SHIFTING HIGHER EDUCATION NORMS FOR PROFESSIONAL POSITIONS
by Greg Fall (updated and reprinted with permission from 2012 e-article)
A master’s degree is the new normal professional and senior level positions.
60 years ago, if you had a high school diploma, you still had a possibility of rising through the ranks of a corporation. 40 years ago, you were all but required to have a bachelor’s degree to move through the ranks. 25 years ago, the master’s degree began its climb to replace the bachelors as the new norm. Today, in many sectors of the employment marketplace, you will not have much upward mobility in professional or senior positions without a master’s degree.
Consider the numbers.
In 1982, 1.5 million Americans earned a bachelor’s degree or above. In 2006, 2 million Americans earned a bachelor’s degree or above. A reasonable increase of degrees over 24 years. But a closer examination of what's behind the numbers reveals another trend.
In 1982, 12% of these degrees were masters level or higher. In 2006, 25% of these degrees were masters level or higher. In 2015, it is estimated that in excess of 33% will be advanced degrees.
In addition, since 1982, higher education costs have also skyrocketed and employers are picking up less of the tab. The responsibility is all yours.
In the senior management ranks, since 1990, the % of corporate vice presidents holding advanced degrees has risen from about 15% to more than 30%. In some sectors of the economy – such as higher education and health care – it routinely tops 50% or more. By the way, many employers are also requiring an advanced degree related to the position function.
What to do? Especially if a job search is imminent and you don’t have the time, finances, or inclination to get your second masters or even your first? A few possible strategies …
Industry and Position Research: Take a sampling of advertisements for open positions you might be interested in and include educational requirement questions when you conduct informational interviews. Adjust your search parameters accordingly.
University Certificate Programs: Consider the increasingly mainstream 4-6 course certificate programs specific to your area of interest/specialty. Many are online and/or from top graduate schools. A certificate can be a powerful supplement to an existing master's or, if you are without a masters, it may just earn you an interview ticket to a position opening with “master’s degree preferred.” Note: if you go this route, choose your first couple courses for maximum impact and research to determine if the courses could later be counted towards a masters.
Professional Certificate Programs and Courses: American Management Association, American Marketing Association, AICPA, SHRM, IEEE, ASME, and ASQ are representative of the hundreds of respected professional associations offering top flight, recognized certificates and training. Some certificates can even be earned by passing a test (I strongly recommend you take a study review class in these cases).
University-Level Continuing Education Seminars/Certificate Programs: Typically high quality and often instructed by industry experts holding masters and doctorates, these one- or two- day, cost effective seminars are less focused on theory and more focused on real world application. While far removed from a master’s degree, these are quick resume boosters and, more importantly, can offer immediate dividends in terms of coming up-to-speed on technical jargon and current best practices; their impact is immediate.
NOTE: As a bonus feature, remember that all advanced education and training classes provide a built-in opportunity for making new networking contacts.