There is a curious phenomenon going on in Higher Education today: The One Year Master’s Degree. Ten years ago a Master’s degree meant something and required a two or three year commitment to be in class, on campus, in a traditional brick-and-mortar university.

Today you can get a Master’s degree at a high-level private university in eight months and in many programs half of that time is spent in an “internship” role where scholarly writing, testing and in-class discourse are all discounted in favor of “Real World” experience. Has the Master’s degree replaced the high school diploma as the minimum bar of acceptance for a good paying mainstream job?

Have we lost any of the methodology or the teaching merit in the awarding of a cheapened M.A. where that degree once meant advanced study and learning instead of an extended internship opportunity? How did this cheapening of the M.A. happen?

Did online universities — with their homestudy and credits for “life experience” — hasten the traditional university’s entrance into the Master’s degree diploma mill where you pay to play with an advanced degree? Does a One Year Master discount and decay those who spent two or three years earning the same “degree” in a more traditional Master’s program? Do advanced degrees mean anything anymore?

Or is it all a game of masquerade and deception meant to equalize society while separating minds? How far away are we from the 10-Minute, Over-the-Phone, Ph.D.?

20 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    I know in my area that if someone is applying for certain jobs it is better to not be “overeducated” because employers will assume that the person won’t want to stick around because they’ll get bored.
    Local columnist Jim Gordon wrote about the phenomenon:

    During my own job search over the last six months, I’ve often wondered if I ought not revise my own resume to withhold a bit of information. I think that the fact that I have a doctoral degree might put off nonacademic prospective employers, and I won’t include it on my sheet unless I apply for a college job or unless an application specifically asks the highest level of education achieved.

    While it is great that there are more higher education programs available for people, we need to be careful that we don’t end up with people who are saddled with tons of debt who aren’t able to do anything with their advanced degrees because employers are afraid to hire these people.

  2. Hi David,
    I think that MBAs especially are becoming rather commonplace. Further, the quality is diminishing as the quantity increases.
    I mentioned in a comment on a previous article– I think it was Katha’s recent one on education– that I worked with a girl who was recently graduated with an MBA and could not construct a simple sentence.
    It’s really scary that you can get the paper from some bogus institution in the Caymens or elsewhere as long as you have a few hundred dollars you’re willing to shell out.
    Donna

  3. Chris —
    There is, certainly, the danger of being “over-qualified” in the marketplace. People in positions of power want to continue to feel that way and to hire your competition can be a dangerous threat to the perpetuation of a livelihood.
    You really do need to fine tune your C.V. or resume to meet the needs of a job in question just enough so as not to be a threat.

  4. Hi Donna —
    There are places online — Online American “university” diploma mills that will give you an MBA for $3,000 in “tuition.” Even some of the name brand universities are moving virtual in order to pluck from the golden internet pot.

  5. Hi David,
    I don’t have a problem with virtual learning, but of course do have a problem with “institutes” that will give a piece of paper that was not earned in exchange for cash.
    Regarding life experience equivalents, my sister got a “quick” undergraduate degree when her job was put in jeopardy for not having a four-year degree. Over half the requirements were writing up life experiences. In fact, that was most of what she did. She was able to obtain the degree by attending night classes that met once a week for four hours for one and a half years.
    She ended up with a degree in “organizational management.” It at least covered her as far as her job went. And she did not have to spend years going to night school. The college that issued the degree was reputable.
    From an academic standpoint, though, I don’t think it was the equivalent of a four-year degree earned in the traditional way. How could it be, with that kind of time spent?
    Donna

  6. Donna!
    I agree with you! The sort of degree your sister has discounts the entire college learning experience — just as the GED discounts the high school meme. Education must have meaning beyond a job requirement and a piece of paper. Why should Adult Learning be any different than Teenage Learning?
    My MFA took three years and a research thesis. Few Masters degrees require any sort of formal writing now. My MFA is a terminal degree so I’m not too worried about any future degree requirements because I realize now it is all a big game of oneupmanship and it makes me sad to watch it unfold in the burdening of debt on young lives.

