Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Choice of a Masters Degree

There were 693,025 MA degree graduates for the year ending June 2010, the last year of complete data. The MA is still relatively small compared to 1.6 million BA degree candidates but the MA degree has the highest growth rate of degrees including the AA, BA, and Ph.D. From 1990 to 2010 it was 3.87 percent a year compared to the average for all degrees at 2.78 percent.

Completing a master’s degree can be a smart choice, but it is a different choice than entering and completing a BA degree. There are general benefits for the BA degree for all degree programs, but much less so for a master’s degree. The benefit of a master’s degree tends to be specific and attach to a career, and typically after a career is underway.

Education may be the best example because elementary and secondary teachers can begin a career with a BA degree, but most school districts publish pay schedules with step increases that depend on years of experience and education. Finishing an MA degree moves teachers to a higher pay scale and makes it easy to compare financial benefits with tuition. A master’s degree typically opens up other positions in education administration, counseling, and curriculum development as well. These advantages help explain why more than 26.3 percent of the 693 thousand master’s degrees for 2010 are in education.

The Masters in Business Administration ranks second with 25.6 percent of 2010 master’s degrees, just behind education. The MBA degree will surpass education in the near future because MBA growth rates exceed the master’s in education by a wide margin. The average annual increase reached 7,013 for the five years from 2005-2010, the highest increase for major degree categories.

Many start a career with a BA in business or in professions like engineering, information systems, architecture and design but return for an MBA degree after getting some on-the-job experience. However, part of the growth in the MBA results from the growth of the business BA degree itself, which reached 358 thousand in 2010. With so many BA business candidates compared to new jobs, finishing an MBA has become a strategy for narrowing the field of job applicants in the corporate job market.

Allied health professions hold third place with 69 thousand master’s degrees, 10.0 percent of the master’s total. A master’s degree in any health profession assures benefits in a health care career but even more than most master’s degrees the benefits do not transfer to careers outside the health care industry.

Master’s degrees in advanced nursing specialties had over 20 thousand master’s degrees in 2010, more than any other health profession. Nursing does not require a master’s degree, but nursing has a long career ladder with nursing specialties to pursue with master’s training: maternal nurse, pediatric nurse, critical care nurse, geriatric nurse and quite a few more. Other popular master’s degrees in allied health are 5,687 MA degrees in public health, 5,293 in health care administration and management, 4,244 in occupational therapy, 2,437 in audiology, and 2,056 in speech pathology.

Combined counseling and social work have just under 50 thousand master’s degrees, equal to 6.7 percent of the 2010 total. A career in a counseling specialty like mental health, education or family counseling requires a master’s degree and state license, which makes the master’s an entry degree. There were almost 24 thousand master’s degrees in psychology including over 7 thousand in just the counseling psychology specialty. Mental health counseling offered as part of allied health programs have another 6 thousand degrees.

Counseling work overlaps some with social work, an area where there were more social work master’s degrees than BA degrees: 19.6 thousand master’s degrees, 14.6 thousand BA degrees. Social workers provide support and assistance obtaining aid more than therapy or counseling, which lets the states be more flexible about license and credentials, but those planning a career in social work should expect to finish a master’s degree.

The four degree fields mentioned so far, education, business, allied health, counseling and social work, account for just over 68 percent of the master’s degrees in 2010. For people with careers in these fields a master’s degree will almost certainly be a smart choice.

Not all of the remaining 32 percent of degrees are as obviously connected to a career. These include 45 thousand master’s degrees in area, ethnic and cultural studies, multidisciplinary science, philosophy, history, social science, and visual and performing arts. There are another 17 thousand MA’s in English language and literature, foreign languages and literatures, liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities.

The 85 thousand master’s degree in the sciences: biology, life science, natural science, chemistry, physics, and in the professions: architecture, engineering, information systems, need the basic knowledge implied by a BA degree to enter these programs. For example, someone pursuing a master’s degree in engineering probably already has a BA in engineering and some work experience, which suggests they know what an MA can do for them.

A few master’s degree programs are tailored to those switching careers. Library science had 85 BA degrees and 7,448 master’s degrees for 2010, which makes it ideal for people from many other careers to start another. Public administration with almost 36 thousand MA degrees and theology with almost 13 thousand MA degrees have more master’s degrees than BA degrees also suggesting people enter these programs from other careers and backgrounds.

