The Common Good

Is There No Good Economic Reason To Get A Ph.D.?

Maybe someone pursuing a Ph.D. in Liturgical Theology and Ethnomusicology shouldn't be the one to offer this reflection.

Heck, maybe a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering or in Astrophysics would be a wise economic choice. I can't say.

I've been mulling over some of the news stories out there hyping either end of the (political?) reality of spending more money (and time, let's not forget time) on higher education. It leads me to a couple of questions:

Does the present rate of student debt have a snowball's chance in Tartarus in being repaid? Will the students, especially the so-called "non-tradtional student" like myself, actually see a return in their investment?

If you believe NPR, the answer may be "no."

I cannot find the link, but there was a recent report that the rate of defaulting on student loans is highest in my age group.


The findings suggest that 40-somethings have suffered more than any other age groups due to the Recession. Our fiscal lives are precarious to begin with (Aren't everyone's?), but then we go back to school to retool or pursue an old dream...for any number of reasons.

Sadly we end up broke with multiple dependants and a mortgage. The student loan for many ends up being a gamble that doesn't pay off. 

So, why the hell would anyone do this?

In a recent article on art and economic succes, Are We Teaching Artists To Fail?, the author asks a similar question. There was a lengthy Facebook thread on my page about it. The short answer is simple: Success is not simply economic.

Happiness may have nothing to do with income one way or the other. So, how might we find ways of being happy, creative people, not pursuing more money but a good living...a truly Good in reflecting the virtues of Goodness and Life?

I'm a non-traditional student. I have the cold comfort of knowing that had I started my Ph.D. in 1992 following college I would likely be an unemployed junior professor right now looking for a non-existent seminary position. In many ways the timing of my present educational trajectory compells me not to become distracted with the temptation to pursue success as defined by the Fed...or by the financial fantasies of the past.

It's Presidential Election Season again. We're talking about the economy and well we should, but we need to remember that economics isn't the only thing that defines happiness, that the Fed doesn't tell us when we're happy, and that there may be no good economic reason to get a Ph.D....or an art degree, or to move to the inner city, far-flung countruside...

Happiness defies definition most days. It's like Grace. She comes on Her own and we don't always recognize her when She arrives.

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Image: Graduate students receiving degress photo by Gina Smith/Shutterstock.

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