The PhD Supply and Demand Crisis

As a special treat, I am presenting a guest blog post by Sofia Rasmussen. This is an issue very relevant to readers of this blog. Enjoy!

The PhD Supply and Demand Crisis
By Sofia Rasmussen

It is traditionally believed that getting a higher education is the key to gaining successful employment. So it is not surprising that the number of students earning a doctorate degree, either through a traditional or online PhD program, is at an all-time high. However, with the economy struggling and job growth crawling, many job seekers with PhDs are having difficulty finding full time employment. The overabundance of doctorate holders has created a supply and demand crisis in the academic job market leaving highly trained PhD graduates looking for employment in other fields and often accepting lower wages. This crisis is effecting the university education system, PhDs and the economy as a whole as the nation’s brightest are unable to reach their fullest potential.

With the economic crash of 2008, the United States government was forced to make severe budget cuts to the university and education system. As a result, universities are unable to offer the same tenure track positions that were previously available to PhD holders. And although many doctorate students are being recruited for their research abilities, those abilities do not translate into full time positions once they earn their degree. Instead, tenure positions are being replaced by underpaid adjunct positions and recent PhD graduates are left struggling to find employment in the academic sector.

The supply and demand crisis for academic positions has had a profound effect on recent PhD graduates entering into the job market – there is a huge deficit in available jobs for PhDs. From 2008-2009, 100,000 new doctorate degrees were awarded while only 16,000 new professorships became available.

PhD graduates are left looking for employment in non-academic sectors. This is creating additional employment challenges for recent doctoral graduates since many non-academic positions do not require a PhD and many hiring managers are reluctant to hire overqualified candidates who would require higher salaries. This leaves many new PhD graduates in jobs unrelated to their academic expertise and making significantly less money than they would in an academic position. So what is being done to combat this employment tragedy?

Sadly, not enough is being done on the part of the American government and universities to quell the PhD job crisis. Free research in the form of graduate students motivates many universities to admit an increasing number of doctorate students every year. However, in response to the growing budget cuts to the university systems, many universities are cutting academic positions, leaving nowhere for PhD graduates to go for relevant employment. Between 2008 and 2011 there were 35% fewer assistant professorships offered in Sociology and 39% fewer assistant professorships offered in Political Science. In addition, for the 2011 fiscal year, funds for higher education where cut by $1.2 billion; and cuts are expected to reach $5 billion this year. With more budget cuts to universities and fewer endowments for students, the government is making little effort to expand academic positions and create more jobs for PhDs.

The PhD supply and demand crisis not only effects those who have earned a PhD, but it effects the university system and economy as a whole. As tenure track positions are being replaced by adjunct assignments, PhD graduates are forced to look elsewhere for employment. This drives the most talented PhDs away from the university system and leaves university instruction lacking.

This is a disservice to college students who are not getting the best education and entering in to the job market without having received the best training in their field. The economy is further affected as highly qualified people are unable to be adequately compensated for the skills, more graduates are unable to pay back student loans and less students are motivated to pursue a graduate education.

As the gap between the number of PhD holders and academic positions for PhD holders widens, more and more talented researches and scientists will continue to leave the academic sector in search of more lucrative careers. This leaves universities in need of talented professors and doctorates in need of relevant work. As the economy slowly recovers, more academic positions will become available but the mass discrepancy between academic positions and qualified candidates will only decrease significantly by increasing university funding and academic endowments for students.

3 thoughts on “The PhD Supply and Demand Crisis

  1. Pingback: how are some more certain of everything than i am of anything?…. » Blog Archive » sunday is orthodox easter

  2. Things haven’t changed much in 30 years then…The opportunity to boast graduation photos wears a bit thin over the decades


  3. Pingback: Numbers and Statistics for Ph.D students in UK « phdhazard

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