  26. I have a degree in Economics and a minor in Cultural Anthropology and paid for my education at a state college working at a gas station, along time ago. It is truly sad that this can no longer be done. I have two grandkids at the same college and it is costing my son 60k a year. The professors in my day probably did better then than they do now, however, one of my son’s professors bragged that he made 50k for teaching one class. The thing I learned in economics is that one must produce as much as he consumes, just to stay even. Educuators are an expense to producers. Nothing wrong with that, so are police and firemen, just sayin. To think you can get a higher degree and hang with like minded intellectuals and receive a salary, benefits and a generous pension is not a realistic expectancy today, for anyone, private or public sector. That is what has happened to us, we consume far more than we produce and we have sent all thoses producer jobs elsewhere and think we can survive on information technology jobs, which have incidentaly gone elsewhere as well.

    1. Information Technology is just a fancy name for “type-writer with a TV screen attached.

      Computers do nothing more than my Royal type-writer. They just help you waste MORE time FASTER.

      The money is in MAKING the type-writer, not the use of it.

  27. Degrees based on debt is servitude.

    Knowledge layered with other fields of knowledge, when the connections are made, is economic power.

    What would I do if I didn’t have my business? I’d combine the programing skills from my 1980’s with the soldering (physical) and electricity skills connected to the flying skills from my 1990’s and other robotics and ham radio from last year and change my hobby, amateur drones flying/building, into something commercial. What do ya think, is there a market for something like that? It’s not anything you have to have a degree in yet, just results, but it’ll adopt that racket fast. It’s going to be what you know more and more, this will require on going inquiry life long.

  28. This one hit a nerve. I spent eight years at university, getting two graduate degrees, and – financially speaking – just might as well have spent the time in an opium stupor. Thankfully, in my late 20s, I was in British Columbia with unemployment about where it is today in the US in Obama’s socialist workers’ dystopia, so I was *forced* to branch out. While not gifted in computers, I went that direction, and never looked back. I thank God I learned early. I also learned what vile, disgusting hypocrites the leftists are – generally, many of these profs are rhinestone communists, live a pampered, well-paid life (Ward Churchill, anyone), retire in their mid-50s on the public dole for an incredible retirement pkg – which is essentially stealing from the poor serf adjuncts as noted above. It is this horsemanure that woke me up to the left, and made me a vocal opponent of these fascists (fascist as in “National SOCIALIST Workers’ Party).

    1. Coudn’t agree more. Accidently went into programming back in the late 70s and never looked back. I have a brother-in-law who is an architecture prof at Ohio or I should say “design.” I’ve read some of his mumbo jumbo and it’s unreadable. He teaches one or two seminars per semester and is paid over $170k for this. Also advises on theses. This is just a platform for him to secure high paying consulting gigs from China.

    2. You are so correct. Nobody is in love with MONEY more that Liberals. I’ll bet this Ph.d. Anthropologist voted for Obama, hate the “rich” (but wants to live like one), believes in “equality”, etc.

      Notice the entire sob story was about……MONEY! But, you can bet she would tax the rich at 90%, give (somebody else’s money) to the poor (define them?) and still want her own apartment in the city where she can have her wine and cheese parties with her fellow sociologists to whine about “inequality” and such. Sad. IT is people like her that are destroying this world.

      Read ATLAS SHRUGGED if you want to learn about life.

    3. I worked at a university but as a computer programmer with a fancy title. I worked a short day and actually took a two hour break each day for naps or reading. I’m quite serious. Retired at 53 with a nice pension. Those days are gone. States have changed the retirement programs and frozen pay scales. In every generation there are jobs/careers that are really good and that changes. Now companies hire programmers from India at 1/2 US wages. Doctoring used to be great and there still are some nice niches there but for most it’s become hard work. I have no idea what’s a good career nowadays. It’s not my concern anymore. And nothing will change for the masses until America hits bottom. Maybe that’s why I tuned it out and took up smoking weed.

