An article in Bloomberg collects a number of depressing but all-too familiar stories with one common theme — young people graduating from master’s programs with low-paying jobs and crippling debt. The article reports:
More people are losing the same gamble as a 33 percent jump in U.S. graduate school enrollment in the past decade, coupled with an 80 percent surge in tuition and required fees, runs headlong into a weaker job market. Universities are fueling the trend by offering more one- and two-year programs in areas from environmental science to sports management that rarely come with financial aid other than the option for loans.“Students need to be more skeptical that the income, debt and job-placement statistics that they’re being shown about graduate schools may not reflect individual experiences,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, a website with educational-lending information. “It’s like the advertisements on TV for weight-loss programs: the results are not typical.”About one-third of people with master’s degrees make less money on average than a typical bachelor’s degree holder, said Stephen J. Rose, a labor economist with Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, citing U.S. Census data.
Masters programs hit the sour spot of higher education — they tend to be more expensive with fewer financial aid opportunities than other programs, with a smaller payoff. Government and academic bureaucracies will sometimes favor them due to the low quality of some bachelor’s programs and the need to “objectively” narrow down a large applicant pool, but as these jobs become scarcer and less important, the added value of these expensive programs will decrease. Stories like those referenced in the article are becoming increasingly common, and many college graduates may be better off avoiding these programs entirely. Degrees earned at the top few programs in a given field often pay off nicely, but the rest nay well not be worth the debt. If you must go, and you can’t get into the equivalent of the ivy league in your field, just choose a program that’s cheap. And look for a one year program instead of a two year.Cost is only one reason for holding off on a masters. Early adulthood is a time to travel, explore, and get accustomed to a working adult life. Most young people could use some time away from the academy and in the working world, and they will have more flexibility to try different things if they aren’t struggling under a massive debt burden. The jobs of the future will be more based on innovation and less on bureaucracy, and expensive degree programs will do little to help people navigate them.I advise my own students, employees and relations to think carefully before signing up for expensive masters’ degrees. Most of the successful journalists, NGO leaders and authors I run across don’t have masters’ degrees and when the subject comes up they don’t recommend them to young people interested in these fields. There are exceptions where top teachers who are also leading people in a given field can become your mentor and help you enter a challenging and rewarding profession, but you have to look hard to find these.A master’s degree can be the right choice, but too many people sign up not because they understand what the degree will (and won’t) do for them, but because they aren’t sure what else to try. Think hard about these programs, and try to meet people in the field you want to enter and see whether they think need you need the degree to launch a career.