From The Chronicle of Higher Education :
"I will be nearly middle-aged by the time I get my Ph.D., I won't have a family, and probably won't have a job." That comment, from a female Ph.D. candidate in history at a University of California campus, is a familiar refrain.
The pursuit of a doctorate—a sometimes decade-long, low-wage quest that may or may not end with a faculty job—has been under more critical scrutiny than ever this year. Whydoes it take so long to earn a Ph.D.? (Recipients are age 34, on average.) Why do we produce so many Ph.D.'s when fewer than half of them will ever hold tenure-track jobs? Is this 19th-century German model of apprenticeship suited to the 21st century?
And finally, does this venerable male model of graduate training match the needs of its new disciples, half of whom are women?
Not long ago I spoke at a conference at the Johns Hopkins University discussing some of those questions. American universities award more than 60,000 doctoral degrees annually to U.S. citizens and noncitizens. Roughly half of those degrees are from the 63 research institutions in the elite Association of American Universities, and half from other doctoral-granting programs. That total has grown from fewer than 25,000 Ph.D.'s awarded annually in the 1960s when universities were expanding and most Ph.D.'s could find an academic job.
Today the faculty employment trend is sharply in the opposite direction. Over the past 30 years, universities have relentlessly reduced the centrality of tenure in higher education. Full-timers who were either tenured or on the tenure track made up 55 percent of the teaching faculty in 1970, 1975, and 1980. Since then, various federal data sets document the steady growth of adjunct positions and the decline of tenure-track jobs in the academic work force. By 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, tenured and tenure-track academics constituted only 31 percent of the teaching faculty while 49 percent worked part time and 12 percent were non-tenure-track full-timers.