In the last few years many have finished BA degrees only to be plagued by delays moving into career employment. Some decide “I might as well go on for a master’s degree now while I wait to start a career.” That has a high risk to be a bad choice. It is not only expensive and diverts time and energy away from a job search, the many specialties and sub-specialties in master’s programs make it less likely that degree skills will match job needs, or advance a career to come in the future. To make a master’s degree pay and advance a career the evidence suggests the best choice is a career first, and a master’s degree later.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The New Geography of Jobs

The New Geography of Jobs, Enrico Moretti, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), 249 pages, $28.00

The New Geography of Jobs begins telling readers some anecdotal stories of people and cities that prospered and people and cities that did not. About midway into the Introduction we read “In this book, the focus is almost entirely on the forces that drive long-run trends.”

The book has seven chapters following the Introduction. Chapter 1 begins describing the long demise of manufacturing as staggering and “one of the most important facts in America’s economic history of the past six decades.” After a few pages the conversation turns to causes and what happened, but as the conversation moves along we read terms from economics like comparative advantage and the paradox of economic growth. As the chapter ends the decline becomes the inevitable result of markets, “The Tides of History.”

Pessimism turns to optimism in chapter two titled Smart Labor: Microchips, Movies, and Multipliers. The chapter starts with a story of Dominic Glynn of Pixar Animation studios as an example of talent and creativity that brings innovation and new jobs. Moretti tells readers the Internet sector has grown 634 percent in the past decade, but without telling us how many new jobs that created, nor providing a North American Industry Classification name or code that allows us to look up the government data he mentions.

As I read along I looked for ways to believe that jobs gains from innovation will be bigger than job losses in manufacturing, but I found more stories. Some are about innovators, some about places, others about economists who did studies, one about 300 percent growth of jobs in life science research, another about traded and non-traded sectors, and another about yoga, which became big business after actress Jennifer Aniston declared in People magazine that it “completely changed my life.” None of the stories helped me believe new jobs from innovation will meet America’s job requirements.

The next two chapters of eighty pages continue discussing people, companies, and new innovations in different cities. It starts with the success of Seattle and then on to Silicon Valley and other places. Several pages of charts associate cities with salaries and the percentage of workers with college degrees. Moretti finds a growing divergence of economic success among cities, which he associates with differences in life expectancy, family stability, political participation, and charitable giving.

Moretti labels successful hubs brain hubs that succeed from the benefits of agglomeration and thick labor markets, a term I never heard before, but he defines thick labor markets with a parable of Internet dating. In the parable one dating site has 100 women and 100 men, but another has 10 men and 10 women. Even though ratios are the same the “perfect” date is more likely at the bigger site. He concludes “Thick labor markets are better at matching employers with workers, and the ultimate match is closer to the ideal match.” With this we cannot disagree, even if we live in Paducah where the labor market may be thin.

Chapters five and six continue with short vignettes of success and failure and the inequality it generates for people and places. Moretti worries the lack of mobility and housing gentrification contributes to inequality and suggests moving vouchers for the unemployed. He wonders if there is help for poor cities like Flint and then begins a discussion of biotechnology and the benefits it brought to Cambridge, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area but he says “they were lucky.” They had “academic stars.” He wonders if universities can be an engine of growth but concludes “Overall my research suggests that the presence of a university is on average associated with a better-educated labor force and higher local wages.”

The last chapter wonders if America will prosper or decline, but predicts “cities with a large percentage of interconnected, highly educated workers will become the new factories where ideas and knowledge are forged.” After reviewing the returns to education back to 1964, the high cost of college, America’s low math scores, and the benefits of immigration, he ends citing Jane Jacobs from long ago and the process of destruction and regeneration, but no prediction on prosperity.

The book reads like an unedited transcript of cocktail conversation with topics and thoughts that zig n’ zag from one to another. Each paragraph turns into a new adventure. Questions raised in the text were seldom developed to any conclusion and the few that were often sound trivial. The text is sprinkled with economic terms along with superficial explanations that are unnecessary for economists but brief and inadequate for those who are not.

Despite dropping dozens of names and repeated references to data and studies there are no numbered footnotes anywhere in the text. Instead some notes at the back are listed by page number forcing readers to waste their time scanning notes to find if text was cited, or scanning text to find a note. Many notes have incomplete citations anyway: a title or author but no publisher, journal, page number or date. I am accustomed to standard footnote citations; I don’t believe in sources I cannot find.

I cannot recommend this book.