  7. Hi David,
    When I decided to change careers and become a CPA, I had to make a choice. Since my undergraduate was in English, I had to have quite a number of accounting and business credits in order to sit for the exam. I could either take a bunch of undergraduate classes or get a masters in accounting. I decided to get a masters because I wanted the learning experience.
    The degree did not require a thesis, but I had oral and written comps that were tough.
    My point here is that my decision to get a masters involved a personal choice, not just one I made because of a job requirement. I wanted the satisfaction of having a masters for me– not just to tout it on a resume. Of course that was an added benefit, but as you discussed with Chris, it can sometimes mean overqualification because employers don’t want to pay you what you are worth.
    Education to me is very personal. I would not take anything for my degrees, but they are in my mind. I couldn’t tell you where my diplomas are– attic maybe?
    Donna
    Donna

  8. Hi Donna —
    I, too, value education. I am concerned that we put too much emphasis on the letters after a name and not on the purpose of the learning experience.
    Too many students are wrapped up in wanting field study and internships as replacements for testing and quantification of the learning.
    We are in danger of becoming a nation full of mindless coffee-getting interns while forgetting to learn the hard thought processes of those who have come before us.

  9. Hi David,
    The wildest experience I have ever had with “letters after the name” is when someone who shall remain nameless introduced herself to me as follows,
    “Hi, I’m Kathy Stupid, MBA, CPA.” and offered me her hand.
    I could not believe it. I thought it was a joke, but it was not. She was married to a phd who also like to inform everyone on the planet he had his doctorate. He would sign letters to the editor Dr. Stupid, implying he was a medical doctor or vet, when the letter had nothing to do with his field of study.
    These have to be the most insecure people I have ever met.
    Another vain person I know had the audacity to have CPA on her vanity license plate. I hate vanity plates. They are so pretentious and silly!
    Donna

  10. Funny stories, Donna!
    I love the MDs who then, because of low self-esteem, go on to get a PhD so they can have both “MD, PhD” after their name! It’s all a big stoopid game and I bet in 10 years when everyone is required to have a PhD just to deliver a box for UPS or to haul garbage to the landfill, there will be a SuperPhD and an UberMD degree just waiting to be had but, of course, it will take four years to earn and cost $1,000,000.00 USD in tuition. 😀

  11. Hi David,
    Cut the tuition in half and offer them at Boles University. Maybe they could earn them in a weekend, through another course in Savant Speedreading, which would increase their appeal. 😀
    Donna

  12. Ha! I love the idea, Donna!
    Boles University is definitely a fine learning portal — but we don’t pretend to be in the diploma mill business and we state clearly you’ll only end up with a better mind from us and not a meaningless piece of paper. 😀

  13. Hi Donna,
    The medical profession is huge on making sure people know exactly what degree someone has obtained. When I’ve looked at my wife’s physical therapy publications, people will always make sure to put their academic credentials behind their names, i.e. PT or MSPT or DPT. I’ve also noticed that attorneys who are also medical professionals like to do this as well with a RN, JD or BSN, JD behind their names. (There’s even a website for an attorney who is also a nurse with the following credentials following her name: DNPc, MS, CNS, APRN, BC, PMH-NP, MBA, JD).
    It’s similar to the religious who are members of various orders.

  14. Hi Chris,
    Wow! I need a chart to figure that last one out.
    I can understand someone who would want to push their credentials in business, as an author, or on a resume, but I cannot endorse the superficial touting of the alphabet.
    Geico needs to come out with a new commercial– So easy a PhD can do it!
    This last comment with apologies to those who have legitimate claims to the doctoral, can function outside their realm of expertise and don’t have the inclination to wear it on their sleeve. Katha, you are definitely excepted!
    Donna