Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What's a Master's Degree Worth?

The New York Times, in it's Room for Debate section, focuses on how much a master's degree is worth to prospective job-seekers in today's market. Based on the cost of a post-graduate degree and the time expended acquiring it, not surprisingly, the verdict isn't good. Like everything else in today's economy, a master's degree has lost a bit of it's sheen in terms of salary boost and hiring benefit.

I'm not worried. It's an argument I've heard before. People incur heinous amounts of student loan debt (yours truly included) to get a master's, then find it wasn't the ticket to wealth and success they expected. To which I have only one thing to say.

Boo-fucking-hoo for you.

If you're going to grad school solely to earn the big bucks, you deserve to be left in the cold. Let me explain to you the purpose of education -- all education, lower, higher and otherwise. Education isn't so that you can have something calligraphied and pretty to hang on your wall. Education isn't something you can write down on a resume so that the guy in the $1200 suit will be impressed with you. Education isn't so that you can say that you did something smart once.

Education is supposed to change you. It's supposed to open your mind and broaden your spirit and show you the possibilities of the world. It's designed to take you some place you might never have thought to go, to push you and goad you and entice you to be better and grander than you ever hoped you could be. If you're doing it properly, you're not picking a grad school simply because you want a set of letters after your name. Granted, the letters are pretty bitchin'. I have checks that have my full legal name, followed by a stately (and expensively obtained) "M.F.A." Because I earned it. But I didn't earn the degree just to have it. I spent two years, writing, rewriting, reading, re-reading, workshopping and listening to other learned people speak on the topics I was trying to learn. I wanted to be a better writer. If I managed a teaching gig out of it, fine. If I didn't, if I never used that degree to get a job ever, those two years will never leave me.

As I apply for a spot in Pacifica's MA/PhD program in Mythology,, I would never think of spending the money on that degree simply so I could put a "Dr." in front of my name. When it all seems too daunting, too overwhelming, too difficult, I go back and look at the course curriculum, and I realize that's where I'm supposed to be. Not because of what having a PhD will earn me financially. But because of how the topics touch me spiritually, how the subject matters makes my imagination explode and sparkle, like a fireworks display.

The object of education is not to simply get education. It is to learn how to learn and go on learning until the end of your life. If you've toiled to get a master's that's proving worthless in the area of garnering employment, then you've wasted your time, the professors' time and the time of every student who matriculated with you. You've wasted your money and the government's money. You should have just learned how to weld instead.

In the words of the teen whore in Risky Business, "Go read a book, Joel. Go learn something."


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