Thursday, December 20, 2012

Understand the Variable Value of a Masters Degree


As the economy slowly recovers from a recession that has crippled the job market for the last four years, American employers are preparing to hire more college graduates. While job growth is being reported across employment sectors, some fields stand to increase their hiring more than others – and as a result, academic experts are urging students to choose their majors wisely.

According to
Job Outlook 2013, a report compiled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), companies and organizations plan to hire 13 percent more graduates from the Class of 2013 than students who earned their degrees one year earlier. According to Marilyn Mackes, the executive director of NACE, industries projected to increase their hiring most substantially include STEM-related fields like chemical/pharmaceutical manufacturing and computer and electronics manufacturing, and business-oriented fields like retail trade, finance and management consulting. “While employers are seeking graduates from a broad range of disciplines, this fall they expressed particular interest in hiring new graduates with business, computer science, and engineering-related degrees and are looking to college campuses to supply their hiring needs,” she said.

In addition, Christopher Matthews of TIME recently wrote about several
burgeoning fields that show strong projected growth over the next five years. One of these fields is 3D printing, which grew less than 9 percent between 2002 and 2012, but is now expected to increase employment opportunities by 17 percent over the next five years. Another burgeoning sector is sustainable construction; fueled by the recent “green movement,” green homebuilding is expected to grow 22.8 percent by 2017, while solar panel manufacturing projects a five-year growth rate of 8.2 percent. Another recent trend, online technology, indicates strong growth over the next five years – particularly the field of social network game development, which expanded by 128 percent over the last decade and is expected to grow 22 percent by 2017.

In order to capitalize on the hiring boom in these sectors, Forbes contributor Jacquelyn Smith urges graduate students to
select a master’s degree program that will make them attractive to prospective employers. Computer science, for instance, boasts a median mid-level salary of $109,000 and a projected growth rate of 22.9 percent. Other science - and
technology - related fields of study dominate her “best majors” list, such as electrical engineering, mathematics, information systems and physics.

However, she notes that a master’s degree is not necessary to thrive in other STEM-oriented sectors. Graduate-level degrees in biology and chemistry are not always sound investments, she argues, because the cost of tuition often outweighs the potential income gains students stand to earn. Another problematic major for grad students is business; while MBA
earners stand to make a six-figure income after just a few years in the field, the corporate sector does not exhibit strong levels of projected job growth. There are usually more qualified candidates than there are available jobs, which leads to frustration and, often, debt.

Despite the expected hiring boom, one long-standing problem still lingers: minority groups are underrepresented at the post-undergraduate studies level. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), roughly 611,700 Americans earned a master’s degree (or its equivalent) during the 2009-10 academic year. Of these recipients, approximately 73 percent were white, 12.5 percent were black, 7 percent were Hispanic, 6.9 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander and less than 1 percent were Native American. An even stronger disparity could be seen at the doctoral studies level. Of the 140,505 American students who earned a Ph.D. in 2009-10, 74 percent were white, 7 percent were black, 5.8
percent were Hispanic, 11.8 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander and less than 1 percent were Native American. While these most recent figures reflect a gradual shift toward on-campus diversity over the last decade, experts argue that minority groups still comprise an insufficient percentage of today’s collegiate population.

Josh Oppenheimer of The Daily Princetonian recently noted some of the
reasons behind the graduate-level racial imbalance. Many students belonging to underrepresented minority groups (such as African-Americans or Hispanics) grow up in low-income neighborhoods with inadequate schools, and deficient education hinders their academic progress. These individuals are also less likely to have relatives or close friends who have earned master’s or doctoral degrees, and lack of information about these programs may cause many to forego graduate studies. Eddie Glaude, a professor of African-American Studies at Princeton, told Oppenheimer that graduate schools should emphasize their diverse campus communities and programs in order to attract multi-racial applicants. “If the department is committed to diversity, then the graduate students will come,” he said.
As hiring increases across the national job market, college recruiters now face the task of improving diversity in American graduate programs. In order for the economy to fully recover, U.S. students belonging to all minority groups must receive an advanced education in equal number and positively contribute to the country’s workforce.

Unemployment continues to be a major national problem, as this blog and others have covered extensively in recent months. In the article below, writer Sophia Foster looks at how modern college and graduate school students may be able to beat the odds by being strategic in their choice of major and degree program. Ms. Foster has published extensively on how masters education can help students in hard economic times, and her advice should be beneficial to a range of readers.  Ms. Foster is a writer and researcher for Feel free to check more of her writing!