The disastrously bad academic job market this year and last has English professor William Pannabacker (who uses the pen name "Thomas Benton") giddy with excitement, and has brought back to the attention of many readers his utterly reckless scare piece from several years ago. Pannabacker, an Associate Professor of English at Hope College, tells students thinking about grad school in the humanities "just don't go" because there are no jobs. The same ridiculous advice shows up on countless blogs.
Now here's some advice that isn't silly: don't go to graduate school unless you get into a strong program. Period. If you get funding to go to a strong program, and you love the subject, then go to graduate school. The odds of securing a tenure-track job, indeed a good tenure-track job, from a strong program are very high. Take a look at the placement record of NYU or MIT or Princeton or North Carolina or Berkeley or UC Irvine or--outside the very top ranks of philosophy PhD programs--Georgetown. In fact, the vast majority of graduates of these programs secure tenure-stream employment, and at the very best programs, a majority secure what, by any measure, would have to count as terrific academic positions at the best research universities and liberal arts colleges in the U.S., and often abroad.
It is a shame that a lot of those who echo Pannabacker's reckless generalizations do so under cover of anonymity. Each time the veil of anonymity has been lifted, in my experience, it turns out that the person complaining that there are no jobs for really good candidates is a graduate of a mediocre or worse PhD program. Some of these people may really be good candidates; that's very hard to know. But what is often easy to know is that they have the albatross of a not very good graduate program around their neck, and their difficulties on the job market are, alas, predictable. It is a shame these people were misled, either by the programs in question or by their undergraduate teachers, and it has been one of my aims to make misleading students this way harder. But the fact that there really aren't jobs for PhDs from weak programs does not mean one shouldn't get a PhD in philosophy. It means a student should not get a PhD from a weak program.
So figure out which programs in your field are really reputable. Investigate job placement. Investigate what the former students of the faculty you're interested in working with are doing now. Don't go if the program isn't going to fund your studies. Don't go if you can't get into a strong program in your field (unless your aim is not academic employment).
Of course, it may well be that the current crisis of capitalism may also signal the end of American economic dominance, and so may really presage a dramatic change at all levels of the productive economy, including academia. Even in that scenario, however, the basic advice wouldn't change, it's just that the number of "strong programs" that can deliver results will be smaller than it is currently.
But please don't listen to William Pannabacker. He obviously has some other personal axe to grind. It's a shame he lies about the academic job market (things are bad enough, without lying!), and it's a shame the CHE gives him a forum for doing so. But as the links to job placement records, above, make clear, there are plenty of PhD programs from which a student can be highly confident about finding stable academic employment upon completion of the course of study.