After I graduated high school I I entered into the bachelor black hole. Thankfully I didn’t suffer as bad as some of my peers when it came to debt. I exited college with little student loan debt but there was definitely credit card and other debts that took me years to deal with. In classic fashion I entered the workforce and for years struggled with a work environment that wasn’t aligned to my training or the promises that I was told. Bottom line is that I, along with several other members of my generation, made a heavy investment of time, effort, money, and emotions for a promised return that didn’t exist. You would think we would have learned our lessons.
I’ve journaled this concept fairly well. The idea that there is a serious misalignment with the structure of the government / educational complex and the greater workforce and economic needs of our society. It’s also a major component of the book i’m working on. What i’m discovering is that we aren’t learning our lessons. As a generation we continue to perpetuate and invest in a flawed system. I think we do it because the system believes it too which makes perfect sense in that the system is made up of us, the individual contributors.
“Go to school, get a degree, get a good job” we were told when we all went for our bachelor’s, except in many cases the good jobs weren’t there.
Through recent events i’ve had a chance to reflect on the continuing educational efforts of my friends and acquaintances over the years. An unusually high percentage of them have gone back to school to get Masters’ degrees. This includes people I used to be close to and now have devolved to an occasional message or update facebook. It includes those i’m close to now through work or through professional organizations. It includes those i’ve been estranged from for years and when we reconnect I found that they have also gone back to school in a manner that closely aligns to my own efforts. The ironic part is that our journey’s to our advanced degrees including our masters have all been separate decisions made in concert. I never had any conversations with anyone about doing it, I just did some research, decided it was what I needed to do to get ahead, and enrolled. It took me twice as long as the usual attendee, but I did avoid one major mistake… I cash flowed the entire program so I did not have any resulting debt of any kind after I graduated the program. I can not say the same for others who have exited their programs. So this is just circumstantial evidence, right? Two seconds on google tells me that my observation is built on fact. Take for example this excerpt from an executive summary of a study on Master’s programs.
Enrollment in master’s programs has exploded in the last two decades, leaving many to wonder if the market for new programs is already gone. Yet the market for master’s degrees is both growing and changing. Across the next decade, master’s degrees are projected to grow far faster than degrees at any other level. By 2022, experts predict, master’s degrees will account for nearly a third of all degrees awarded.
This new growth will come primarily from professional master’s programs focused on specific job skills that help students gain a new job or advance in an existing position.
My post masters experience tells me that this is the more of the same bill of goods we were sold on when we first entered into college. When I graduated with an advanced technical degree in information technology from a highly rated program there was no bevy of recruiters from tier 1 information technology companies heavily recruiting me. As a matter of fact, exactly the opposite happened. Crickets.
It’s the same thing, “Go to school, get a degree, get a good job” we were told when we all went for our bachelor’s, except in many cases the good jobs weren’t there. A generation of professionals is now doing it again. We are repeating the same mistakes. This time it’s to hold on to what we have, to stay competitive in a world wear the masters is so prevalent it’s becoming diluted as much as the bachelors. The advanced degree isn’t completely useless, there are some benefits. We can get that little automatic raise if our organizations offer one. Our resumes get an extra half second of review and we don’t’ get automatically passed over for positions that inexplicably have ‘masters prefered’ in the description even though there is no reason for it. But are these benefits worth the years of study and the thousands of dollars in expense? Apparently Not. This isn’t to say that all Master’s degrees are useless. there are some that have a definable payout: I’m looking at you MSN and Nurse Practitioner.. but even there, the masters is tied to a credential, the master’s isn’t he credential in and of itself.
It’s easy to see where we can get sucked into the inevitable next step in this never ending chain. One of the hardest decisions I made in my life was stepping away from a PhD program I was enrolled in. If I couldn’t do it on my terms, I wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice for a very low chance of return for the investment I put in. I had started for the same reason I started my Masters.. the perception of a guaranteed career path advancement. I stepped away from the program because the demands of the program simply were too high for what boiled down to a great big ‘maybe’. Some Doctorates simply don’t pay off the way we expect them too.
I’ll end with a story. I had a true leader, an individual whose time is spent managing initiatives and large groups of people, who held a doctoral degree. They told me I had to get my doctorate to get to where I wanted to be in my career. Then they went on to say it didn’t matter what the degree was in, as long as I had one. Months later I heard that same person say the degree didn’t change them in any discernible way, that in effect, it wasn’t the big thing they thought it would be.
Those comments really brought it home.. No matter if it’s the Master’s, MBA, or Doctoral Degree; we really have to be very careful if we are going to invest in the highest levels of education. Education is very good, but only if it changes us or if it opens real doors. If it’s just a checkbox that everyone has, maybe there needs to be something different we can do to truly stand out, and to get to where we all want to be.
Thankfully I don’t need a Masters to understand that.