New Trend: PhD Grads on Welfare

Nov 16, 2013 by

Nathan Harden –

Yesterday I came across an article, posted online by a former classmate of mine who is now in grad school, all about a new trend among young people–call it PhD’s on welfare.

Published as a meaty and mournful piece in the Chronicle for Higher Education, the article highlights the plight of countless highly educated young adults who go out into the real world and found that a P-H-D. does not always translate into a J-O-B.

“I am not a welfare queen,” says Melissa Bruninga-Matteau.

That’s how she feels compelled to start a conversation about how she, a white woman with a Ph.D. in medieval history and an adjunct professor, came to rely on food stamps and Medicaid…

“I find it horrifying that someone who stands in front of college classes and teaches is on welfare,” she says…

Horrifying, yes, probably even more so when you consider the amount of debt she likely took on in order to earn her degrees, not to mention the years of lost income she forfeited by choosing to be in school for eight to ten years on her way to the welfare line.

And just how many folks with graduate degrees are currently living off government assistance? The Chronicle article throws out some remarkable statistics:

The percentage of graduate-degree holders who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010.During that three-year period, the number of people with master’s degrees who received food stamps and other aid climbed from 101,682 to 293,029, and the number of people with Ph.D.’s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655, according to tabulations of microdata done by Austin Nichols, a senior researcher with the Urban Institute. He drew on figures from the 2008 and 2011 Current Population Surveys done by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor…

In other words, from 2007 to 2010 the number of PhD’s on welfare more than tripled. Meanwhile, the number of people with master’s degrees on public assistance increase just shy of three-fold. So the rate of increase for grads on welfare actually was higher for PhD’s than it was for master’s degrees. More education obviously doesn’t mean more job security.

Instead of faculty ID cards, these grads are carrying EBT cards.

Here’s an important fact that the Chronicle article doesn’t mention: In most cases, taxpayers have subsidized these students’ degree programs to begin with through a variety of direct and indirect federal grants and federal loans. So the public is not only picking up the tab on all the welfare these highly educated people are now receiving, but also has paid in many cases tens of thousands of dollars for years and years in support of these students on the way to their degrees.

In effect, taxpayers are helping students along on their journey toward a life on taxpayer assistance. Taxpayers are supporting grad students in order to be able to support them even more later on after they graduate.

Doesn’t seem like a very efficient system, does it?

Undoubtedly, most PhD students enter their programs of study imagining a long easy career drawing a six figure salary with a tenured job at a university, teaching a couple of classes per term and taking long summers off with a sabbatical every few years. Traveling around Europe, leisurely reading and relaxing in mod coffee shops. The reality, for most of these grads, is far from the life they imagined. Most end up in non-tenured adjunct positions–if they get any teaching job at all–with low salaries and few benefits.

More than ever, they are ending up on food stamps and other forms of welfare.

There are many to blame here. The universities, which oversell degree programs they know are very unlikely to lead to good jobs. Students, who naively buy into these programs, blind to the realities of the job market. And the government, which continues to subsidize a higher education system that wastes as many lives as it does dollars.

If folks are going to end up on public assistance–that’s bad enough. Maybe it’s time taxpayers stop paying to help them get there.

via New Trend: PhD Grads on Welfare.

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