This spring the Chronicle of Higher Education offered an in-depth look at the number of highly educated people receiving federal aid.  Though, on average, they are still doing better than people without college degrees, these populations have not been immune to the recession.

While I sensed an undercurrent of classism in the article (e.g., “how could someone like me be on aid”), it offered an interesting profile of the post-graduate degree job outlook, especially for people with a PhD.  Notably, it reminds us just how risky pursuing graduate work can be; 70% of all faculty are now off the tenure-track.  That often means that they teach part-time, have no benefits, and face semester-to-semester job insecurity.

These faculty could probably do something else, but many of them are trying to realize a dream that they’ve spent 10 to 15 years of their lives working towards.  So, they continue to teach part-time for relatively low pay and participate in a job market that, for the most part, opens up only once a year.

For more on the economics and politics of academic labor, read Keith Hoeller’s The Future of the Contingent Faculty Movement.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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