MAPHmatics: Cost/ Benefit Annalysis

The cost of an education is staggering. Undergrad tuition for an in-state student costs an average of $7,605, while a year at a private college costs an average of $27,293. University of Chicago’s MAPH program will set a grad back $14,856 (tuition only) per quarter or in excess of $45,000 for the year once student life, transcript access, and insurance fees are added.

The easy answer, then, is to declare one’s self a Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg and eschew the academic life in favor of the “American Dream/ By Your Bootstraps” model. The problem remains that for the vast majority, education–or the lack of an education–is the single biggest indicator of future financial success. Check out this article if you don’t believe me. But what about graduate education? Does an advanced degree pay for itself in a few short years? What about a terminal Masters in the Humanities–that is, what about the MAPH?

One of the biggest questions associated with accepting U of C’s MAPH admissions offer for me can be summarized in a thread at Grad Cafe I found while researching the program. I won’t link to it–for reasons I hope will become obvious–but in it the MAPH program’s legitimacy is questioned on the grounds that it is a “piggy bank” program that exists only to pay for the generous stipends given to the PhD candidates. Some MAPH graduates argue that their time in the program was the key to their future success, whether in academics or the job market, while others argue that the program is a waste of time and money.

However, there is something inherently reductionistic about equating education and income or even education and appointments. What that thread does not acknowledge is that MAPH students are given access to the best and brightest in their respective fields, individualized programs to explore their unique interests, and the company of peers all engaged in those dialogues at the highest levels. Unlike many schools’ programs, the limiting factor to individual success is no longer external, but internal.

Now, all that being said, I understand the perspective that screams “fie on your high-minded theoretical pontificating, I just spent a Porsche Cayman and can’t find a job or grad appointment!” (They say “fie” because they are U of C alums). There is something soul-crushingly frightening about spending more money in one year than I am likely to make in one year IF all my plans for the future were to work out. However, there is also something soul-crushing about a lifetime trying to imagine what insights and ideas I missed out on because I chose to stay on the safer path.

Is the MAPH program a” piggy bank” that U of C uses to fund other students?  Well, yes, technically speaking anybody who pays for any program subsidizes anyone who receives any sort of financial assistance.  However, there is nothing inherently unfair about such an arrangement unless the Masters students are not receiving what they are paying for.  To argue otherwise would seem to be giving into unnecessarily classist thinking–something like “Who are PhD students that they don’t have to pay while I do?”  So the question becomes, are MAPH students getting what they think they are paying for?


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