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UCI Introduces a New Program to Make It Easier for Humanities PhDs to Get Hired

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Earning a PhD in philosophy from a prestigious university is a noble endeavor, but when it can take upwards of a decade and over $100,000 in tuition to earn that degree, and studies show that job prospects drop the longer students take to complete their degrees, does it still make sense in today’s economy? At The University of California, Irvine, school administrators just introduced a unique new PhD program in certain humanities fields that aims to increase financial support, lessen the student debt load and increase hiring prospects for students.

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(Photo Credit: Mikejuinwind123, via Wikimedia Commons)

The cost of graduate education can be stunning – and as colleges rely more and more and low-paid adjunct professors to replace tenure-track positions, some people have started to question whether PhDs still make sense in the modern economy. The new 5+2 Program at UCI is an attempt to adjust the traditional PhD program to address these concerns. As Georges Van Den Abbeele, Dean of the School of Humanities at UCI, puts it, this flagship program seeks to “provide the resources, financial and otherwise, to ensure a student can excel in his or her scholarship, both while obtaining the PhD and beyond” and “significantly reduce student debt.”

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The major difference between the 5+2 program and a traditional humanities PhD program is that in the 5+2, students are given guaranteed financial support for five years, including summers, to complete their dissertation, and then given an additional two years in a “dedicated post-doctoral appointment” dedicated solely to professional development, usually involving “teaching, research, and professionalization to prepare students for academic or other careers, and give them a stable professional platform from which to apply for permanent employment.” This teaching appointment usually involves a year-long interdisciplinary class that is required of most UCI students called Humanities Core. Not only does this give newly-minted PhDs a chance to run a large, long-term course, it requires cooperation with nearly all other departments at the school, allowing “students to enter the workforce with expertise visibly broader than a single discipline.”

Will guaranteed, well-defined financial support and a shorter, focused timeline help make strides in increasing employment and decreasing student debt? Early signs are good – this year recruiting numbers were markedly up in the Philosophy department, one of the first departments to adopt the program. And the ideas behind the program seem solid.

“We believe that scholars stand a much stronger chance in the job market if they have a degree in hand and are working in a position related to their professional interests,” says Dr. Van Den Abbeele. “Studies indicate that job prospects drop the longer it takes students to complete their PhDs.”

You don’t have to have a doctorate to know that money shouldn’t be the driving force behind a decision to earn a doctorate in any field. (Want proof? Take a look at PayScale’s College Salary Report to see the wide variance in salaries earned by people who hold PhDs in various subjects compared to other advanced degrees.) But we still applaud this effort to connect education to outcome. In order for PhD programs to remain relevant, they must prepare students for employment, and UCI’s 5+2 Program is a laudable step in the right direction.

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What else do you think colleges can do to keep higher education relevant and cost-effective? Share your ideas and reactions on Twitter or in the comments below.


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polly anna (again)
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polly anna (again)

I forgot to mention on critical thing, just so the author is aware of what’s really going on behind the scenes.

The 5+2 program saves the School money. If a student finishes in 5 years and then adjuncts for 2 years, the school saves roughly 30,000 per year. Why? Because the school no longer provides health insurance, nor has to pay tuition fees (both are approx. $15,000/year). So, before we naively congratulate UCI for it’s new plan, it is important to know the details.

Polly Anna
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Polly Anna

Unfortunately, the new program in the humanities is a distressing sign of graduate education in general in the UC system: a push towards increasing the rankings in US News & Report. It’s the type of MBA instrumental, short-term thinking that is plaguing higher education these days. Cut costs, improve rankings, lower the educational value, these are what are plaguing our supposedly non-profit UC’s. The 5+2 program is an incentive to “push” students to finish their degrees faster. Humanities degrees have historically taken a long time to complete because of the nature of their literary-based research. There is a reason they… Read more »

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