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A hundred grand. Not a delicious candy bar. We’re talking education costs.

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Penny on graphAt the risk of sounding like a whiny undergraduate, I’m going to complain about my courses. Mostly because I’m being required to take and pay for seven credit hours I’ll get nothing for.

Okay, so I’ve finally completed my coursework. Relief, right? No more pesky class costs. Wrong. I still have to pay for about another $7,000 worth of credit hours so that I can remain “active” in my program. What courses am I spending this seven grand on, you ask, if I’ve completed coursework? Why, research. But, here’s the trick…I won’t actually be attending any classes.

Honest. I’m required to pay for something that I won’t actually get anything for. No class time. No instructor time. No university resources. I’ll just be plugging away on research that I’ll be largely conducting on my own. Now, I will be meeting with my advisors periodically. But, even given that, this sounds like some kind of racket to me. Doesn’t it you?

I’m curious where this magic 7 course hours comes from. Will having these seven hours, rather than say five hours or two hours, improve my research that much? Without them, would my research fail? It’s, honestly, pretty ridiculous. Is the system really that broken that if I’m not registered for a course, I get kicked out and labeled inactive? Seems like there should be some kind of check-box for “Graduate student in research” that would keep me on an active status in the computer.

Here’s the best part. I’m not even a GA whose tuition is subsidized through a stipend and award. I’m a part-time graduate student working my own way through school, paying every cent out of pocket and through loans, except for the term I was able to use my husband’s VA benefits to cover part of the costs. It’s just me and my husband working to send our kids and me through school. Oh, all the while trying to pay off my undergrad student loans, too.

So this term, and over the next few, my family and I will rack up more money on the credit card to pay for credit hours I will do nothing with. I know that I’m not the only one in this situation.  I can’t imagine a more worthless way to spend $7,000.

But, really, it’s a drop in the bucket. The average cost of a Ph.D., according to Education PortalBright Hub, and others, is over $100,000. But, I fear not. If I stay in higher ed and land one of those magical teaching gigs, the average salary for a full-time, tenured professor is $68,000, so I’ll totally make enough over my lifetime to pay off that debt…if I get a job, when I work my way up the hierarchy, and after I send two kids through college and pay off my student loans.

Higher ed is robbing me blind right under my nose, and I’m sure lots of others, too. If you’re not sure if we need to reform education costs, ask any graduate student. You might even offer a penny for their thoughts. Maybe offer two or three. I’m sure they could use a few extra.



  1. Brandy says:

    Great article! Our family is weighing the cost vs benefit – do we really want to be paying off student loans until we retire?

    • It’s a great question. One we continue to struggle with. If you want to stay in higher ed and teach, it’s a weighty investment. If you move into the private sector or consultant work, the outlook is more positive. It also depends on the field you’ll be studying in. Some futures are better than others. 🙂

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