Drop in Graduate Applications?

Drop in Graduate Applications?


A philosopher who prefers to remain anonymous has noticed a marked drop in applications to his graduate program and is wondering whether this is part of a general trend. As such information might be useful to the profession as a whole, please consider sharing any knowledge you have regarding increases or decreases in the recent volume of applications to the PhD and MA programs in your department. Hypotheses about the causes of such trends, as well as suggestions for effective recruitment strategies, are also welcome.

(art: detail of Berlin by Laurie Frick)

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Anon Faculty
Anon Faculty
6 years ago

We can only hope that this is the case. There are far too many PhDs in philosophy being created. Perhaps people are wising up and correctly choosing not to pursue a graduate education in philosophy.

Justin asks for effective recruitment strategies. He doesn’t suggest that we should try to increase recruitment. So, I will not assume he thinks we should.

I obviously think we should NOT increase recruitment. We should fervently hope for fewer PhD granting departments and fewer PhDs.

What would make me change my mind? Much more hiring of full time, permanent faculty. If universities committed to hiring many more philosophy professors than are currently being employed, then I would support increasing recruitment. Otherwise, it is irresponsible, and I think blameworthy, to attempt recruit more people into the discipline via recruitment for PhD programs.

The correct question we should ask, then, is not, “What are the best recruitment strategies?” The correct question we should is, “What are the best ways for us to work to increase funding for permanent, full-time faculty positions?” If we get that second question right, then recruitment will take care of itself.Report

Anon Unemployed PhD
Anon Unemployed PhD
6 years ago

I agree with Anon Faculty.Report

Eddy Nahmias
6 years ago

Applications at Georgia State’s MA program more than doubled from 2006 to 2010 but have plateaued since 2011. Detailed information here: http://philosophy.gsu.edu/graduate/admissions/admissions-data/

Since it’s too early to make judgments about admissions for this year, I assume the professor in the post is talking about trends over the last few years. I’d be interested to hear what PhD programs have seen since 2010 or so–my assumption was that applications to most PhD programs have gone up, not down, but I’m not sure from where I derived that assumption.Report

David Koukal
6 years ago

I present my harsh and unvarnished view of the full-time, tenure-track philosophy job market to any of my majors thinking of an advanced degree in the discipline. If they hear this warning and still want to proceed I will do everything I can to help them land a spot in a good program that serves their interests, while stressing the importance of getting fully funded so they don’t accrue any further debt. To do anything less would be professionally irresponsible, as Anon suggests above.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

I sympathize with what anon faculty says at #1. If philosophy PhD programs are going to continue training doctoral students for purely academic careers, then fewer people should apply. And departments should do whatever they can to accept fewer students. I think that’s a fairly obvious truth. But I’m not convinced that departments should place their primary efforts toward increasing the number of TT lines. Realistically, what can doctoral programs do about that issue, as doctoral programs? Here’s what they *can* do: do whatever they can to broaden the range of careers their doctoral students consider and train for. And I’m not talking about a non-academic “Plan B”. Doctoral programs need to teach their students that non-academic careers can and should be “Plan A” for many, and perhaps most, of their students. And they need to end the mindset that non-academic careers are only an afterthought for people who can’t land academic jobs. If doctoral programs can do this, they can perhaps forestall the worries that lead to plateaued or declining applications.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

I agree with Matt Drabek (not the first time I’ve said that). It shouldn’t be “alt-ac” anymore; it should be “ac-alt” — academia is the Plan B.

On the bad effects of talking about the TT sector of the total employment structure as “the job market” — thereby occluding the fact that GTAs already have philosophy jobs in a quite robust sense of the term, I’ll flog this post of mine again: http://proteviblog.typepad.com/protevi/2014/10/who-is-the-competition-for-tt-jobs.htmlReport

Original Correspondent
Original Correspondent
6 years ago

The points made above by Anon Faculty and others are well-taken (though as an aside, I’ll note that while closing down graduate programs would reduce the competition for available jobs, it would likely only decrease the number of permanent jobs available overall, as for many administrators there is even less sense in hiring tenure-track faculty if they will “only” be teaching undergraduates), but they only go so far to address the original query, as there are many factors other than the steadily poor job market that could be contributing to a drop in applications. Some of these include:

– the delayed release of the PGR rankings, which may have led prospective students to hold off on submitting their applications;
– changes in the broader economy, which may have led more college graduates into the “ordinary” job market and away from graduate school; and
– some department-specific factors, including a lack of interest in studying with our faculty.

The primary purpose of the question was to find out whether other departments are seeing any similar trends, in order to help determine whether what we are seeing is a long-term problem or a short term one, whether it is due to factors specific to our department or ones that are more widespread, etc., and to use this as a basis to figure out what exactly is the right response to take to it. It seems very likely that the poor job market for philosophy Ph.D.’s is part of the story, but there are likely to be other factors, too, and it would be good to know more about what these are.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

I think Anon Faculty at 1 is onto something, but increasing the number of well-paid permanent faculty positions (which could be TT or simply good secure adjunct lines) also means tackling the addiction of big state universities to cheap GTA labor. Marc Bousquet is I think right when he says PhDs are the waste product of the system; what universities want is GTA labor: http://marcbousquet.net/pubs/Waste.pdfReport

Ed Kazarian
Ed Kazarian
6 years ago

Matt Drabek is right to point to what Ph.D. programs can do, as Ph.D. programs. That also requires that they hook up with university-wide career development offices, since part of the problem is almost surely that many programs are staffed by faculty who haven’t the slightest clue how to advise or prepare students for non-academic careers.

On the larger structural points that John Protevi and the various anons raise, it’s worth adding that the problem goes far beyond the addiction of doctoral institutions to cheap GTA labor; it’s the fact that institutions at nearly every level (including those which don’t even have majors, let alone doctoral programs) have become addicted to the cheapest possible instructional labor. That industry-wide structural demand underpins the constant shrinkage of the job market for secure, well compensated positions, and until we develop ways to reverse that demand, it’s very hard to see how anything else is likely to change. The shrinkage of a market for unmarketable credentials (phds) seems like a very natural consequence.Report

Avi
Avi
6 years ago

Why should a decrease in applications be assumed to yield a decrease in admissions? Correct me if I’m wrong, but my experience is that many (most?) programs base their admissions on number rather than percentage (with possible additional spots for specially funded applicants) and that there are many more applicants overall than will end up enrolled in all graduate programs combined. A decrease in applications would have to be very severe overall to reduce admissions numbers even in schools that are far from the top of most prospective students’ application lists. Furthermore, there is zero incentive for any graduate program to reduce the number of admissions. Beyond the matter of pride, it would simply invite their administration to downsize/close down the program or, at the least, refuse to renew tenure lines.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

When students inquire, I have been directing them to the very public news about certain programs. I think it would be irresponsible not to at least suggest that they do an internet search for any news related to the schools and programs they’re interested in. Most undergrads today are savvy enough to think to do this on their own anyhow. It seems reasonable to think that the climate problems at certain departments might have an impact on admissions…Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Sorry to contribute to the thread derailment, but I want to offer a quick reply to Matt Drabek and John Protevi:

Once a PhD program recognizes that its graduates need to treat non-academic careers as ‘Plan A,’ I don’t see how they can, in good conscience, continue to recruit and admit PhD students. It’s one thing to encourage those who are already well into such programs to look for other opportunities – but what are all these other job sectors that are going to absorb future philosophy PhDs, and why think philosophy departments are particularly well-suited to train anyone for those jobs? For a long discussion of this point, see this piece by Jacqui Shine https://chroniclevitae.com/news/508-alt-ac-isn-t-always-the-answerReport

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Matt Drabek offers up a bad proposal.

If someone comes to a philosophy PhD programme to get a PhD but ALSO to go into a non-academic job, my first recommendation to that person would be: “Get out and pursue that non-academic job.” The ONLY job that requires a philosophy PhD is being a philosophy lecturer/professor (and some medical ethics positions, but you can probably pursue that sort of work through other avenues as well).

Why recommend to someone that they spend 4 – 6 YEARS earning a PhD when they could be spending that same amount of time pursuing the non-academic career? There are significant opportunity costs to pursuing a PhD. It is very odd to recommend incurring those opportunity costs entirely for the sake of a non-academic career when that very career could be pursued without incurring these opportunity costs (e.g., whilst earning a salary, putting money into a pension or retirement scheme, saving to buy property, making professional connections within one’s non-academic career community, etc.).

There just isn’t much to recommend in Drabek’s proposal.

