Rough economy leaves PhD holders struggling

UNDEREMPLOYED (NICHOLAS RUIZ / LARIAT CONTRIBUTOR)

Nicholas Ruiz

Despite rumors of a recovery on the horizon, our country’s financial situation is dire, and the educational system is suffering much of the burden. More specifically, the college system has been pressured by money troubles in many areas.

“I have always taught large group classes, but I see an increase of about 15 more students per class who want to register this semester,” said psychology instructor Robert Ferguson. “It has been increasing for quite awhile now.”

“My class sizes, which were large to begin with, are even larger now. I averaged 55 students per my five courses this semester,” said human services instructor and Professor of the Year award winner Rich Goodman.

With competition becoming more rigorous in the job market, individuals of all ages are heading back to school to either keep their current careers safe or enter new, more profitable ones.

However, the same money dilemmas are also making it harder to afford attending school, which puts those working toward a better life during these difficult times in between a rock and a hard place. With increasing class unit costs as well as inflating textbook prices, the average student is often in a bind.

“A friend of mine has to keep borrowing my textbooks because he can’t afford his own after paying for the units,” said Nicholas Fabrizio, 21, accounting. “I don’t really mind, but I don’t understand why books have to be so expensive.”

There is some relief in that area. The library does have a program for temporarily loaning out textbooks to students, but there are a limited number of copies of each schoolbook and many students do not know about the program.

There are other ways to get around the textbook pricing crunch, however. Instructors have been known to come up with creative ways to lessen the burden of student expenses.

“I am very sensitive to textbook prices for students. I have the publishers develop custom texts which only contain the chapters that I cover in the class,” Ferguson said. “I do not cover every chapter in any text and limiting the number of chapters lowers the price of the book.”

Even though the financial burden of the students may get much of the spotlight, aspiring college professors are not faring very well either.

Andrea Lawson is a former Saddleback student and UC Davis graduate scholar with a doctorate in English literature. Despite her credentials, Lawson is still struggling to gain tenure at any college in the country, even after years of being on the job market.

“This year, the Modern Language Association reported that it had the lowest number of job postings for professorships in its history,” Lawson said. “Not only that, but many universities that post openings end up cancelling their searches due to a lack of funding.”

As a result, a smaller number of professors are teaching larger classes. And with that fact, it could be hard to believe that anyone would want to become a teacher in this day and age.

However, it is not too hard to find professors and other members of academia that encourage potential teachers to aim for their dreams of professorship and tenure. It only goes to show that the beauty and necessity of the teaching profession can survive even the hardest of times.

“Teaching and mentoring is the beautiful opportunity myself and others have. Simply put, you adapt to change and focus on the greatest quality you can deliver,” Goodman said. “When it storms, you still go outside.”

“If you really want to teach, go for it, but the only way you will make it through is if it is your passion, your dream,” Lawson said. “If you enter [the job search] with tepid emotions, you will never have the drive to put up with the criticism and the work… you have to really want it.”

That drive must also translate to students for the academic system to function properly, but with less job openings in many careers across the board, some younger people may not see the point in going to college at all.

“It’s taking me five years to get through Saddleback, and I’m wondering if it’s all worth it when I don’t even know if I’ll have a job when I get out there,” Fabrizio said.

Yet that prospect does not scare many away from surviving the college experience. There will always be plenty that hold onto a positive outlook despite the adversity.

“I was happy when I earned my degree, but tired as well. It took about a month for it to sink in, and then I felt a surge of confidence in myself that I had never felt before,” Lawson said. “I really felt like I had achieved something. It was worth it, but it ended up being much harder than I ever could have imagined.”

What made it harder than usual for Lawson and others in her graduate program would be competition. With teaching positions and money more scarce than ever, it can often be easy to lose a sense of academic achievement in the process.

“The structure of graduate programs actually lends itself to an environment of cutthroat competition rather than collegiality,” Lawson said. “There is never enough money, enough teaching positions, enough mentors, and you are subtly forced to compete for everything. Collegiality is lost in an effort to just survive the program.”

With budget problems taking up so much room in people’s minds these days, it can be hard to remember what learning is about. Money issues and financial constraints may have blinded some from the ultimate benefits of ongoing education.

“If you are lucky enough to have figured out what you want to do with your life, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, that you need to give up your dream and be practical,” Lawson said when referring to staying in school, despite the odds. “Way too much is at stake to give up.”

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