I linked to an article a few days ago about the downside of pursuing a PhD. in the humanities. Freddie DeBoer and John Schwenkler have some more on that theme. (Bonus: Michael Bérubé shows up in the comments on Freddie's post.)
John connects education debt with the wave of foreclosures by tracing them to the same root: the desire to get easy money now and figure out how to pay it back later—with interest, of course. Freddie emphasizes again the degree to which universities depend on the cheap labor of the graduate students who are stuck in and depend on the system. He says:
“In a perfect world, more potential grad students would self-select themselves out of the grad school chase. But the fact that it takes so long to get your doctorate acts as a kind of buffer for looking at the reality; I think a lot of people just say ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’ And they are following their passion, after all. People really do care about contemporary Portugeuse novelists and the effect of absentee fathers on child literacy rates and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s politics and allelic variation as evidence of sexual reproduction in the opportunistic human parasite ‘Candida Albicans’. God bless them for it. I think academic interest is a wonderful thing. The problem is that often the passion for those things seems like a small solace when people have emerged from six or seven years of school and work and can’t get employed. And now they’ve got a wife and kids, and they’re behind on the mortgage, and contemplating getting a job at the mall….”
I've got a pile of interests; I picked mathematics out of the bunch because it had a certain practical value that I was looking for. I'm thankful that something I'm interested in has that kind of value.
I've heard it said that, if you choose not to take the grad school route, it might take more than a decade longer to read the stuff you would have to read in grad school (or at least the part of it that you want to read), so it's a better value to pursue it on the side if you're not absolutely dedicated to the career or absolutely assured of your own talent. But then there's the fear that you won't really be able to test your ideas without fellow students and teachers.
So you become a blogger instead. (But it's just not the same.)
I'd like to know whether the university system ate up independent or amateur scholarship after the big post-WWII college boom. I know that most “professional poets” are teachers in creative writing programs, and that many novelists support themselves in the same way. Before widespread college attendance, was this even possible? That is, was there a time when intellectual culture was not so closely tied to institutions of higher education as it is now?