Tuesday, January 14, 2014

PhD debt survey

Karen Kelsky did an informal survey about PhD debt. Here are the preliminary results

All I can say is WOW...I am stunned. I will never understand this country's attitude to debt. I am not being judgmental. Because of its chronic unstable economy, in Argentina it is very rare to acquire long-time debt: there is almost no credit. There really is a cultural difference. I remember how nervous I was when I got a loan to pay for my first car. Six figures for a PhD in the Humanities? It wouldn't have crossed my mind.*

*To be fair, even if it had crossed my mind, I would have not been able to get loans as a foreign student. So full ride it was, very frugal living, and $5K of credit card debt that probably financed going out on the weekends and the MLA trip and job applications

7 comments:

  1. To a European like me, this is also completely mind-boggling. Here PhDs come as full jobs (with salary, benefits, pension) in some countries or as fully-funded studentshipts (with living allowance and fee allowance) in others and I have never heard of anyone who would actually have to take a loan for studying. It just doesn't happen nor occur to people here.

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    1. I know. In Argentina, there are other problems. Doctoral studies in a public university are low cost (probably around $500 a year). There are few scholarships, so most students have to work in addition to study. Therefore, it can take you up to 12 years to get your PhD. That was the main reason I came to the US. I did it in 2002, right after Argentina's economy collapsed. My parents were very clear that I was on my own, so that the money I was getting should be a primary consideration. In fact, I turned down a more prestigious program than the one I ended up at, because the offer was not as generous. I have never regretted my decision

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    2. Another thing that was striking in that survey is the amount of PhD students in Anthropology that did it without almost no funding. In a field that is expensive in itself (field work, etc), I am just amazed that somebody would pay over $100K for a PhD in that field (not because it's not worth it, but because I have a hard time figuring out how you could pay it back).

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  2. Last but not least, so nobody thinks I am judgmental: I married somebody with $70K in students loans for an MA in journalism (a profession that is disappearing).

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  3. I wonder how much of that debt is health-care related. Full-time students are covered, but the coverage doesn't cover dental care and the policies often have holes. People lose their student insurance if they take a break or quit and getting an interim policy isn't generally a priority for healthy young people living frugally.

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    1. That is a good point: we were covered, but for hospitalizations, it meant only 80% of the total bill. I do know somebody who ended up with a $10K debt for an emergency appendicitis operation. She was lucky that the same hospital helped her through the process of applying to get it dismissed as a charity case. In the end, she only had to pay $1000.
      If you read the explanations on the document, there are cases where it is health-related. But many are just people taking on debt because they didn't get full funding, or any funding at all. Anthropology seems to be a field where people sometimes pay for their PhD.

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    2. I loved my PhD experience and my program, but I hated the city I lived in for 5 years. However, I turned down an acceptance from the University of Washington in Seattle because I knew it was impossible to live there with the $14K stipend they offered at the time

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