Friday, August 25, 2006

Ask the Administrator: Do They Need Doctorates?

A fellow blogger writes:

I'm the new director of graduate studies for our humble MA program, and a number of graduate students in our program are convinced that you can make a career of teaching composition or literature in a CC with only an MA. My understanding is that you can, at best, get part-time or adjunct positions with only an MA, that these days, CC's want Ph.D.'s too, because the market is glutted with them. Now, for some of them – the ones who are geographically limited and have spouses with good-paying jobs – adjuncting would be fine. But I want to make sure that the ones who want full-time, career-track jobs (tenure-track or the equivalent) get good advice. Should I be advising them that CC comp and lit teachers still need the Ph.D.? Or are they right? Can they make it with the MA alone?



Yes, it's possible to get a full-time tenure track lit or comp position at a cc with only an MA. Possible, but not bloody likely.

I'll have to ask the blogosphere how this plays out in different parts of the country. I suspect that in certain parts – say, the rural Midwest – the degree glut is less pronounced than it is on the coasts. And certainly every college has its individual quirks.

Speaking from what I've seen in Northeastern suburbia, I'd say that it's unusual for someone with only an MA to get hired in a glutted field like English or history. (In fields like Nursing or business, it's much more common.) We've hired some folks at ABD status, which shows up as 'MA' on the website, but don't let that fool you. In those cases, successful attainment of the doctorate is usually a condition for tenure. We make a distinction between ABD's and terminal MA's.*

Many of our senior faculty have terminal MA's, but they were hired in a different time. The unfortunate upshot is that we have 'credential compression' while we have to avoid 'salary compression,' with the unintended consequence that new folks with doctorates get paid at the level that new folks with terminal MA's were paid, back in the day. It's not fair, at some level, but it's what the market will bear and what our budgets will bear.**

I'm guessing that some of them are hoping to parlay 'loyal adjunct' status into 'tenure track' status. Again, it's possible, but not likely. Given the choice between a newly-minted doctorate and a terminal MA who has been adjuncting for years and not publishing, what would you do? In very glutted fields like English, it would be extraordinary for someone with a terminal MA to break through.

For those whose ambitions top out at adjuncting, a terminal MA is perfectly fine. Alternately, some of those might want to look at some kind of 'alternate route' teaching certification and become high school English teachers, where lacking a doctorate is the normal state of things. Thirty years ago, a terminal MA probably wouldn't have precluded a tenure-track position at a cc. Now, it pretty much does, at least in the parts of the country with plenty of doctorally-qualified candidates hanging around.

Faithful readers: does this hold true in your neck of the woods?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

*The faculty union contract actually contains a clause defining a 'doctoral equivalent' for pay bonus purposes. X number of graduate credits beyond the Master's earns you 'doctoral equivalent' status. I have a major philosophical issue with that – to me, either you've wrestled the bear or you haven't – but there it is. We also grant 'doctoral equivalent' status for JD's and MFA's, on the theory that they're terminal degrees in their respective fields.

**To the libertarians out there: yes, I know, what the market will bear is fair by definition. I've heard the argument, I've read the argument, I know. I just don't buy it. In the real world, options are limited, and choosing the 'least bad' option doesn't make it good.