Put Grad School within My Grasp

I feel her frustration.  I wanted to attend American’s program for Public Administration.  But considering I was in my late 20’s and had a full time job with financial debts, the cost to attend American was just not in my price range.  I know I could have looked for financial assistance beyond Stafford Loans, but I really did not to take the time.  All I knew was bachelor’s degrees were becoming obsolete and you needed a master’s degree to become better marketable. 

I knew for public administration/policy that American and GW were some of the best schools, but I decided to attend Bowie State University.  Bowie is not well known and it is not in the top 10.  It is an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) in Maryland.  And the best thing about Bowie is that the cost of my graduate program was only 6,000 a year (roughly 3,200 a semester).  One of my professors was also my advisor, had over 25 years of experience working in the Federal Government.  She held positions in the Senior Executive Service (the highest civilian pay scale for government employees) including Assistant Secretary of HUD (Audits and Policy Evaluation) and Assistant Director of a GAO Division.  She brought a wealth of knowledge to the classroom and I learned so much from her.  There were other professors there with resumes that complimented hers.  So I have never felt slighted because I didn’t go to a top 10 school.  I joined the main professional groups; American Society for Public Administration and came into with people from all over the country. I graduated in 2005 and now I am Management Specialist for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. 

I am telling this story to say that sometimes we may not be able to the top schools.  The young lady who wrote this letter chooses to attend American and since it is a private school, she has made the decision to take on the heavy debt and responsibility of attending that type of University.  That is perfectly ok.  But there are other alternatives, and they might not be what you were looking for, but the can and do work.  That means going to a school that may not be well known.  Something that I have learned along the way is to network because it is not so much what you know; but who you know.

Put Grad School within My Grasp

By Sui Lang Panoke

Is access to graduate education in America exclusively for the upper class?

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5 Responses

  1. My rule of thumb has usually been that if you have to pay for graduate school, then you probably shouldn’t go to graduate school (this does not include MBA programs, medical school, or law school where funding is rarely available no matter how qualified you are). My reasoning is that either (1) you aren’t viewed by the program as capable enough to merit funding or (2) the program is too weak to have any funds to provide for students. If you aren’t capable enough, then paying your money to get the degree is not likely to pay off in the future either because you will not complete the degree or your performance in the program will not be good enough to impress employers. If the program is so weak that it does not offer funding, then employers aren’t like to be impressed with your degree and it probably won’t pay off in the future. Either way, if you don’t get funding, then somebody is probably trying to send you a message that grad school might not be for you. Of course, people insist on going to grad school anyway and end up driving themselves into heavy debts. This is why every college and university under the sun is offering “graduate” degrees. It’s easy money. Unfortunately, many of the faculty at these programs are products of this same vicious cycle of ill-advised graduate education. What this has led to is the creation of a whole netherworld of second-tier graduate programs that add little value to society. People simply go to grad school for a credential so that they can make more money in their current jobs. All of this leads to degree inflation and the devaluing of graduate education. What is happening now is that graduate programs are dividing into programs/degrees that matter and programs/degrees that don’t matter. You are seeing the same thing in undergraduate education, as well.

  2. There would be a lot of people not attending graduate school, if they could only attend just because the school offered to pay for it. Not every University has the funding to cover tuition for students. What would that translate to? Is everyone who is not offered a stipend, scholarship or fellowship not supposed to attend graduate school? To imply that a University not offering to pay for someone’s graduate education means that they don’t want you in their program is a bit far fetched in my opinion.

    I chose to attend graduate school to expand my knowledge and to also gain the technical skills needed to apply to research in discipline. Not only did I learn how to conduct advanced research, but it forced me to retrain my mind thought, the way I examined problems. My research was also used in my Professor’s book that she published on the energy crisis in America. My professor also attended some of the top schools for public administration/policy in the country and is wealth of knowledge in the social science community. I paid for a large portion of my graduate degree and don’t have any regrets. One of the requirements for my position was a graduate degree and I am glad that I completed my program.

    American is a great school and I am sure that the graduate students they produce are not contributing to the devaluation of the “graduate” degree. I attended Bowie State University and all of my classmates I graduated with are in mid-top level non profit, Federal, State and Local level government positions. They are all top notch well qualified professionals and they all paid for their education out of pocket as well. So are we devaluing the graduate degree as well? Now they may be some Universities that don’t take their programs seriously, but they are in the minority.

  3. nativeson,

    I am not saying that all students who have paid for grad school are misguided. It is just a general rule of thumb. My point is that there are a ton of schools (many former undergraduate colleges) that suddenly have started to offer graduate degrees. One reason is because many employers require that applicants have masters degrees. The other is because grad programs provide another revenue stream for the university. My concern is that employers are forcing students to get more degrees when these degrees aren’t really necessary for their jobs. Twenty years ago, a bachelors degree was satisfactory. Suddenly, everybody needs a masters degree. Its unnecessary degree inflation. If colleges/universities said that they weren’t going to needlessly offer grad programs, then everybody wouldn’t have to go out and get more education to get a job. It smacks of credentialism. There are many more advanced degrees these days, but I doubt that we as a society are any smarter for it. An example is that you used to only need a high school degree to be a police officer. Now it is difficult to get a police officer job without a college degree. So now people have to go into debt to get a job that pays no more than it used to (adjusting for inflation). I know that social science researchers have found that people are going deeper into debt with education costs just to tread water economically. The writer of the washington post editorial wants the government to subsidise grad education, I would rather that we stop forcing students to get advanced degrees that are probably only marginally necessary for their jobs.

  4. I thought of a parallel example to education issue: house prices. Along with low interest rates and easy loan qualification criteria, politicians have made it their mission to get as many people as possible to buy a home. Bush calls it part of the “American dream” plan. I think Clinton said the same thing. The problem is that the more you subsidise people to get them into houses, the more unaffordable houses become. Simple supply and demand. The problem is that the people who get hurt the most in these kinds of situations are the poorest people. They might be able to get into a house, but they might lose a job or get divorced and suddenly they can’t afford the home anymore. All of this has made housing more expensive and harder on everyone, but especially the poor. What we have done in our society is make college mandatory for financial success. Even worse, now we make people go out and get graduate degrees. It never ends. The people hurt the most by this are poorer people.

  5. I just read you wrote. That is an interesting take on the situation. I do agree that if jobs would stop increasing the educational requirements maybe the number of peole seeking graduate degrees would decrease. Leaving only those who really want to go. I know I wanted to obtina an advance degree. You have made some very interesting points. Thanks for your insight.

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