Number of PhDs receiving federal aid more than tripled from 2007 to 2010

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Higher education is meant to be the path to success, but that conventional wisdom may not be entirely true.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, between 2007 and 2010, the percentage of people with a graduate degree who were on food stamps or were receiving another kind of federal aid more than doubled, reaching 360,000.

In 2007, 9,776 people with PhD’s were receiving some kind of aid. In 2010, that number had more than tripled to 33,655. For people with master’s degrees, the number spiked from 101,683 to 293,029. Austin Nichols of the Urban Institute crunched those numbers for The Chronicle using census data.

Relative to the total 44 million Americans who received some sort of federal assistance in 2010, those with graduate degrees make up a miniscule part of the pie. But their reliance on the system presents a dynamic that contradicts the conventional wisdom.

Those with more education are more likely to have a job in the first place. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, just 4.0 percent of college graduates or those with higher degrees are unemployed in April 2012. That number has remained relatively constant since 2011.

By comparison, 7.6 percent of those with only some college or associate degree education, 7.9 percent of those with only a high school diploma, and 12.5 percent of those with less than a high school diploma were unemployed in April.

However, The Chronicle suggests that those numbers obscure the fact that while many academics are employed, they are adjunct professors, paid so poorly that they cannot afford to pay the bills.

Adjunct professors are those who are not on the track to receive tenure; however, they might still struggle with the same bills for graduate school as those who are tenure-tracked. Some adjuncts, The Chronicle reports, “make less money than custodians and campus support staff who may not have college degrees.” In part, this might be the result of budget cuts at state schools during the economic downturn.

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Alexis Levinson