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Is a GED more valuable than a PhD?

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trillionaire

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Is a GED More Valuable Than a PhD?

by Kai Ma

In an economy where everyone is overqualified, having an advanced degree is virtually worthless.

For six years, Rebekah slaved at Boston University for her PhD in American Studies. Her plan: work in New York as a museum curator. She pictured chatty, engrossing interviews with like-minded creative types. “Everyone would be so pleased” with her PhD, she thought. Yet eight months after graduating, Rebekah is unemployed and considering a gig at a public library that requires only a GED.

The demand for humanities PhDs has long been tight—for four decades, the number of jobs requiring them hasn’t kept pace with the number of people earning them. But by all indications, recent university hiring freezes and evaporating grant money have reduced the world’s most elite degree to junk-bond status.

“I have thought, ‘Am I going to have to be a waitress?’ Everyone in the field thinks about what else they can do.”

On the Modern Language Association’s Job Information List, a bellwether for PhD employment trends, the number of job postings is down 21 percent, the steepest decline in the list’s 34-year history. One attendee of last month’s annual MLA convention in San Francisco, where doctorate graduates can score interviews for tenure-track professorships, found the event rendered “somber” by the scarcity of opportunities. The same air permeated last week’s American Historical Association conference. “Job candidates who a year ago had goals of four or five interviews here were thrilled to have one,” reported InsideHigherEd.com.

“This is certainly the largest dip [in jobs] we’ve seen, percentage-wise, since we began tracking in the 1970s,” says Rosemary Feal, executive director of the MLA. “It really is disheartening to see so many well-prepared people in search of so few jobs.”

Rebekah could be a poster child for the current PhD despondency. She’s written more than a hundred networking and cover letters during her eight-month job search, and trolls 44 employment websites on a daily basis. Three jobs that fit her specialty recently opened—then two of them were canceled when grant money dried up. “I went in for the interviews, then got word that the searches had stopped,” Rebekah says. “I do have moments of regretting [getting a PhD] because now I’m applying for assistant curator jobs that I could’ve gotten beforehand.”

She even applied for a job as an archivist for the Girl Scouts of America. “As a kid, I was kicked out of the Girl Scouts, which I obviously didn’t mention in my letter,” she says. “I never heard back. It was probably obvious that we weren’t exactly a match.”

“It took six years to write my dissertation, but getting employed feels impossible right now. There’s something a little sick about that,” says “Liz,” another freshly minted PhD who didn’t want her name used. After spending a decade earning her English PhD at UC-Berkeley, she began her job search in September by applying for 40 different tenure-track positions; she’s since received notice that those searches have been canceled. “There are a lot of folks in despair. Several PhDs I know are in counseling.”

“I’m frightened,” says a lecturer in the Boston area who earned her PhD last year and remains unemployed in her field. “These are huge numbers, all related to the economic crisis. I have thought, ‘Am I going to have to be a waitress?’ Everyone in the field thinks about what else they can do.”

Notably, many on the job market refused to provide their names for this story. In the competitive world of academia, paranoia runs high. “It’s extraordinarily insular,” says Christine Hong, a postdoctoral fellow at UC-Berkeley. “I don’t see how someone complaining about how dire things are would necessarily be fatal for them, but I understand the paranoia.”

Some new PhDs, especially those saddled with debt, are considering junking their degrees altogether.

“I have dissertation friends with kids who just wind up being stay-at-home moms,” says a humanities PhD student and mother of two. “You wind up doing Plan B, whatever that is.” She’s applied for roughly 25 tenure-track positions, only to hear back that many of the searches have been canceled. One rejection notice said the position drew 700 applications.

“Every single academic, especially in the humanities, has a tinge of buyer’s remorse” about their PhD, she says. “You see your peers in law or business school make down payments on homes and buy cars and go on vacation. But as a PhD student, you’re in your 30s, still renting an apartment and driving a ’84 Corolla. It’s not cute.”

According to former George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the downward spiral began when Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, announced that the troubled economy had forced the university to take “a hard look at hiring.”

“That was a catalyst,” says Trachtenberg, author of The Art of Hiring in America''s Colleges & Universities. “Harvard is the North Star, and considered the richest institution in the country. So every other college president in America could then say, ‘If this is going on at Harvard, you can understand that we, too, need to be more cautious.’ It’s a trickle that has turned into a drought…In terms of the hiring freezes, I haven''t seen this in a long time. And absolutely, it''s related to the recession and the loss of endowment income.”