Instead, we should urge a cap on PhD students admitted per institution. E.g., No more than 3 student admitted per year per department. Or, the APA should require departments to issue the following statement to all students admitted to a PhD programme:

“A PhD in philosophy, even from this institution, does not guarantee a good job. In fact, you are not likely to get a job in a city in which you want to live or at a university at which you want to teach. You may not even get a permanent job. If that happens, you will either have to move from temporary job to temporary job or commit to a low wage, at-will teaching job in a local university.”Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

Derek, thanks for posting the link. There are some interesting issues there worth considering. I guess I just don’t see why the article goes in the direction it goes. The author makes the claim that encouraging PhDs to look for non-academic jobs is displacing problems onto other labor markets. To some extent, that’s true. The example of charging below market rates for technical and professional writing is one case where the author’s point work well. But technical writing is just one example. Plenty of other philosophers have secured entry level positions in other industries where they’re only a very small splash/impact on the market (check out the link at the top of this page called “non-academic hires” for plenty of examples). So if you find yourself in a situation where there are overlapping tight markets, surely the best advice is to make yourself marketable as widely as is feasible. Isolating oneself to the academic market is usually not the way to do that. But beyond that, the article’s insistence that humanists are trained only in “how to teach in college classrooms, how to write for academic journals, how to think, write, and work in specific contexts” just seems to be straightforwardly false and lacking in vision and imagination. You don’t automatically learn how to apply those skills to the business world or other worlds merely in virtue of getting a humanities PhD. But with a little work on the side (in conjunction with internships, work with the career office, etc.) you can definitely learn how to do so. The fact of the matter is that I work for a company that employs about a half dozen philosophy PhDs, even more people who have undergraduate and/or graduate coursework in philosophy, and a *ton* of people who have PhDs in other humanities fields. Those people didn’t hold such a strict view of where and how they could use their teaching, thinking, and writing skills. There’s a big world out there, and a few hundred philosophers looking for jobs is not going to make all that noticeable an impact on the overall labor market.

I understand this is a bit of a detour from OC’s main question. But the question about specific trends is probably only answerable by a select few people who do admissions work for PhD granting institutions. It might be worth seeing if there’s any data collection on this being done by the APA?Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Matt: One last point, and I’ll stop contributing to the (to my mind quite fruitful) derailment. I agree that the skills we learn as academic philosophers and humanists can be applied more broadly, and that we need more imagination (and more discussion) about the many ways to do so. But that doesn’t change what the point and focus of our *training* is, which is to do the work of scholars/teachers in our field. If we’re going to change the focus of PhD programs with the primary aim being to train people for other careers, then why think philosophers (or academic humanists more generally) are well-suited to do that training? To my mind the key phrases in your account are “entry level” and “even more people who have undergraduate and/or graduate coursework in philosophy.” There’s just no way to organize PhD programs so that spending 5+ *additional* years in school is a good way to prepare for entry level work – for reasons Anon at 4:39 articulates quite well. If non-academic work is the plan, then encourage people to take philosophy classes during their undergrad and/or offer fully funded terminal MAs.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

I agree with that. I don’t think PhD programs should take their primary aim to be to train people for other careers. I think they should take their primary aim to be to provide good philosophical training to people who will increasingly be entering other careers. And that requires more mentorship in how to network, partnerships with the career center on campus, partnerships with philosophers who have gone on to other careers for mentoring, and so on. I’m not claiming departments should require a capstone class on business methods.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

Just to give a pretty basic and mundane solution: If I were a DGR, one of the first things I’d consider doing is clicking the link at the top of this page called “Non-Academic hires” and inviting one of those people to campus to have lunch with my grad students.Report

owen flanagan
owen flanagan
6 years ago

In the mid-late 1970’s and into the early 1980’s philosophy PhD programs were large and the job market was considerably worse than it is now. But there was not as widespread an expectation that going on to get a PhD in philosophy was for the purpose of becoming a professor. There weren’t the jobs. But two things made it a respectable thing to do: The wider culture gave permission, even encouraged, becoming an artist, philosopher, musician and did not think being POOR if chosen was bad. Patti Smith’s *Just Kids* is good on the Zeitgeist. There was also a good job market in computer science. The professionalization of philosophy reflects wider cultural expectations and endorses (I think) the attitude that a PhD is a waste unless there is a job in philosophy on the other side. Maybe, maybe not.Report

Yvan Ung
6 years ago

Now, I am not an English prospective graduate student, or even a philosophy one (in fact, I am an aspiring particle cosmologist) but I am chiming in with information from other fields, primarily from English.

Other areas of humanities are also experiencing declines in the number of graduate applications they receive. Some departments even resorted to playing some moves with entry barriers. One hand, there was Rutgers, who extended the deadline for English PhD apps from Dec. 15 to Dec. 22 although the two-part application system, where the applicant first enters personal information and then waits 24 hours for the ability to upload supporting materials, may have played a part in this and, on the other hand, there was Fordham’s English department that announced that MA applications were 50% off (they used to cost $70, now they cost $35 but this is an university-wide move). So, if these two anecdotes actually were indications of a wider trend in English, then philosophy is far from the only field experiencing a drop.Report