One would like to question why Post Graduations are a necessity in today's world scenario.
From HERI survey samples conducted among premier PHD schools across, only one-fifth described their families as below the middle-income level. Almost a third characterized their families as upper middle in income or even as rich. Since the questions in the survey were not the same over the years, the returns are not perfectly comparable. Half of the HERI respondents put their families in the middle-income group, and some proportion would, if asked, have placed them below the median. In the earlier sample, only one-third of humanities graduate students had fathers with a college degree. In the later sample, the proportion was one-half. To be sure, the family income estimates are not comparable, and allowance has to be made for a general increase in numbers of college graduates old enough to be parents of graduate students. The two sets of data nevertheless suggest that the population of doctoral candidates in the humanities may have changed. The proportion who were upwardly mobile, either economically or socially, may have diminished as dark prospects in the academic job market began to be publicized.
Comparisons also suggest a decrease in the proportion of students entering humanities graduate programs for reasons other than self-gratification. Though both groups identified "intellectual growth" or "knowledge for personal satisfaction" as the leading motive, the later sample had no clear counterpart for the 50-70% in the earlier group acknowledging money or social prestige as also important. Though 6 out of 7 did check "necessary for college teaching" as an additional factor, less than 1 in 4 put an appropriate mark beside "pecuniary advantages" or "rapid career advancement." When asked to indicate reasons for their choice of a particular field of study, 97% selected "intellectual satisfaction," but only 7% chose "better employment prospects."
When interviewed, many students of the 1970s spoke of deliberately forgoing material rewards. "I've found that it is very important for me to love what I do," said a man studying Romance languages at Princeton. "This is more important than money." From one of a group of doctoral candidates at Georgetown came the comment, "Anyone in the room could accept a job that paid $90,000 a year, but by choosing philosophy we have taken ourselves out of competition for such jobs."
The HERI survey results can be interpreted as showing in themselves an increase in the proportion of students doing graduate work just because they enjoy it, for newly enrolled students put more emphasis on "knowledge for personal satisfaction" than did more advanced students, and they put significantly less emphasis on the use of the degree for a career in teaching. Among first-year students, 1 out of 10 expressed regret at having enrolled in graduate school, and only 1 out of 6 said that, if doing it over, he or she would go to a professional school. Among "A.B.D.'s" ("All But Dissertation"-people who completed all requirements for the Ph.D. except the dissertation) approximately twice as many expressed similar views, and 3 out of 10 wished they had studied law, medicine, or business. The sample of more advanced students, to be sure, included many who entered when demand for college teachers seemed high. "I was encouraged to go into medieval history," complained one man at Berkeley. "I was told there were lots of jobs." Such people were understandably rueful. The evidence of their higher level of discontent, however, strengthens the inference that the 1970s saw a decrease in the percentage of humanities graduate students who were career-oriented.
Two magnets continuing to pull people into humanities doctoral programs by the late 1970s were the subject matter, the delightful prospect of reading more great literature, learning more history, or playing with ideas-and the setting. At Columbia a woman who had done her undergraduate degree in one of England's Redbrick universities declared that she had no interest in teaching and was in graduate school only because she liked "the life-style and also the intellectual side." A fourth-year student in English at Princeton said, "What draws us all to these programs is the quality of life. . . . I'm just enjoying myself." More than a dozen other students expressed agreement, one adding: "Many of us are in it to maintain a certain life-style, to prolong the university setting."
Such testimony helps to explain why, even of the A.B.D/s, 7 out of 10 said that, if they had it to do over again, they would still pursue the Ph.D. Also, however, it encourages an inference that more and more of the men and women entering humanities doctoral programs may be doing so as dilettantes, prolonging undergraduate life rather than seriously equipping themselves to be producers, purveyors, or treasurers of humanistic learning. More and more would then be represented by the student of English at Yale who defined his only goals as "autonomy and personhood" or at best the student of history at the University of Connecticut who conceded, "I'm in this as a hobby."
Reinforcing such an impression are three disquieting pieces of evidence. The first is that, though numbers of new humanities graduate students have remained high, they have come from an applicant pool that has been rapidly drying up. In 1970-1971 there were more than 23,000 applications by college seniors for Graduate Record Examinations in literature, history, and philosophy. By 1976-1977 there were only 10,000, for a number of reasons-many graduate departments did not require the examination, the fee had risen in the interval, and the count is of examinations rather than examinees-these numbers do not show that the pool actually shrank by more than half. They do suggest that hosts of college seniors ceased to include graduate study in the humanities among their postgraduate options. The pool of talent became shallower.
