should econ grad students pay for their own education?
In grad skool rulz #9, I argued that graduate students should not pay for their own education. Why? Academia doesn’t pay well. If you want talented people specializing in things like Croatian syntax, don’t saddle people with mortgage sized debts on the way out. Every self respecting arts and science program should have a healthy system of fellowships, tuition waivers, and teaching opportunities to minimize debt.
However, we don’t have that financial system for MBA’s, MD’s, and JD’s. Why? Students in these fields will, sooner or later, have fantastic job opportunities. It’s reasonable to ask them to pay for a resource that yields such a high return.
Economics has shifted from lowly paid arts and science to well compensated professional field. Consider the following: In an article on the crummy academic job market, the Wall Street Journal reports on a University of Arkansas study that shows that entry level econ PhD’s make $86,000 (scroll about half way down). That’s right – an average econ PhD with few (or no) publications makes the same as a full professor in many arts and sciences areas. If an economist lands a job at a leading program, the assistant professor salaries easily start at $100,000+. B-schools start even higher. In the private sector, consultancies and related work are better compensated.
Let me emphasize this: professional economists do better than nearly any other arts and science field (except maybe computer science) and do well compared to lawyers and MD’s.
Do not interpret this as class warfare. If an economist has more market value than a Bach specialist, that’s fine with me. We need to pay top dollar for highly talented people. But if they are doing so well, it obviates the argument for a subsidized graduate education and we should treat the economics graduate degree more like an MD than a philosophy PhD.
PS. There’s a collective action issue – no PhD program wants to be the first to pull the plug on comfortable graduate fellowships. That doesn’t undermine my main point, but it does show the futility of this post!