Master's degrees: Help or hindrance?

10:53 PM, Jul 13, 2011   |    comments
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  • MINNEAPOLIS -- A decision looms large on the horizon for many college bachelors and undergraduates: should I get a master's? It is a question with cost/benefit analysis and it is different for every individual.

    The simple fact is not every profession requires or desires post graduate education, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. It is also true that some professions either demand it (Medical school, Law school) or use it as a litmus test for advancement (Business MBA).

    "My program is a relatively shot master's. It is only 15 months. So, I think the shortened time frame makes it more valuable. I think people spending a longer time are going to be spending more money on it," commented Nick Price, University of Minnesota School of Education Graduate Student.

    Price is an Oregon native who intends to teach English as a second language in China to pay off his school loans, then return to the U.S. to teach in middle and high school. He realizes that getting the advanced degree could actually be a problem in his later job hunt.

    "I have thought about that. I think it could potentially make it more difficult to get a job," said Price. The issue is the contractual pay of teachers, which is based on years of experience and level of education. Teachers with master's degrees can price themselves out of district budgets.

    "I know a friend of mine is a member of a school board of one of the smaller towns around here (Red Wing) and he said, 'You have a master's. We are not even going to look at your application'. He just flat out made that statement. So, I was a bit horrified," said former teacher Kathy Swanson.

    Swanson found herself in a dilemma facing many educators in the current tough economy. "Too expensive, because I have 14 years of experience, plus the master's degree. I am not the most marketable person, unfortunately," said Swanson with a chuckle.

    She can laugh because she decided to change jobs and found a position at a private company. She looks at her previous career with some skepticism. "What other profession on Earth would you not hire people with more credentials and more experience?"

    The question for younger people becomes "Should I invest in the master's, expecting more money?" University of Minnesota Sophomore Anna Drahos of Eagan is not convinced.

    "I do not think it is a waste of time, but my mom has a master'sand my brother just graduated college, just undergrad (bachelors) and he is earning as much as her," noted Drahos. Her mother is also a teacher.

    In fact, surveys indicate that Master's of Liberal Arts curriculum offer less later financial reward than advanced degrees in management or engineering.

    "It makes a tremendous difference. I think there is a certain subset of business careers that are only available to MBA graduates," said Michelle Chevalier, Carlson School of Management Director of the Graduate Business Career Center. "Currently at the Carlson School (University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus) the average pre-MBA salary of our students is $40,500. With Class of 2011 graduates, the average is around $95,000. So, over twice, on average, over twice the increase."

    Keeley Yen, Johnson and Johnson employee and Carlson MBA agreed. "From the time when I first started the program to when I graduated, I have already made my return on investment in 2 ½ years. So, I would say, the $50-60,000 that you are going to spend on an MBA program, it does pay back."

    Yen and Chevalier said some levels of management in some companies are only open to MBA holders. "During the interview process, when I was considering my career switch to other companies, I know that this was one point that made me really differentiate myself from other candidates," said Yen.

    Another reason some B.A. or B.S. degree holders seek the higher diploma is change careers entirely. "So, we see a lot of people who had pre-MBA careers in functions such as engineering that want to go back and earn the MBA to transition over to the business side," said Chevalier.

    Even Chevalier said some jobs simply do not require a master's. "Sales, for example. (For) a lot of people, it is more the on-the-street experience, what they call 'street savvy-ness' versus the formal education."

    University of Minnesota Freshman Aaron Grossman of Saint Cloud sees an education limit for some friends. "I know a lot of people that did not go to college because they are pursuing other interests such as radio production, where getting a degree in such a thing maybe would not help you as much as simply getting into that business and just going for it." Grossman's experience is not unique, according to an article in MSN Money magazine.

    The bottom line becomes that whether or not having a master's will give one a boost up a step or two on a career ladder depends on the ladder.

    (Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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