  29. Who says America eradicated slavery in 1865? China and Academia are the new new slavery. In China, you work for $1.25 an hour in factories. In academia you work for food for 6 years and then work for $10k a year for 6 years while paying off your student loans and your net income after taxes would be … $2.50 an hour (average) minus the monthly payments on your student loans …

    1. Well, in America we have a “right” to healthcare if you ask most people, including politicians. That means we have a right to the labor of those in the medical field. How is that different from the right to someone”s labor in the cotton field? Slavery is a growth industry with liberal government. If someone is underpaid, it is because someone is using the government to enforce those wages by limiting competition. That includes the field of education.

      1. People working in health care chose that career path, are compensated for their work, and are free to pursue a different job if the wages are paltry. Calling it slavery is a bit much.

  30. When you don’t create anything of value, you don’t get paid. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

    One thing I learned early on in business….never hire a PhD. They are good at sitting around pontificating and fail miserably when it comes time to generating income for your company. Sounds like the educational system has figured out the same thing!

    1. Never say never. Not all Ph.Ds are useless at making money. Jim Simons has a Ph.D in math … and a net worth of 10 billion US dollars, earned using his math skills.

  31. Debt is somewhat of a second fiddle player in this scenario. Debt extended to students serves a purpose wider than the students and schools themselves, but helps keep the debt-based fiat currency machine rolling which requires perpetual debt expansion to put currency into circulation to keep deflation and contraction at bay.

    Aside from that, the value that society places on education has diminished and is now in favor of expendable, lowest-wage-possible specialized task space-fillers that can compete in a world market where the lowest overall cost possible is valued above all else. In this environment, it make perfect economic sense to gain your education and then immediately move to one of these growing, low cost-of-living countries that still values the education.

    I have know several people that have chosen this last avenue to prosperity available. Get your debt-financed education in the US and then move to India or Singapore to teach or research. They shed their debt and high cost-of-living expenses in favor of a lower salary but no debt.

    I think as the trend of the declining West and rising East progresses, many will make similar choices to escape the debt-slavery their parents’ generation left them with.

    1. I know a couple that took jobs teaching English and French (both natives) in an elemtary school in southern Japan. Received a decent salary, paid housing and saved a lot. Took Japanese courses over a two year period and came back here and now teach Japanese.

  32. I could take this to an extreme. If everyone has a degree then what’s the value of having a degree. Is having a degree not supposed to something special ?

  33. The level of interest rates are NOT determined by the FED, BoJ, ECB, BoC, RBA or e.g. the BoE. Rates are determined by ALL market participants, a.k.a. “Mr. Market”. Central banks are only some of the participants that determine interest rates. And “Mr. Market” has pushed interest rates down since 1981.

    And interest rates going lower and lower allowed debtors to go deeper and deeper into debt.

    Students should be able to get rid of their student loan debt in a bankruptcy. That would make both borrowers and lenders more cautious to borrow/lend (more) money to students.

    1. WOW: such naivete about rates and the process by which they are determined. It is true that in capitalism the free market will determine rates; but in America we no longer have free market capitalism, we have at best croney capitalism or more realistically fascism. Check out the LIBOR rate scandal which is the focus of criminal investigation. LIBOR is the rate that determines the rate on your mortgage, credit cards, money market funds and everything interest related. Guess what, it has been manipulated for decades!!!!!

      1. Agree. LIBOR is rigged because it’s determined by commercial banks. But Treasury debt is at $ 16 Trillion. That debt is in the hands of A LOT OF investors all around the world. The combination of supply & demand of ALL those investors put together determines rates on that debt. It therefore CAN’T be rigged by a small handful of insiders, banks or the US government.

        1. wrong! all rates are fixed. the fed is buying 40% of the treasury paper; government stats are a fiction,dollar carry trade via the commercial/investment bank to the tune of 300 billion per annum out of middle class pockets to the banks for sheer gambling, JPM silver shorting for the fed; bullion banks crashing gold prices for years at precisely at 8:30am New York, naked shorts, marked to fantasy asset valuation bank books…it not only can be rigged by a few but is so daily.

          1. If rates are fixed/rigged, then why has the yield curve (e.g. 5 year note vs. 30 year bond) steepened in the last three years, in spite of two operations Twist (buy 30 year bonds and sell 6 month t-bills) ?

