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How Will Your College Degree Fare in Today's Tough Job Market?

Janet Mayes had a bachelor’s degree to practice as a physician’s assistant, 35 years clinical experience, and paying work, but still she felt compelled to earn a master’s degree. As Mayes explains in her article “Why I Got a Master’s Degree,” published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physicians Assistants, she feared credential creep would one day do her out of a job.You may have chosen the perfect major to fit your career interests, but your degree may not land you the position you want. Some working college grads are taking on advanced study to help ensure they’re in line for their dream jobs. Others are foregoing the job market altogether to enhance their resumes with a graduate degree.

What Is Credential Creep?
Also known as ‘credential inflation,’ credential creep is when employment requirements tend to inch higher. No doubt this process is sweeping across the U.S. job market. Jobweb predicts that employers will take on 17.4 percent more new college graduates from the class of 2007 than they did from the class of 2006. This rise represents the fourth straight year employers have reported a percentage increase in graduate hires.

Which Fields Face the Most Extreme Credential Inflation?
According a recent article published in the Center for Studies of Higher Education, the following fields are bringing about enforced credential inflation by modifying the official requirements for professional practice:

������� The American Occupational Therapy Association began to require a master’s degree for professional practice as of January 2007. Physical therapy seems poised to make a similar move.
������� Dietetics has imposed a 27 unit post-BA requirement.
������� The National Athletic Training Association (NATA) has bumped up its requirements for sitting the national exam. Students must now have graduated from an accredited program.
������� Sports medicine programs have begun demanding a doctorate from faculty heading university programs. Rather than the previous Ed.D., the Ph.D. has become the gold standard.

Can Employers Really Demand Ever Greater Qualifications from Applicants?
Yes, they can. Each year the pool of job applicants grows more competitive, and the more qualified the applicants for posts, the more demanding employers can afford to be. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 saw a record-breaking 85+ percent of U.S. adults age 25 and over completing at least high school. That same year, over one fourth of adults age 25 and over had earned a college degree. That’s 1 in every 4 people coming onto the market with at least an undergraduate degree.

No doubt, every year job applicants must learn more to earn more. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has recently announced that approximately one in five new college graduates opt for grad school. A full 21.1 percent of 2005 bachelor degree graduates went on to pursue an advanced degree rather than brave the job market.

How to Ensure Job Security in Today’s World of Downsizing
Time and again, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports show salaries climbing with degree attainment and unemployment declining. BLS figures reveal that in 2000 (the most recent year for which such numbers are available) workers who have only a high school degree are three times more likely to face unemployment than those with a professional degree or PhD. According to the 2005 U.S. Census, almost 2 percent of those who have only a high school diploma made less than $2500 for the year, whereas only .02 percent of those with a master’s faced these below-poverty incomes. An advanced degree seems to fairly well stave off severe earning deficits.

Where’s the Big Money?
If you’re looking to do more than make ends meet, a recent report from the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau makes a strong case for an advanced degree. The department found a master’s degree is worth $1.3 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school diploma. The report suggests that over your working life, with a high school diploma you can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; with a bachelor’s degree, $2.1 million; and with a master’s degree, $2.5 million.

In particular, the MBA works a bit of fiscal magic. Career Journal reports that by bringing together on-the-job experience with a new MBA degree, grads find themselves with rapidly escalating salaries. Recent graduates of an MBA program who had less than three year’s experience turned their previous average yearly income of $40,606 into $68,231, plus a sweet $12,874 hiring bonus. Six years’ experience turned an annual $55,454 wage into $89,326, along with that signing bonus of $12K. More than six years’ related experience with a spanking new MBA degree turned $70,510 into $97,736.

The #1 Reason to Get an Advanced Degree
An advanced degree will likely give your lifetime earning potential a shot in the arm. But the number one reason to pursue further education is to boost your job satisfaction, and earnings alone won’t achieve this. Economists John Helliwell and Haifang Huang at the University of British Columbia recently researched reasons for job satisfaction and found that, indeed, you can’t buy happiness. If you move from the bottom to the top of the income scale, you’ll likely experience an improvement that amounts to less than a point on a 10-point scale with respect to your overall satisfaction with life.

Rather than bankroll, non-financial job characteristics add the most to feelings of well-being in the workplace. Having a job that offers an ample variety of projects and one that calls for considerable skill both ranked in the top five as sources of job satisfaction. With an advanced degree comes the increased know-how needed to take on various challenging projects. Employees who have proven themselves in a graduate program are probably more likely to engender employer trust when it comes time to hand out the most demanding assignments. Some of the most stimulating professional tasks often out-and-out require that the person awarded the responsibility have an advanced degree.

John Dockall, now a working archaeologist with over twenty years experience, says in his article “Why I Went to Graduate School,” published on About.com, that he pursued advanced study to fulfil his career goals. Earning both an MA and a PhD, he wanted the level of responsibility that comes from the highest professional qualification. In graduate school, for example, Dockall got some CRM experience, along with the more traditional aspects of archaeology, and his current post draws on both.

While you may thrive on a challenge, you do want to bring home a healthy wage for your efforts. A BA might not do the trick. The 2006 Economic Report of the President revealed that earnings for workers with a bachelor’s degree dropped between 2000-2004. A few years back, you could rely on a BA for entry into the middle class, but those days seem to be quickly passing. An undergraduate degree no longer swings open the door onto the good life. Staying the course for an advanced degree seems the safer, and ultimately more satisfying, route.

Publish date: September 18, 2007