The second piece of evidence comes from the HERI survey. Questionnaire responses showed that a large number of students were going for graduate study to institutions that were not as selective as the ones where they earned their B.A's. With SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores of students as a measure, the nation's colleges and universities can be classified according to their academic selectivity. Students in the sample were evenly divided among graduate schools. One-third were in universities where SATs were low, one-third where they were average, and one-third where they were high. Half of them, however, had done their undergraduate work in colleges where SATs ran high, and only a quarter had been in schools where the scores ran low. Many students, to be sure, may have been turned down by departments that already had strict limits on admissions. One-quarter of those in the early years of graduate work said that they were pleased with their field of study but wished they were in a different institution. Even so, for a large number of humanities graduate students the move from college to graduate school involved a move to a less competitive environment.
The third piece of evidence indicates that, although the more recent crop of graduate students seems not to think much about levels of future earnings, they are very responsive to short-term financial incentives. A few students in the survey sample attended institutions such as the University of Chicago, where they had to pay their own way. Most, however, were subsidized by graduate assistantships or university fellowships. Only one in eight had used any savings or borrowed any money to underwrite his or her education. Collectively, they met less than 10% of their expenses with savings, loans, earnings from non-academic jobs, or even contributions from parents or spouses. Not surprisingly, Phi Beta Kappa's and others having many undergraduate honours were those most likely to be heavily supported by their universities.
Every student who was interviewed said that he or she would not stay in school if forced to borrow. Many indicated that they would not have come at all if they had not been sure that some form of university financial support would materialize no later than the second year. Quite a few testified that their choice of school had turned on the size of a fellowship offer. A Ph.D. candidate in history said he had gone to Columbia "because it offered money." A man in the same field said he had intended to go to law school but "I backed out because I got a good fellowship offer from Princeton." Another historian, admitted by several leading departments, selected Georgetown because, he said, "they offered the most money."
Representative of many statements was that of an English Ph.D. candidate at Arizona: "I like what I'm doing and I'm paid to do what I like." Although it is possible that the small minority using savings or borrowing money represent a more dedicated group, analysis of the survey data suggests that they are more likely to be people held in graduate school by family or household pressures or by hope of recovering something from sunken costs.
Taken as a whole, survey and interview data and other pieces of evidence suggest that graduate enrolments in the humanities will remain at higher levels than would be the case if they were strictly responsive to conditions in the Academic Labor market. Large numbers of people come to graduate school; it appears, for the experience itself. Many are prepared to pursue the experience even if doing so involves going from a good school to one not as good. In a great many cases, the short-term prospect of a fellowship or assistantship exerts allure, despite knowledge that longer-term job prospects are bleak. And the fellowships and assistantships are almost certain to continue, for universities cannot find much cheaper ways of filling out their teaching forces. Consideration of these factors suggests that the population of humanities graduate students should probably be projected as not falling much below 50,000 at any time in the next two decades.
It is by no means clear, to be sure, that an annual increment of over 20,000 first-year graduate students would continue to lead to an annual output of 1500-2000 Ph.D.'s. The fact that
20-30% of students in the HERI survey said they would not be in graduate school if they had their lives to live over suggests that many are temperamentally bent on finishing what they start, even if they rue it. As a student of French literature at NYU said, "The Ph.D. is a commitment you make to yourself and you want to get it." Some, of course, could have other motives. A graduate student in English at Johns Hopkins said that he and his fellow students were completing their degrees only because they were afraid to issue from the academic co-coon. He described himself as "lazy and frightened" and accused others of being similarly timid in the face of a world where efforts and rewards took forms other than examinations and grades. In either case, the result would be the same. If, however, the proportion of dilettante students increases, the relative numbers actually getting degrees would drop. Nothing in the available data enables one to go beyond an assertion that numbers of humanities Ph.D.'s awarded through the 1980s and 1990s may fall below 1000 or rise well above 2000 a year.
Nor does existing evidence permit more than speculation concerning the quality of graduate students and Ph.D.'s. Indications that many students go from challenging colleges to less challenging graduate departments, together with evidence that choices by the majority may be strongly influenced by the availability of short-term financial support, give rise to apprehension that there will be not only a diminishing proportion of purposeful would-be scholars but that some-perhaps many-may fail to go to the universities or graduate departments where they could get the most rigorous training. While the Ph.D. boom was on, many institutions enlarged or initiated doctoral programs even though their faculties and research facilities were comparatively weak. A National Board on Graduate Education looked into the possibility that Gresham's law would take effect and concluded reassuringly that the majority of students were applying to and receiving their training in order to shape their understanding of literature, history, and philosophy for the next generation pursue careers in business or government without ever mastering the basic skills and information needed for scholarly research? The second question concerns those talented and purposeful people who do obtain scholarly training. If not all of them-perhaps, indeed, only a few of them- can find secure careers in academe, what are the chances of their being able to contribute to scholarship from bases elsewhere in society?
The two questions are intricately related because the attractiveness of graduate training to people with potential for scholarship may well turn on their impressions concerning opportunities and possibilities in the event that they do not spend their lives as professors. The next subjects to which we turn are therefore the experiences of humanities PhD's who have in the past adopted nonteaching careers and prospects for those who do so in the future.