January 7, 2014

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Yes, Academia — Winter Is Still Coming.

The business model for PhDs is functionally off. Graduate schools are minting far more PhDs than the market can absorb.

The problem as we see it is that the post-World War 2 university system was built on the assumption of an ever expanding population of students needing more and more higher ed. Therefore there was a need for each generation to produce more professors than the last. (This is not all that dissimilar, by the way, to the way many pension systems and social programs like Medicaid were built on the assumption that a bigger generation would roll around to pay the bills for the current enrollees.) . . .

This system is now coming undone. There aren’t many jobs for entry level doctoral grads, and even fewer for tenure track. Oversupply pushes wages down and keeps desperate hangers-on thronging around looking for adjunct positions. Older professors who were once obliged to retire at 65 now keep teaching. The result is a huge jobs crush.

To resolve the oversupply, we’re going to have to close down many PhD-generating graduate programs and shrink most others. The result will be that demand for professors in the affected field will shrink even more. With fewer grad students to teach, most schools will not need the large tenured faculties they have today, and tenure positions will shrink more still. That in turn should lead to another round of grad school shrinking—even fewer openings as more universities cut department size to adjust to the shrinkage of grad school programs—until at some point the process reaches an equilibrium.

Key bit: “Smart schools are already thinking about these things and making preparations for change.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.