The grim economy grinds on.
Recently I noted that a very well publicized online job survey appeared to be painting an overly rosy picture about jobs for historians, philosophers, librarians and museum curators. Now today’s New York Times asks Is Law School a Losing Game? And they mean “game.” The article leaves little doubt that law schools work very hard to pump up the appearance that nearly all of their graduates are reaping the golden reward of a law degree. Even if they are waiting tables or stocking shelves.
Yet the issue is more complicated than just fudged statistics and doubtful rankings. The Times also gets to the issue of what can be called student self-deception: “nearly all of them, it seems, are convinced they’re going to win the ring toss at this carnival and bring home the bear.” The article tells the story of one fellow who has $250,000 in law school loans and survives on temp work. He supposedly has no regrets because he has a prestigious degree. “I’m an attorney.” he says. “All of my friends see me as a person they look up to.”
Slate, among others, has bashed the Times repeatedly for running bogus trend stories on subjects such as “winning souls for Christ with mixed martial arts” and “maintained that potbellies were now hip.” But this collusion between school and student strikes me as authentic. I have a child who was drawn into the sparkling promise of law school spell but, thankfully, the spell broke before she enrolled (or took out any loans).
The issue is not limited to law school. A host of articles have appeared recently about the perils of the PhD, particularly those in the humanities. The Economist was especially brutal last month in suggesting that advanced degree seekers grow dispirited over time. The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time notes that only 57% of U.S. doctoral students overall get the degree within a decade. “In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off.” Bad job prospects are cited as a reason.
When it comes to careers, all of us face leaps of faith. Few choices come with certainly. But when it comes to making certain investments in an education it seems that more attention is needed on the leap with less reliance on the faith.