State schools with smaller budgets have always been a tougher nut for PhDs to crack. “But what’s unusual is how private schools are saying the same thing,” says Robert Townsend, assistant director for research and publications at the American Historical Association. “They’re pinching pennies on pencils—small stuff. Candidates have plenty of reason to be upset and concerned.”

Those not giving up entirely are taking whatever they can get. Liz, like many PhDs, says she feels like she’s taking a step back by working as a teacher’s assistant, a position typically held by students who just got their bachelor''s degrees. But she swallowed her pride and took the job anyway. She starts this month.

“I’m considering leaving academia,” she says, rattling off the other odd jobs she’s taken on: tutor for high-school students, a grader for the Educational Testing Service. “I never romanticized the profession. I never imagined myself at some top research institution, with assistants scurrying around doing work for me. But I did imagine that I would have a job. Sure, I haven’t bused tables yet. But I might.”

Kai Ma is a writer and columnist whose work has appeared in New York magazine, Newsday, Nerve, and Time Out New York. She began covering race and Asian-American communities after helping to produce “Matters of Race,” a PBS documentary that explored the impact of ethnicity in one of the most diverse hospitals in Los Angeles. In South Korea, she also reported on North Korean defectors and their adjustment into capitalist Seoul.
 

Hudson_Hawk

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This doesn''t surprise me at all. I''m unemployed and I have a Masters from Harvard. It hasn''t helped me a bit.
 

neatfreak

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In many fields you can easily earn more with a masters than a Ph.D. so that doesn''t surprise me. A Ph.D. is not usually a moneymaking degree.
 

risingsun

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I have a 60 credit Masters Degree in Counseling and a license to practice independently and accept insurance payments. I was asked to enter a doctoral program in psychology and turned it down. Although I may be retiring soon due to health problems, I have been employed before and since I got my degree. I am also certified in addictions counseling, which allowed me practice prior to getting my master''s and my license. With the exception of continuing ed for my license and certs, I''m done with school!
 

movie zombie

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there are X amount of jobs in paricular fields and yet people think they''ll beat the odds. they continue to study and train for positions that have been hard to obtain for 30 years due to budget cut backs and just plain over flooding of available trained people. in CA librarians have had a hard time for years finding work. law is another area in which huge debt is racked up to get the education only to end up being a secretary or paralegal in so very many instances. she made her choice to pursue her dream: more power to her.........but given what was already known during her 10 years of study regarding her chosen field, i''m not having a lot of pity. there are no guarantees and she sounds like she thinks there should be. what is sad is that she may take that GED requirement job and thereby displace someone who would really appreciate the job.

mz
 

HollyS

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Is that a trick question?

What economy, in a fully functioning twenty-first century country, needs more ''lower-income'' producing citizens? Some white collar jobs are taking a hit right now; but in recessions and depressions, it is the lower paid jobs that are hard to come by and darn hard to keep. We will always need teachers, doctors, and lawyers. We might need bricklayers too, but if nobody is building . . . . .
 

LtlFirecracker

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Depends on the field. My work colleagues who has a PhD in pharmacy are doing very well. But I believe a masters will get you far too. It''s not just the degree, but what you do with it. An individual with a higher education will always make money working for industry, or a for profit corporation vs working in academics, government, or a non-profit cause. Some areas lend themselves better to industry than other.
 

purrfectpear

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What city is she living in that a librarian doesn''t require a degree? They certainly do here in LA.

She could be a substitute teacher. There are still shortages of teachers.
 

Haven

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Date: 2/7/2009 6:16:36 PM
Author: purrfectpear
What city is she living in that a librarian doesn''t require a degree? They certainly do here in LA.
She could be a substitute teacher. There are still shortages of teachers.
I thought the same thing about the librarian--our librarians in IL need BAs or MAs.

I don''t really know what I think of the issue of whether a GED is more valuable than a PhD, but I do agree with Neat that a PhD is not usually a moneymaking degree.

