In the US and all around the globe, many people are weighing the costs and benefits of getting a master’s degree. After the Great Recession, concerns about employability, ROI and levels of student debt are of great importance.
For instance, a recent analysis produced by the New American Foundation on graduate student debt, brought attention to the higher levels of student debt that is being incurred by students working on master’s degrees. It also questions the wisdom of the public funding of graduate degrees, as well as their overall usefulness.
However, some experts maintain that to paint graduate education as a whole with a negative brush ignores the demand for master’s degree-educated professionals in the US economy.
As recently as the 1970s, a master’s degree was thought of as a ‘runner up’ prize for people who had wanted a Ph.D. But in the last 30 years, the master’s degree has become a very important credential that is desired by employers. This first occurred with the massive growth of the MBA as a vital business credential. Later, the popularity of master’s degrees spread to other fields, including healthcare, public policy, science and engineering.
Today, many employers value the critical thinking, skills and problem solving that a master’s degree education gives people. This is reflected in current statistics: Many job market information companies find that about 20% of current open positions want candidates to have a master’s degree. Universities are responding enthusiastically to this demand by coming up with new types of master’s degree programs, and online delivery of many of them.
Some innovation in education is coming with Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs (some of which are offered by Harvard University), but even more innovation is happening in master’s degree programs that can be earned in either online, on campus or hybrid formats. These new models of graduate education are boosting access to graduate level education.
Many experts have also documented how much more you can earn in salary and have in economic opportunities by earning a master’s degree. According to a recent Federal Reserve study, almost all of the growth in wages in the last 10 years came from advanced degrees. People who hold a master’s or doctoral degree earn 30% more than people who only have a bachelor’s degree. Also, the unemployment rate for people with a master’s degree was just 3.5% in 2013, compared to 6% for all workers.
Of course, not every field has a high demand for master’s degree holders. Earning a master’s degree in women’s studies or English may not be financially worth it for some people. But enrollment and demand for people with advanced degrees in health care, computer science and engineering continues to grow.
Even the MBA degree has changed due to market trends. Many employers now want to see an MBA that is highly specialized. Popular MBA programs include specialities such as Finance or Supply Chain Management.
Also, even though the economic benefits of earning a master’s degree is important, there also are many societal benefits to people earning master’s degrees. Researchers have found that people having more education usually leads to more civil engagement, better well being of society, as well as better longevity and health.
All of these points are a strong indicator that earning a master’s degree in most fields is still very much worth it.