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Is a Masters Degree Worth the Investment?

There are as many answers to this question as there are Masters Degree programs available. Opinions are rampant, but there is no hard evidence that provides a solid equation answering the question. But from any perspective, it's hard to argue that less education is more productive.

Generally the equivocating answer is, "It depends on the degree." An MBA or an engineering degree is going to make you more money on an annual basis than a Bachelors Degree in the same discipline. The increase in salary will pay for the increased cost of education, whether it's $30,000 for a Masters in Civil Engineering at a state school or $100,000 for an MBA program at an elite institution. But it's a matter of how long it will take you to pay back that money, how much of a psychological burden those loans are, and whether or not you could eventually achieve the same career status by working up through the ranks.

Many educational "experts" suggest that a Masters Degree in a liberal arts discipline simply isn't going to provide the additional income that will balance the educational investment. A New York Times series published in June of 2009 raised this issue in several erudite columns - all but one of which was written by a tenured university professor. It's easy to take an unblemished look at the Masters Degree market from within the ivy covered halls, but the view from the classroom - and from business human resources offices - isn't quite so cut and dried.

The MBA and the CPA have, until recently, been considered Teflon degrees that guaranteed quality employment upon graduation. Because most states require additional classroom credits for CPA status, it is essentially a Masters program today. However the jobs that have gone to entry level CPA and MBA candidates in the past are increasingly migrating offshore. MBA graduates in 2009 found that recruiting was down 10% from the previous year. Professor Robert Salomon at the NYU School of Business feels that 2010 will be worse. Certainly a good part of the reason is the feeble economy, but the fact that MBA students are graduating in hoards also has impacted the market.

Liberal Arts is a large catch-all that includes some fairly lucrative options. Some pundits seem to feel that a Masters Degree in the social sciences won't pay its way. Does that include psychology, or marriage and family counseling? Jobs in these fields can pay handsomely, as can counseling in an educational environment. Public school teachers generally need a Masters Degree; in many cases new teaching graduates are pursuing a career based on personal interest rather than income alone.

Many employers looking for entry level sales and marketing people are just as interested in an anthropology graduate as a business major. Successful businesses run on efficient, quality human interaction and often employers find those qualities more readily apparent in liberal arts majors with a broad perspective on the world. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows in a detailed, though dated, analysis that while Liberal Arts majors are hired at a lower pay scale than their counterparts in engineering and business, they are still hired and often over the course of a career catch up on the salary scale as well.

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