I also made an offhanded comment on Superbon! about the astonishing amount of money it takes to finish graduate school, which is something few people ever seem to talk about. That got me thinking about what I had to pay simply to receive my Ph.D., above and beyond years of paying tuition, fees, and related expenses:
$74 dissertation binding and microfilming fee $45 copyright registration fee $350 (approx.) for dissertation copying on 24#, 100% cotton paper
This list, of course, doesn't include "incidentals" such as regalia. At my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, graduating Ph.D.s can rent regalia for $46 or purchase a "keepsake" cap and gown for $66. (Whatever you do, make sure to keep these acetate wonders away from open flames!) Custom regalia, which many faculty are expected to wear to formal academic ceremonies, will set you back anywhere from $500 to a grand. Some institutions even charge "graduation fees," though thankfully UNC did not.
Grand total: anywhere from about $500 to $1500 just to get out the door.
These pricey, though perhaps innocuous-sounding, fees don't tell you much about the strange ways in which they force graduating Ph.D. students to shoulder costs that really ought to be picked up by the university, since they benefit the latter much more than they do the former. Take the $74 "dissertation binding and microfilming fee," for instance. Essentially the graduate is paying the institution to keep copies of her/his dissertation in its library. What if I'd rather save the $74 by opting out? No can do. Part of that $74 goes to UMI, moreover, a company that microfilms and electronically indexes dissertations. The company's doing so might benefit me indirectly, because it essentially makes my dissertation accessible to a broad, international audience. Still, there's irony at work here: why do I have to pay money out of pocket so that UMI can profit from my labor? That's hard to get my head around. Then, of course, there's the 24#, 100% cotton paper, which is astonishingly expensive compared to regular weight, wood pulp-based paper. As with the other fees, the graduate student once again has to endure a cost that really has little to do with him or her. In this case, it results from the university's compulsion to store whatever it can on archival quality paper.
This list, of course, doesn't account for dissertation copies that finishing graduate students might want to keep for themselves or share with friends, family, loved ones, colleagues, or committee members--and don't even get me started about the costs of custom binding those copies. I'm sure there are many, many more expenses that I'm missing here. The point is, it takes a remarkable amount of money to become a middle-class academic. And I suspect the lack of public conversation on the topic has a lot to do with the strong sense of resignation many people feel as they near completion of a Ph.D. By the time you slog through years of course work, exams, dissertation writing, and defenses, you're so tired that you'll do just about anything to be done with graduate school. At least, that's how I felt--and that's certainly why I didn't make a stink about the price tag until now.