        2. True, Europe’s implosion drove money into treasuries. But the fed bought 61% of them last year, and from what I am hearing, it is still buying a high % this year.

        3. That’s not quite right… There is the total supply and then there is the float, i.e. the amount available and actively traded at any given time. Lots of Treasuries are bought and held for long periods regardless of what’s happening with prices / yields… they exist but they sit on the sidelines. The market action occurs within a much smaller pool. Treasury auctions are also closely followed and those are routinely manipulated… The primary dealers buy the bonds at high prices and then turn around a week later and sell them to the Fed and earn commissions. So it may be easier to rig the yields than you’d imagine.


      OH, Man, you slay me. Really, you’re too funny.

    3. PhD’s in unemployment are not a new thing-it was already a growing issue 25 years ago as the handwriting was already on the wall back then. I was fortunate I used my gut instinct and pursued a second degree-BSN in Nursing and followed that up with advanced specialty training versus pursuing a History PhD. I now easily make 100K+ per year and I love what I am doing plus I was able to mold my nursing degree and find an angle where I do a lot of historical research. What could be better than that? Academia is a business & getting students into a college they can not afford and then sucking them dry for as much money as they can and then in turn having the student drop out is all part of the big plan. This is not mentioning the scores of ‘adjunct professors’ who work for peanuts teaching the freshman and sophmores who can not afford to be at the school to begin with. The adjunt PhD is just as naive as the freshman in a sense, as to the academic Ponzi Scheme they are bothing feeding and bleeding for. If you want a real job get into the health professions, hard sciences or engineering. Academia has become the modern day version of the old bloated and inefficient unionized auto industry run by cigar smoking corporate hacks. Instead of selling junk cars, academia has learned to sell a junk bill of goods to prospective freshman and new PhD’s.

      1. KD, I don’t know where to start. I am an RN too, but a guy. I too make decent money, but I absolutely know this is going to come crashing down big time, someday really soon! About 5 years ago, I took a trip to Mexico, and a tour guide told me that there were doctors, lawyers and engineers who were driving taxis to earn a living (think tips) because they couldn’t make enough money in the professions they trained for! I had already known that nurses and teachers make peanuts in Mexico (it’s true).

        Nurses making $100K per year??? Who’s kidding who??? How long do you think that will last? You do realize that socialized medicine is right around the corner, don’t you? In fact, my brother just sent me an article that states that under Obamacare, millions of healthcare workers are to become government (state, or federal) employees. Nurses are getting paid too much, and this feeding of the hogs off of the state, federal, and insurance company troughs will come to a crashing halt really soon. Sure, they will still be feeding, but it will be more like a starvation type diet – ie – the troughs will be nearly empty.

      2. I had received a master’s degree in sociology back in 1973 when a dregree in the social sciences was all the rage. I even took the Ph.D. prelims, but we were in the middle of a recession and I kept reading in the Washington Post (back when it was considered a great paper) about the fed. govt laying off social scientists and colleges not hiring. My gut reaction was to not to pursue a doctorate. And the cost, back then, was $300 per course which was high. I didn’t think the degree was cost effective in the long run.

        I worked for a year or two doing surveys and just fell into PC programming. The thing is, students need to think hard about what they want to do in life. Not everyone can make $100k+ being an engineer, doctor, lawyer, corporation exec, etc. No one should take out huge loans to major in English, sociology, history, art, music…. Kids need to learn that they can make a respectable living in the trades.

      3. You are correct. Today’s Universities are a rip off and basically cheat the student and parents.

        Want to clean it up? No more loans for college. Think about how stupid the idea is anyway. The fact that you are borrowing money for college is the FIRST sign you are stupid as hell.

        My Dad went to Univ of Alabama on a waiter’s tip income in his time. I went 8 years (3 degrees) from money I made during summer breaks and also a waiter. I worked and studies. Social life? All my girl friends did the same. We worked, studies and had sex. Over and over. No “social” life. We did not have time for football or student union crap. We were either at the library or in bed. IF not there then somebody was at work. Over and over.

        If you have ANY debt after college, you deserve the hell you created.

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