Today is a non-teaching day for me. Sometimes, around here, we call these "unscheduled" days, and most people in my department manage one a week. Alas, today I have a university committee meeting scheduled, so it's not really "unscheduled."
One of my mini-projects today is catching up on some journals and such, and the ADE Bulletin (Association of Departments of English) is on the list. These bulletins usually provide some interesting reading, not only about teaching issues, but about the bigger picture issues for faculty members in literature and languages. One of those issues is the state of the job market.
If you're a grad student, or thinking of becoming a grad student, it's worth reading the MLA survey information on hiring and PhD placement (Laurence and Steward, see below for bibliographic info). It's depressing, but better to be depressed by reality than by rumor, I think. The ADE Bulletin survey articles provide information about both English and foreign languages, but because I'm an English department person, I'm going to focus only on the English side. (The statistics are pretty similar for the foreign language and lit job market. Neither should leave you rosy cheeked and thrilled. I'm also only looking at information for graduates of US PhD programs.)
The survey naturally lags a couple years. In this case, the numbers are from 2000-2001.
Table 11a lists the employment placements of graduates from English programs by type of hiring institution (111). It gives an overall number of graduates as 785; from the earlier information, the 785 appears to be the number of graduates about whom the survey got information who are still in higher education, so if you or your PhD granting institution didn't give the info, you weren't counted.
Of these 785 people graduating with PhDs in English, 373 got tenure track jobs in higher education (47.5%). Additionally, 193 people got full time non-tenure track jobs (24.6%), and 88 got part-time teaching jobs (11.2%), with an 71 people getting teaching jobs that didn't specify appointment type (9%).
The numbers are more complicated when you remember that these data only attempt to show what happened to people earning PhDs in 2000-2001. It doesn't account for people who went on the market ABD, or for people who were in non-tenure track jobs who went back on the tenure track market, and so forth.
But it does give a general idea that the job market is, indeed, very tight still. If you don't get a job your first time out, you're sharing a situation with more than 50% of your cohort. (Dr. Virago at Quod She has a post on the pre-professionalization of grad students that you might find helpful and interesting at this point.)
Interestingly, although more women graduated (463) than men (319), 46.2% of women graduates (214) got tenure track jobs compared to 49.2% of men graduates (157). Once again, it seems to be of some advantage to have a Y chromosome. (There may be some level of self-selection in these numbers, of course. I just don't have much patience for those arguments because women are asked to self-select for part-time or adjunct work in more insidious ways, and far more often, than men.)
Finally, there's time to degree information (Tables 13a and 13b, 118-119). In 2001, the average time to degree in English programs is 8.4 years for women and 8.0 years for men. That table shows the total number of people getting PhDs in English in 2000-2001 at 1,104. (The discrepancy in numbers has something to do with people who didn't answer the surveys, but there's probably more.)
Eight years is a long time, a major life commitment, more than 10% of the expected lifespan of most people in the US. Were I in an econ department, I'd talk meaningfully about the opportunity costs of spending 8 years getting a PhD to face a job market where less than 50% of the SUCCESSFUL people in my cohort got tenure track jobs. Let's just acknowledge that there's a huge opportunity cost; smart, capable people could be doing other things with their lives. (On the othre hand, there's also a potential that you can get a job you love, doing meaningful work, in a place you're happy to be.) Were I in an econ department, I'd also talk about the problems of student debt, delayed starts to retirement savings, and so forth. (Speaking of which, Ancrene Wiseass has a great post recently about the costs of putting off healthful living in graduate school. Read it!)
The system continues to fail its graduates by training overwhelmingly more people than can hope to get a tenure track job for which it prepares them.
Seeing the numbers, thinking about the numbers, is a reminder to think about how the system works, how even we regional university folks contribute to the problem.
Laurence, David, and Doug Steward. "Placement Outcomes for Modern Language PhDs: Findings from the MLA's Surveys of PhD Placement." ADE Bulletin, No 138-139 (fall 2005-spring 2006), 103-122.
(I was about to write "Work Cited" for the article, and then realized that I should also cite the Ancrene Wiseass and Quod She blogs I linked, but I'm going with laziness and just giving you the bibliographic info so you can find the article, and the links so you can click them. Go lazy Bardiac! I'm such a nerd, really, I am. I'm just a lazy one.)