The Education Bubble
Much like the real estate business that resulted in the 2008 financial crisis, the ramifications of which are still being felt today, the education industry, according to many experts, is a bubble that is about to pop. With decreasing assets and growing liabilities, institutions are reaching out to prospective students to soften the blow.
Traditionally, job-seekers turn to education during periods of economic downturns. While returning students are a cause for celebration for struggling institutions of higher education, the catch for returning students is the amount of debt they take on by pursuing a master's degree. Furthermore, the knee-jerk reaction to seek more education may not better an individual's job situation.
Not All Master's Degrees Are Created Equal
Statistical data from 2012 published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that employees who hold a master's degree earned roughly $12,000 more per year than those who hold only a bachelor's degree (www.bls.gov). However, there is a distinction between the types of master's degrees.
For example, a job-seeker who holds an MBA or a master's degree in engineering has a better chance of landing a job than a person who has a master's degree in literature, art history or anthropology. Additionally, the rush to graduate school may result in a glut of master's degree holders, thereby devaluing the degree and decreasing the chances of employment.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. An M.A. degree can allow a person to upgrade their undergraduate degree and attain a certain cultural cachet if they attend an elite school. It may also provide direction. For example, if a bachelor's degree holder majored in an area he or she was unsure about, a master's degree provides an opportunity to specialize and change direction. It also provides graduate students with the opportunity to network with other likeminded individuals and add to their personal narrative, which many prospective employers may find interesting.
Furthermore, proponents for graduate education state that the potential glut of job-seekers who hold master's degrees has nothing to do with the current state of graduate education in the U.S. or the job market. Rather, they argue that the interest in M.A. degree programs has risen because bachelor's degrees are flawed. However, there are some important caveats that proponents of master's degree programs make: only do it if there is little to no debt and if it is affordable, or if someone else is footing the bill.
A master's degree may lead to employment, but does it improve the health of the degree holder as well?