The author of an article out today answers more or less how I would:
No one pursues a career as a college professor in order to become rich. Professors do what they do because they are passionate about research and teaching. And if you recently earned a Ph.D., you know well that the years you devoted to inquiry, research, writing, and sharing your knowledge in the classroom weren’t wasted.
At the same time, passion doesn’t put food on the table, and a middle-class wage is a very reasonable expectation.
A decade ago, it was possible to say that persistence and a year or two on the adjunct track would pay off. “Stick it out,” advisers would say, “You’ll get a job eventually,” and they were right. But that advice is outdated: “Since that time, faculty work has become more fragmented, unsupported, and destabilized,” and “the proportion of faculty who are appointed each year to tenure-line positions is declining at an alarming rate.”
If you are a prospective or current graduate student today wondering if completing the Ph.D. is worth it, the answer in 2011 is almost unequivocally no—not unless you are independently wealthy and can afford to live “the life of the mind” without ever having to worry about how to support yourself or feed your family.In other words, whether or not the Ph.D. is "worth it" depends on whether you currently are at the beginning of graduate school or at the end, already with Ph.D. in hand.
The noneconomic value of doing the Ph.D. is not negligible, but advisers need to do a better job of emphasizing the economic realities. And graduate programs need to do a better job of preparing graduate students -- those who want to give it a shot in spite of the job prospects -- for those realities, so that they can hit the ground running in the nonacademic job world if they don't want to or can't afford to work as adjuncts once they're finished.
Like, at my Grad U for example, in addition to the useless certificates in teaching and critical theory offered, they might have offered Ph.D. students the opportunity to earn a certificate in professional writing. Graduate students in English acquire strong writing skills inevitably, but it's hard to convince nonacademic human resources people without some documentation, like a certificate and/or a portfolio of some kind that demonstrates you can not only teach writing but write all the dumb stuff (fact sheets, press releases, summaries, reports, etc.) they want proof you have "experience" writing.
Go read the whole article here.