From 2002 to 2012, the highest rate of increases in education attainment levels were doctorate and master's degrees, according to new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. The population with a doctorate grew by about 1 million, or 45 percent,Sure, more educated people is a good thing. But at a time where universities are cutting tenure-track slots, it just feeds the beast. What beast? The beast that is the adjunct job market. Folks who cannot get a full time gig have to cobble together a living by working at multiple institutions, getting paid per class. This can often be something like $2k-5k. The math becomes obvious--working many, many hours to perhaps get by .... without benefits.
I blogged recently about how universities are now adjusting the hours of adjuncts to avoid Obamacare regulations, but, of course, the entire adjunct-ization of teaching is about avoiding the costs of benefits. I didn't realize at the time that this set of strategies was fed by such a glut, such an oversupply. It may not be the case that the excess supply in PhDs caused the harsh working conditions, but it does mean that more are experiencing them than before. Of course, it may vary by field. Actually, we know it does--that humanities job markets are worse than the sciences. Poli Sci is in the middle--better than English lit, worse than Chemistry.
All I can think is that I am incredibly lucky and so have been my students. If we continue to over-produce Phds, it s not clear how universities will feel any pressure to change their ways. And to be clear, this sucks not just for the adjuncts but for everyone associated with universities. Tenure track professors find themselves facing greater pressure since there are heaps of replacements for their job. Students suffer because adjuncts face many more distractions from teaching and it is hard to develop relationships with those who do some driveby teaching. Administrators suffer because .... of guilt? Ok, maybe this does not hurt everyone, but it is not a good trend at all.
I don't see universities cutting back on PhD programs--the prestige of the programs matters as does the continued supply of the next generation of adjuncts. Indeed, I still see plenty of places creating new PhD programs, which is extremely problematic. Have they done their market research? Are they just as blindly optimistic as the law school aspirants of five years ago? If so, they should notice that law school applicant numbers are crashing.
Does anyone have a learning curve? And, yes, as this old post suggests, people are pretty resistant to reality.