We hire teachers with PhDs in my district, but they don''t make much money at all to start out. Our PhD/EdD track with no experience starts at $61,000 for this year, which is less than I make with my masters degrees and few years experience. It sounds like someone who just spent several years earning her PhD would not want to settle for 61K out of school. It will be 64K next year, but yeah, not much better.
 

purrfectpear

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I hear you on the not wanting to start at $61K, but on the other hand if she was after money she should have pursued something other than American Studies
 

AllieGator

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This is something I''ve been worried about. I''m in undergrad, and would really like to get a PhD in Spanish/Latin American studies. But I''ve been looking into it, and I honestly think I am going to switch to becoming a high school spanish teacher. Not only is there a high demand for them in my state, the average starting salary is quite a bit higher in a public school than a typical person with a PhD who has to start out by being an adjunct at a public university. Although, this is in New York State, one of the states with the best public education systems, which may affect it. It''s made me rethink what i''m doing after school--it''s still my dream to someday get a PhD, but for practicality''s sake, i will probably start out just getting a masters in Spanish Education.
 

Haven

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Date: 2/8/2009 1:58:06 AM
Author: purrfectpear
I hear you on the not wanting to start at $61K, but on the other hand if she was after money she should have pursued something other than American Studies
I completely agree with you, purrfectpear. If it was about the money, I think she chose the wrong focus. (And perhaps the wrong degree.)

Allie--I have to strongly advise against pursuing a career in HS education if it is not something for which you are extremely passionate, ESPECIALLY if you''re basing that decision on comparative earnings. I know that most people think teaching high school is an easy job, but it is not. Here in Illinois, less than 30% of certified teachers stay in the profession for 5+ years; our rate of attrition is extremely high because we have so many people going after education degrees in search of an "easy" job, and then once they get in the field they realize they just can''t hack it.

Have you considered teaching at a community college? I did that for a few years before I moved to a high school, and it was extremely fulfilling. Your experience would be much closer to that of a university professor, except the pressure to publish is not nearly as bad, and you only need a master''s degree to start out. I''d definitely look into that before high school. You''ll make a bit less, but honey, you''ll hate teaching high school if you''re not passionate about it. Trust me. If you''re near IL, you can even come and spend a day with me some time to see what it''s all about. Good luck!

Back to the original question--I do have to say that I think it is sad that an education is now just looked at as a means to getting a job. Sad. Sad. Sad.
 

ksinger

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Date: 2/8/2009 10:30:52 AM
Author: Haven

Date: 2/8/2009 1:58:06 AM
Author: purrfectpear
I hear you on the not wanting to start at $61K, but on the other hand if she was after money she should have pursued something other than American Studies
I completely agree with you, purrfectpear. If it was about the money, I think she chose the wrong focus. (And perhaps the wrong degree.)

Allie--I have to strongly advise against pursuing a career in HS education if it is not something for which you are extremely passionate, ESPECIALLY if you''re basing that decision on comparative earnings. I know that most people think teaching high school is an easy job, but it is not. Here in Illinois, less than 30% of certified teachers stay in the profession for 5+ years; our rate of attrition is extremely high because we have so many people going after education degrees in search of an ''easy'' job, and then once they get in the field they realize they just can''t hack it.

Have you considered teaching at a community college? I did that for a few years before I moved to a high school, and it was extremely fulfilling. Your experience would be much closer to that of a university professor, except the pressure to publish is not nearly as bad, and you only need a master''s degree to start out. I''d definitely look into that before high school. You''ll make a bit less, but honey, you''ll hate teaching high school if you''re not passionate about it. Trust me. If you''re near IL, you can even come and spend a day with me some time to see what it''s all about. Good luck!

Back to the original question--I do have to say that I think it is sad that an education is now just looked at as a means to getting a job. Sad. Sad. Sad.
Oh!!! What she said, SQUARED!! Don''t do any kind of public school teaching unless you are passionate!! For heaven''s sake, DON''T do it for earnings. If you ever decide to leave and move to another state that doesn''t pay as much, you''ll be shocked. Ditto on the 5 year mark. Most find they can''t cut it and run screaming by the 5 year mark. Only the diehards make it.

Haven, I''ve been bemoaning the fact that college is mostly glorified vo-tech for over 20 years now. Sad indeed.
 

swimmer

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Date: 2/8/2009 10:30:52 AM
Author: Haven
Date: 2/8/2009 1:58:06 AM

Author: purrfectpear

I hear you on the not wanting to start at $61K, but on the other hand if she was after money she should have pursued something other than American Studies

I completely agree with you, purrfectpear. If it was about the money, I think she chose the wrong focus. (And perhaps the wrong degree.)


