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Do You Need a Master's Degree to Get a Job?

Aug 26, 2011

Once considered the consolation prize for not completing a Ph.D., the master's degree has become the new bachelor's degree in the current economy. In keeping with this reality, colleges and universities are now offering specialized master's degrees that emphasize business skills and job training. Some argue, however, that the new emphasis on a 'skills-based' degree is devaluing college education and doing a disservice to the pillars of graduate education: inquiry, thought and analysis.

By Bobby Mann

work

The Harsh, New Reality of the Jobs Market

Once upon a time, a bachelor's degree was the ticket to employment and the first step towards attaining the American dream. Fast forward to 2011, and many freshly-minted bachelor's degree holders will likely tell you something different. A graduate of the College at Brockport, William Klein ended up pretty much in the same place he began after completing his bachelor's degree in history: the same high school job waiting tables and living in his parents' house. He's convinced that a master's degree in Jewish Studies will be his ticket to a better job and eventually a career with the Central Intelligence Agency. According to some recent statistics on master's degree attainment and employment, he may be onto something.

The Comeback Kid

The master's degree was once regarded as the also-rans of the academic degrees offered by American colleges and universities. Today, however, the master's degree is the fastest growing academic program in the U.S. In 2009, 657,000 master's degrees were conferred, which represents twice the amount awarded in the 1980s. Modern master's degree programs are somewhat different, though. They're more geared towards jobs and providing business skills and job training to students.

One business school dean admits that an MBA is a little too broad for the current market. For example, a master's degree in supply chain management or some other specific area might be more beneficial. Other examples of this new tilt towards a specialized graduate education include a master's degree in music that prepares graduates for careers in the business of music or as choir directors, and a master's degree in public history that is geared towards giving students the skills needed to work at a museum or a historical society.

Companies are also having a say in how professional master's degrees are shaped. The master's degree in human-computer interaction at the State University of New York at Oswego had input from John McGloon, a manager of a technical writing team at the medical-device company Welch Allyn. Having input into a master's degree program allows him to develop what he sees as a better job candidate who will fit easily into the team and has the requisite training. According to McGloon, these are areas that are not easy to assess in an interview.

The Overeducated American

The bachelor's degree is no longer the yardstick by which college graduates measure educational success and future economic success. Nevertheless, while the rush to obtain a master's degree may seem beneficial to students hungry for work and jobs in a dire economy, the real beneficiaries are the colleges and universities that offer them, and employers that may hire them. Colleges fill more seats, which increases their bottom-line, and companies get job applicants with specialized training that they didn't have to pay for.

The end result is a devaluation of education; graduate degrees are more commonplace, which results in the proliferation of overeducated job seekers. If the current trend continues, it's not hard to imagine a future where a master's degree, specialized or not, has roughly the same value as a bachelor's degree does today.

Learn how college graduates in 2011 are remaining optimistic about their chances of employment in the current economy.


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