The Value Of A Masters Degree

A Master’s degree traditionally carries an honorable, intelligent and prestigious clout; however, the value of this clout is a moot point.

            To some, a Master’s degree is a sign of intellectual superiority, but to others it could simply be a framed piece of paper that needs to be dusted regularly. There are many pros and cons to pursuing a Master’s degree, and it would be wise for students to make the decision of whether they will pursue one early.

 As the economy plummets, the interest in graduate programs increases.

            Mark Taylor, chairman of the religion department at Columbia University, wrote a testimonial published online through The New York Times. Taylor claimed that only 19 percent of students from the 2009 graduating class found jobs immediately out of college. He wrote that many young people in the professional workforce are fired early into their careers. These people, along with the graduating students unable to find jobs, will consider earning a Master’s degree.

            Taylor warned students of the excessive costs of pursuing a sometimes worthless Master’s degree. “As a lifelong educator, I believe more education is always a good thing, but buyers must beware,” wrote Taylor, who is the author of “Field Notes From Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living.” “Far too many students come out of college with substantial debts that plague them for years.”

            He also noted that the situation is different for every student. “Some graduate degree programs can be very helpful for certain careers but many are not,” wrote Taylor. “And, remember, what is most interesting is not always most practical. Be sure you consider your motives and goals carefully. Do not simply assume that another degree after your name is going to open doors.”

            Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus and professor of public services at George Washington University, also wrote a testimonial to The New York Times. He wrote that a Master’s Degree is an “upgrade”.

            “If you originally matriculated at a college you are vaguely uneasy about, taking an M.A. at a more elite institution allows you to kick down and kiss up, henceforth letting you tell people you ‘went to school’ in New Haven,” wrote Trachtenberg. “And it does, of course, ornament a resume indicating academic sitzfleisch — the ability to keep your behind in a chair in a diligent manner.”

            He also argued that a Master’s Degree allows one to alter directions in one’s career. Trachtenberg wrote that it is absolutely makes sense for a student to pursue a Master’s Degree in a bad job market only if the program’s cost is not too steep for that particular student.

            Liz Pulliam Weston, personal finance columnist for MSN Money, agreed with Trachtenberg arguing that “Graduate school has traditionally been a great place to wait out recessions while honing your skills for a better job. But sometimes, the payoff doesn’t justify the cost.”

            She outlined the benefits of certain degrees. She found that people with associate degrees earned more than those with a high school degree. She noted that a Bachelor’s degree at an inexpensive college is well worth it, and she discovered that professional degrees in law or medicine lead to a big payoff.

            She wrote that a Master’s degree in business or engineering fields enhances one’s income. However, in the liberal arts and social sciences fields do not augment one’s income.

            She also warned that students must be able to pay off their debt from graduate school.  “Otherwise, you could quite literally spend the rest of your life scraping to pay off your debt,” wrote Weston in her testimonial. “I hear from too many readers who have six-figure student loan debts and $40,000 incomes. They can’t save for retirement or buy a home; some can’t even pay the minimums they owe on their debt.”

            She also noted that students should take advantage of federal, student loans and not private loans because federal loans offer more protection.

            “I recommend students borrow no more for their educations, in total, than they expect to make the first year out of school,” wrote Weston.

            Weston is the author of “Easy Money,” “Your Credit Score” and “Deal with Your Debt.”

            Richard Vedder, director of the Center of College Affordability and Productivity and teaches economics at Ohio University, defended the Master’s degree. He noted that young adults with Master’s degrees earned about 15 percent more than those with a bachelor’s diploma.

            “The lifetime earnings gains for the second degree should reach into the low six digits,”
 wrote Vedder in his testimonial to The New York Times. “For many, the rate of return on the added college investment therefore should be reasonably high — and it beats unemployment or working in a low-skilled, low-wage retail trade job.”

            However, Vedder noted that the earnings will depend on the field of study. He raised the opportunity cost point that a student would face. The student could potentially forego two years in the workforce making money while pursuing a Master’s degree. He wrote that attaining a Master’s degree could cost a student up to $100,000.

            Ultimately, there are many reasons why students may choose to pursue a Master’s degree. Students should know their Master degree’s potential worth, and if they can afford its cost.

            In 2008, 65.6 percent of undergraduate students gaining a 4-year Bachelor’s degree accumulated some debt. The average debt for these students was $23,186, according to 86.3 percent took out federal loans, and the average debt for students with federal loans was $24,651. The average, accumulated debt rose by $1,139 at a 5.6 percent increase since 2004, according to

            FinAid also reported that graduate and professional students face larger debt, ranging from $30,000 to $120,000 for a graduate degree. The median debt for a Master’s degree is $25,000.  A doctoral degree’s debt is $52,000 and professional degree’s debt is $79,836.