In the December 18th edition of THE ECONOMIST, we get a description of the dismal marketability and return on investment of the doctoral degree [Ph.D.] That article "The Disposable Academic" provides chilling statistics. For example, between 2005 and 2009, America produced about 100,000 doctoral degrees during a period when there were only openings for 16,000 professorship positions. Most matriculate for the Ph.D. in order to secure a university position, either to teach or do research.
However, some do pursue the Ph.D. in order to enhance their options, once they are in the academic system. That credential can open many doors in leadership and administration. For example, my freshman composition instructor JoAnne Boyle at Seton Hill College, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, already had tenure there when she received her Ph.D. Since 1987, Boyle has been President of that institution, which became a university. My first boss in communications -Mary Ann Aug - had been employed for years at the University of Pittsburgh. Then she got her Ph.D. and rose to be assistant chancellor. Aug is now retired but serving on the board of Seton Hill. Academia happens to be a small world. And maybe that isn't such a good thing.
However, in general, the phenomenon of so many students matriculating for a Ph.D. seems to be part of the growing educational bubble. Surprisingly, that bubble doesn't seem any where near bursting. For some courses of study such as law school there are a record number of applications.
In a nutshell, the fundamental beliefs nuturing the bubble are that education is sacred, the more the better, and cost as well as ROI should be considered irrelevant. All this is not new. Back in the early 1970s, I got caught in the bubble. I remained way too long in a Ph.D. program in linguistics and literature at the University of Michigan, even after it was clear I wasn't going to get a tenure-track position. I truly believed that I was part of something, well, sacred. I was better-than. Of course such thinking is the making for a disaster. My first years post-Ph.D. program [which I never completed] were brutual. No employer recognized my accomplishment.
Likely, the article in THE ECONOMIST won't deter many if any from pursuing academic excellence in the form of the Ph.D. However, they can't say they haven't been warned. Incidentally, some Ph.D. psychology or sociology student might do a dissertation on the mental processes underlying the expansion of a bubble.