August 30, 2010

Readers’ Forum: A matter of college degrees

Filed under: Heads up, Making money, Stuff I worry about, Success at Work

In the August 31, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I am making a career change to improve my life, and I plan to pursue a master’s degree. Any suggestions on how to proceed after I earn it? The U.S. News & World Report school rankings are out again, which reminds me that it seems to matter where your degree comes from. Do you have any tips on selecting the best grad programs for the best career payoff?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Magazine school rankings make great birdcage liners. For every edition of a magazine that ranks schools there are several articles that criticize the methodology. Perhaps more important, serious questions have been raised about the cost of higher education. Take a look at a recent USA Today report: Where’s all that college tuition money going?

It’s not just unclear which schools are “best,” but it’s not clear whether your tuition money is well-spent. I don’t think it’s even clear that you need additional education because, if you think about it carefully, you may not be the best judge.

When you buy education, you are certainly the customer, but you’re not the only customer… So what about that “other” customer who’s ultimately paying for your education—with a salary, after he hires you? The question the employer tries to answer is, Does the advanced degree mean better performance on the job?

(In the newsletter, I also discuss what to ask your target employer before you invest in that new degree.)

College degrees. Advanced degrees. MBA’s. Executive MBA’s. What about them?

Let’s take the matter of more learning off the table for a minute. More learning is good. But the question here is about value.

  1. DiplomaDo more degrees pay off? Are we all brainwashed to believe that more college degrees mean better careers and higher salaries? Sometimes I think it’s all about marketing. Schools tout their position in the rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and other magazines.  They promote the “value” of their degrees, but none will guarantee you a higher-level job or higher salary once you spend tens of thousands of dollars on the degree.
    (How silly, Nick! Schools can’t do that! Well, then why do they advertise and promote the correlation between degrees and earnings?)
  2. Do you get what you pay for? A scathing new book by political science professor Andrew Hacker (Queens College, New York) and Claudia Dreifus (Columbia University) tears into exorbitant college tuitions and accuses schools of spending students’ money in all the wrong places — and least of all on delivering education. Higher education: How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids contends that the price of your degree is wildly inflated because schools don’t apply the tuition dollars you pay them to educate you.

A special case of degrees is the MBA and the EMBA (Executive MBA). We discussed this in Should you get an MBA? I also covered the topic in a special edition of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter: How executive MBA’s do it, where I suggested that a job candidate’s initiative might trump any degree. (I wrote the latter article after I gave the keynote presentation to the career center directors of 30 of the top MBA schools in the world. Many of them read this blog — and I’d love their comments especially!)

What’s your experience? If you’re a manager or a coach, what’s your advice? Do higher degrees pay off? Would you invest in another degree?


53 Comments on “Readers’ Forum: A matter of college degrees”
By Unemployed and Clinically Depressed in the Midwest
October 24, 2010 at 8:55 am

to Linda Fox

I’m more than a day late and a dollar short, but thank you for the encouragement.

As of September 20, I’m employed entry-level while I figure out what I want to be when I grow up. After being out of work for a year and a half, the hands-on skills in nearly four decades of warehousing are coming back to me.

It’s a rough and tumble world for a guy pushing sixty, but I’m starting to feel useful again.

As I go through my piles of papers in my home office, I’m amazed at what I was paying attention to in the early 70’s. Somewhere in this town, someone needs those skills, degree or not.

Take care, and thanks again.

By don harkness
October 24, 2010 at 3:19 pm

to Unemployed & Clinically etc

As I mentioned before at pushing 60 you’re just a kid with a lot of gratifying work life ahead of you. Just think of it as hitting the reset button, as you said figuring out what you want to be when you grow up and work you’re way to where you get satisfaction.
In my travels after my last layoff from hi tech America and unemployment benefits, I did a stint as a cashier at Home Depot. This was from 6 figure base to 8.90 cents per hour, part time at 1st.
the money wasn’t an issue of course. But the sheer good vibes of doing something ,having somewhere to go, being challenged was a good attitude and confidence boost.
From that I sustained a renewed job search with the underlying feeling..hey I’m working so I have the luxury of assessing the potential employer and presenting myself as I wanted …old but with knowhow, if you don’t want to buy, no problem, but likewise I may not want to buy you.
You’ll get there and perhaps change that name to re-energized in the mid west. Don

By Unemployed and Clinically Depressed in the Midwest
October 25, 2010 at 6:16 am

Thank you very much, Don.

Last week, I did start hitting my stride again.

And yes, I do understand the value of being able to assess future employers a little more carefully now that some funds are rolling in.

Take care.

UCD, soon to be REM

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