Are We Getting Smarter About Grad School?

The New York Times reported recently that new enrollment at American graduate schools is dropping.

This seems crazy considering that over the last decade, only Americans with advanced degrees saw any wage growth.  Even the average bachelor’s degree holder lost income.

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So what’s wrong with the kids these days?  Don’t those idiots know what’s good for them?

Well.  Are you the kind of nerd that reads an article like that and goes “I want to learn more, maybe I should download the full report”? I am, and I did.  And here’s what I found.

Graduate degrees in arts and humanities: plummeting.

Graduate degrees in math, engineering, and health sciences: still shooting through the roof.

Here’s my theory: When I was starting college, we thought we were facing a horrible crash that would recover within a few years like most recessions.  So being in school was a great way to wait it out.  The ivory tower was like an armored fortress to protect us from the evils of recession-land.  Grad school applications soared.  Now we’re realizing for some reason we seem to be stuck in a long-term stagnation and we won’t return to full employment for what’s technically known as a Long Ass Time.  Unfortunately, most grad programs don’t last a Long Ass Time, so instead those people came out two years later with a ton of debt and a still-shitty-economy.  People are no longer using graduate school as a shelter, they’re now only going if the program will actually improve their economic prospects when they finish.

A similar trend has happened as news spreads that going to law school is an increasingly bad economic decision.  Last spring I obnoxiously gloated to my law school aspiring friends that the law school bubble had finally burst— after a seemingly endless rise, law school applicants had dropped tremendously over the past year.

But then, as if Christmas had come twice, I had even more news to gloat about:  Among those with low LSAT scores, applications were still high.  The real drop in applicants was happening at the top of the LSAT score range.

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Weird, right?  Why would the best and brightest potential lawyers stop applying to law school?

It probably means the smartest people are the ones most likely to read news about how there’s a glut of people with law degrees in the labor market.  They’re the ones who hear about things like recent graduates suing their law schools for fudging impressive job placement statistics and decide to not go to law school.

Now I’m all for education having inherent value outside of pure money-making.  But higher education has grown absurdly expensive and financial aid has failed to keep up.  If you just want to open your mind or something like that, you can literally get a Harvard education for free through downloading podcasts of their classes.  There are also hella books in these old fashioned things called libraries.

It’s not that you shouldn’t go to grad school.  If you want to be a surgeon, go for it.  Maybe some other professional schools.  Only a non-professional school if you actually want to be a professor.  If you’re doing it because you “don’t really know exactly what you want to do yet”, please do us all a favor and donate your tuition to a nonprofit organization.  Seriously, here’s a link to mine, you can pay with credit card.

Bottom line: If young people are increasingly saying no to graduate programs that won’t pay off, that’s a good thing.

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