Allie--I have to strongly advise against pursuing a career in HS education if it is not something for which you are extremely passionate, ESPECIALLY if you''re basing that decision on comparative earnings. I know that most people think teaching high school is an easy job, but it is not. Here in Illinois, less than 30% of certified teachers stay in the profession for 5+ years; our rate of attrition is extremely high because we have so many people going after education degrees in search of an ''easy'' job, and then once they get in the field they realize they just can''t hack it.


Have you considered teaching at a community college? I did that for a few years before I moved to a high school, and it was extremely fulfilling. Your experience would be much closer to that of a university professor, except the pressure to publish is not nearly as bad, and you only need a master''s degree to start out. I''d definitely look into that before high school. You''ll make a bit less, but honey, you''ll hate teaching high school if you''re not passionate about it. Trust me. If you''re near IL, you can even come and spend a day with me some time to see what it''s all about. Good luck!


Back to the original question--I do have to say that I think it is sad that an education is now just looked at as a means to getting a job. Sad. Sad. Sad.

WORD! Haven, yeah, the people who come into teaching HS who love their topic but are iffy on kids last about a semester. Allie doesn''t fall into that group, but you should know, we teach kids first, subject matter about fourth.

I''m a doctoral student and am not in it for the $$, but I roll my eyes (internally) at the undergrads I''m teaching this semester who all want to be professors. I think they picture themselves in a cute little office filled with books and thinking deep thoughts. Professors (unless you are a household name) make way less than public school teachers in Boston, Chicago, NYC, etc because academic folks wants to live there. Supply and Demand does win every time. But beyond the low pay, the tenure track positions are just drying up, even more so in the humanities than in the sciences. There are many things you can do with a doctoral degree that are not in academia. I thought the article was interesting because they equated money with value, that is pretty weak if after a decade of research, you are still just looking for $$ and not passion for your research.
 

zoebartlett

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It''s funny how the whole Bachelor vs. Masters thing works. I''m a teacher and I have my masters plus about 18 credits. I''m slowly working toward masters +30 credits, which will make my salary go up a bit. A few of my friends who work in the business world have their BA (not a masters) and they make more than I''ll ever see. I think teaching is a different world though -- someone''s salary can vary a lot, depending on where they work and how their district''s salary schedule is set. Unfortunately, there''s no bargaining or negotiating on salary when offered a teaching position.
 

strmrdr

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What is shocking to me is that one of the social services orgs I do work for pays $36k a year for counselors.
The min requirement is a masters degree and they have a waiting list of people who want to work there.
 

isaku5

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Date: 2/7/2009 6:16:36 PM
Author: purrfectpear
What city is she living in that a librarian doesn''t require a degree? They certainly do here in LA.

She could be a substitute teacher. There are still shortages of teachers.
Many people who would be well suited to teach in either the elementary or secondary levels are not bothering to apply as the salary is too low.

That''s something I''ve never understood about the US - poorly paid teachers (and nurses). Teaching is the foundation which determines how many young people will fare. There''s lots of money in the US budget for space exploration and war, but the teachers often have to take a second job as they don''t make enough to live comfortably.

I''m certainly not going to hold up Canada as a fine model in all respects because we Canadians can be faulted in many areas too, BUT our teachers are well paid and because we are, many grads may look to teaching as a career. Again, you could have a PhD and not be able to teach, but those who can''t get the message across or can''t handle a class of 35 are soon weeded out.

The US praises the hard work of its teachers, but that hard work is not rewarded monetarily.
 

decodelighted

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Date: 2/8/2009 2:49:23 PM
Author: isaku5
Many people who would be well suited to teach in either the elementary or secondary levels are not bothering to apply as the salary is too low.
I''d consider teaching in the future ... unfortunately it''s not an option for me here in NY. NY requires a masters for teaching & I only have a BFA. It would cost me at *least* 30K to accumulate all the necessary requirements even at a state school. And it doesn''t seem like NY has better test results from the students ... vs... say, VA, where I''m from?? **shrug**
 

AllieGator

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Oh, Don''t worry. I actually love teaching in high school. My parents are both teachers, so I know all the good and bad parts. I''ve just been wanting the PhD to challenge myself. And I''ll still get it, eventually. My actual dream job is to teach ESL to children, and if I move to NYC, I know I can find a job doing that in the public school system. They recruit spanish majors with no education classes just to do that. But thanks, everyone, for sharing your concern. My parents have had this same discussion with me...and I''m glad people are concerned about not only my happiness, but my suitability as a teacher.
 

risingsun

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Date: 2/8/2009 2:28:14 PM
Author: strmrdr
What is shocking to me is that one of the social services orgs I do work for pays $36k a year for counselors.
The min requirement is a masters degree and they have a waiting list of people who want to work there.
Social service organizations are notorious for their low salaries! In other sectors, you can double that amount for counselors.
 

