Martin Center column examines Ph.D. costs

Ben Cohen writes for the Martin Center about the true costs associated with seeking an advanced academic degree.

In 2012, CBS noted the bleak future that awaited PhD graduates. From 2005 to 2009, American universities graduated 100,000 new PhDs but only created 16,000 new professorships. The average PhD student spends 8 years in graduate school and turns 33 years old before they graduate.

Unfortunately, the outlook for PhDs hasn’t improved since 2012. More and more, doctoral students sacrifice family, wealth, and their mental health to earn a degree with terrible job prospects.

In the United States, PhD students work as researchers, teaching assistants, and instructors as they study. In return, they earn a cash stipend, which varies and can be anywhere from $17,100 for a chemistry student at Clark University in Atlanta to $42,000 for a civil and environmental engineering student at Stanford University.

The size of the stipend can determine whether a student can start or support a family. Graduate students are at the stage of their life when the average person would start a family, and postdocs are at the stage where it might be their last chance to have kids. Pursuing a PhD will have an outsized impact on whether a grad student achieves their basic life goals.

Yet despite the difficult choices made for a PhD, the PhD students who spoke with this author were optimistic about the future. They enjoy the student camaraderie and relish the opportunity to study material that interests them. They also don’t mind the long hours and low pay. The lifestyle of a PhD student remains attractive.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...