Sunday Times: Master’s = New Bachelors?

As I caught up with a family friend last week, she mentioned that her recent college grad is about to, “start looking for employment.  At least that’s my story for her.  She may have a different one if you ask her.”  And indeed she may, since the trend is towards the Master’s as the new Bachelor’s, according to the New York Times.

A combination of factors–economic, certainly, but perhaps not exclusively–are creating what the author called “credential inflation,” a drive for a master’s degree just to get your foot in the door with an employer.

I can’t help but notice the cyclical nature of the issue:  we accuse college students and recent grads of being commitment-phobes, unwilling to settle in and work hard and be responsible.  But if they can’t find the types of jobs to settle into, but instead have to head to school for two or more years, they defer the very thing we claim we want from them.  All along, we’re the ones not giving them the opportunities or training that will facilitate it in the first place.

I also find myself questioning who really gains from this shift.  Is there as much upside for the students themselves as for the school or company?  One makes money off the tuition, the other doesn’t have to bother growing up an entry level person.  And the young person?  Well, at best they hone some skills and deepend their understanding of their fields.  At worst, they go further into debt while working on “internships built into many of these degrees [that] look suspiciously like old-fashioned on-the-job training.”

“The beneficiaries are the colleges and the employers,'” says the article, “Employers get employees with more training (that they don’t pay for), and universities fill seats… [It] can be a ‘cash cow’ because it draws on existing faculty (“we give them a little extra money to do an overload”) and they charge higher tuition than for undergraduate work.”

More significantly, various researchers tell us that adolescence is extending.  A season that used to end at age 18 now lasts well into the twenties.  Usually, a twenty-something ‘counts’ as an adult when they make choices that demonstrate adulthood (I hear you saying, ‘Duh.’ I just want to be clear.)  As Chap Clark says, “Adolescence starts in biology and ends in culture.”  When universities create umpteen new master’s degrees and companies hold off on hiring young people, they can perpetuate a postponing of adulthood.

For those of us who work with adolescents of all seasons, our charge is to help them take the next faithful step in becoming the people God wants them to be.  So what do you think?  Does God want them to reach adulthood anytime soon?  Or is the slow process just fine?  And are we in a chicken-and-egg situation with this whole issue anyway?  Which came first: the young person not prepared for the workforce or the expensive master’s they claim will get them there?

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