The end of summer and the start of the school year can make people who (like me) aren’t going back to school nostalgic.

I remember being a younger, twenty-something grad student who taught undergrads. And that the instructor before me was a distinguished professor who had written our course textbook.

I worked hard, did a good job teaching and enjoyed it immensely, but I sometimes wonder whether my students got short-changed. After all, instead of being taught by a tenured prof, they were being taught by a grad student who was only slightly older than them.

I haven’t found any good data on this, so I don’t know whether my story was part of a larger trend on university campuses in Canada, but I suspect that the share of teaching done by grad students has increased significantly over the past few decades.

There are good financial reasons for this: a professor gets a research grant and buys out his/her teaching time (at, say, $10k for the course). The university hires a graduate instructor (making less than $10k). The department saves money.

There are few complaints among these people. It could even be called a socially-efficient arrangement " better research professors can focus their time on what they do best (research), grad students get valuable on-the-job training that helps them apply for future academic jobs, and the university’s bottom-line improves.

But do students suffer as a result of this arrangement? (Yes, they can fill out course evaluations, but unless the results are terrible, these generally receive little weight in most hiring and tenure decisions " at least at research-intensive schools.)

Anyway, I no longer teach and this happened almost a decade ago, but with my son starting Junior Kindergarten this month, I starting thinking about the quality of instruction he can expect as an undergrad.

I get that it’s cheaper for universities to have grad students teach instead of profs. But sometimes I worry that we get what we pay for.