After four years, we still hold the one-year Masters degree in utter disdain. I recently learned that an old adjunct friend of mine was forced to get an MFA degree — a Master of Fine Arts — in order to keep her college teaching job.
My MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. We had to take two years of in-person, full-load, semesters of courses, plus writing plays during the day and serving on university productions at night, followed by an entire year of internships. For three years, the School of the Arts owned us. We didn’t breathe, walk, sleep, eat or drink without departmental permission.
That rigid program of study was intended to make us experts in our field. An MFA is, unlike a Master’s degree — a terminal degree — meaning that it carries the weight of not only intellectual proficiency, but one of technical perfection as well. Unfortunately, today, the Columbia MFA is now just a two year program.
My friend told me she found an online MFA program in Creative Writing from a small, East Coast, liberal arts college that allowed her to get her MFA in less than a year.
She served a two week “residency” on campus, she called it a “vacation in a fancy dorm” and paid $14,000 for a year of online tuition and handed in her creative writing as her Master’s thesis that she wrote years ago and — Poof! — in 10 months she had an MFA diploma in hand, equalling mine, on paper at least, by graduating from a school that has zero respect for the actual degree they are granting.
I understand my friend was playing the credentialism game, and who can blame her from wanting to keep her teaching job by providing her school with a piece of paper from another college — but when you cheapen the MFA, as my friend has in her “two week vacation” MFA, you call into question the integrity of the entire degree-granting program at schools across the nation.
That degradation of the Master’s degree is done to preserve the sanctity of the PhD. A Bachelor’s degree is now the high school diploma, and since Universities are run by PhDs — I doubt if getting a PhD from a good school will ever be a one year program, because they need to protect their exclusivity by forsaking the lesser degrees — but in order to cleave and separate and elevate, employers and schools want people to be credentialed, and if you force people to go to school to get a job, or to keep a job, you make them spend money to grab that piece of paper, and the more people in your program the more power and money you have on campus and in the marketplace. Credentialism helps the schools — but it also threatens to make any degree-granting program a diploma mill.