Rank Amateur

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Get your PhD in a field which leaves you with some marketable skills. "English" and "American Studies" don''t sound too marketable.
 

pjean

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Meh... even in the sciences, it''s not entirely wonderful, although it''s a darn sight better than for the humanities. I finished my PhD recently, and I''m taking a postdoctoral fellowship that will pay about $35k a year. I made more as a legal secretary 8 years ago before I started the PhD. Plus, I got in before a hiring freeze, but if I were starting to apply right now my new boss wouldn''t be able to hire me.
 

Brown.Eyed.Girl

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You know, a couple years ago I really wanted to try to beat the odds myself and get my PhD in English (I was really inspired by this fantastic professor I had - he was my thesis advisor and incredibly brilliant and I wanted to be like him). I was discussing with my advisors my particular field of study (early modern lit) and how it at least offered a little bit of a better chance of employment (we're talking marginal differences here though). Fortunately, I snapped back to reality a few months later and went back to my original plan (law school). I knew that as good as I was in an undergrad English environment, I wasn't going to be in the 0.1 % who are so good that they DO get those elusive tenure-track positions, you know? With the economic downtown...eek
 

pennquaker09

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I want a doctorate in education, but I want it for me, not as a career thing. I will be perfectly happy in a classroom whenever I do decide to go back.

I did have offers for various jobs when I received my masters. I was trying to decide on working or staying at home, and in the end, staying at home won out.
 

ksinger

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Date: 2/8/2009 2:49:23 PM
Author: isaku5

Date: 2/7/2009 6:16:36 PM
Author: purrfectpear
What city is she living in that a librarian doesn''t require a degree? They certainly do here in LA.

She could be a substitute teacher. There are still shortages of teachers.
Many people who would be well suited to teach in either the elementary or secondary levels are not bothering to apply as the salary is too low.

That''s something I''ve never understood about the US - poorly paid teachers (and nurses). Teaching is the foundation which determines how many young people will fare. There''s lots of money in the US budget for space exploration and war, but the teachers often have to take a second job as they don''t make enough to live comfortably.

I''m certainly not going to hold up Canada as a fine model in all respects because we Canadians can be faulted in many areas too, BUT our teachers are well paid and because we are, many grads may look to teaching as a career. Again, you could have a PhD and not be able to teach, but those who can''t get the message across or can''t handle a class of 35 are soon weeded out.

The US praises the hard work of its teachers, but that hard work is not rewarded monetarily.
Substitute teacher?? Again, I live in one of the poorest states, but I can tell you when my husband was doing substitute teaching they were paying MINIMUM WAGE. Which was, at the time, $5-ish an HOUR. You do the math. You''d make more asking if people wanted fries with that. As far as I know the minimum wage thing has not changed. And please don''t get me started on the "alternatively certified" teacher thing. My husband has been interviewing people lately, to fill a history position or two that have come open (because the last guy they hired turned out to be a moron). All the applicants they''ve gotten lately have been "alternatively certified". Unreal, the stories I get.

The US always puts its money to what it TRULY values, talk notwithstanding. It ISN''T public education. Period. And it isn''t dealing with the social problems that make universal public education so incredibly difficult....problems resulting in hungry children, abused children, children with no parents or who are being raised by grandparents or strangers. In other words, children who are NOT ready or in some cases even ABLE to learn, because they are dealing with problems most of us lucky folks on this board never had to deal with..
 

Bia

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Date: 2/6/2009 10:33:02 PM
Author: neatfreak
In many fields you can easily earn more with a masters than a Ph.D. so that doesn't surprise me. A Ph.D. is not usually a moneymaking degree.

This is true. This was the deciding factor when applying for grad schools.

BUT, If I were rich, and didn't need to earn a living, I think I might have.
 
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