It’s a tough time to be a recent PhD. With American colleges, both public and private, suffering funding problems, it’s hard to get tenure-track positions at elite universities.

It looks like, in many ways, however, it’s a great time to be on the hiring committees at some lower-tier schools, who can now take advantage of the economy to attract some rather prestigious junior faculty.

According to a piece by Brenda Medina in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

With job offers scarce in many fields, small, teaching-intensive colleges and regionally oriented state universities have been able to snag recent graduates of the nation’s top programs, the kinds of candidates who would have probably gone to work at more-elite universities just a few years ago.

The math of the job market is in these colleges’ favor, with universities producing more Ph.D.’s in many fields, like history, sociology, and mathematics, than the number of jobs available in each of the last two years. Some colleges have also structured job openings to make them even more attractive to top candidates.

Many professors are apparently surprised by the quality of the applications they’re receiving for one-year positions at places like Oregon State and Northern Arizona University.

And recent graduates of PhD programs from places like Cornell and Brown are happy to take those positions, even if they’re not tenure-track. There are many temporary positions available.

According to Rosemary Feal, director of the Modern Language Association, this is an increasingly common career path for recent PhD graduates. As she explained to Medina:

For too long… Ph.D. programs have been training their students mostly for tenure-track positions that are research-oriented. “Most programs do not have enough ways to prepare their students for the jobs that exist now,” she said.

That’s one way of thinking about it. But who wants to uproot his whole life for a one-year teaching contract in Flagstaff, Arizona?

Feal seems to ignore the possibility that if there aren’t very many tenure-track positions, maybe universities are just producing too many PhDs.

It’s all well and good to say that one-year teaching positions at Northern Arizona University are “the jobs that exist now” but those jobs exist only because there are so many people willing to take them. If there were fewer PhDs, universities would have to offer them better positions.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer