Degrees – Useful or Misrepresentational

Something interesting came up the other day.  It was suggested that I get an advanced degree.  My first thought was, “ack, more school”.  My second thought was, “What degree could I get that I don’t already know enough about?”

I have some 39 hours towards an MBA, I just never finished.  I’ve taken graduate level education courses.  I’ve taken graduate level science courses.  By now, I can learn more on my own and learn it faster, with less wasted effort than I could in a classroom.

That got me to thinking about what a degree really is and why so much effort is placed on them.

A degree is a measure of really only one thing.  The ability to persevere.  That’s it.  It doesn’t matter what job you eventually go into (and many students do not go into fields in which they have a degree) every job has to train you on what you need to know.

Sure, there are fundamental basics that everyone needs to know.  How to read, do math, etc.  And I freely admit that some degrees provide a lot of directly relevant training.  Of course, most of those are technical degrees (like auto mechanics or nursing) that have little relevance beyond that field.

Consider something like Psychology.  I know many, many people who have degrees in Psychology and none of them work in psychology.  There are store managers, business executives, IT people, etc.  But no psychologists or even counselors.

Unfortunately, industry puts so much emphasis on college degrees and so many businesses are involved in generating college degrees that they are just about useless as a measure of the person with the degree.

When I got my bachelor’s degree, MBA schools were actually uncommon.  You had to want to go deep into business for an MBA.  Now, with every college having an MBA program and every Unibiz* promoting specialist MBAs, you can’t get a job as a junior level manager without an MBA.

But is it really helping?  Honestly ask yourself who would you rather have running your business?  A brand new MBA with no work experience or a guy with a Bachelor’s degree and a few years of experience in the area?

Which brings me back to my conundrum.

To me, an advanced degree is a waste of money.  I know as much as an MBA, I just don’t have the piece of paper.  I know more science than most science graduates.  I’m certainly more well-rounded than most people in a specialized program.  I actually have more college hours than most Master’s degree graduates (and probably a few Ph.D. students).

Yet, I will be passed on for promotion and lose opportunities because I don’t get an advanced degree.

OTOH, If I get an advanced degree, then I will also lose opportunities because an advanced degree with my experience and knowledge means that I have to be paid a premium and no business wants to do that.

Either way, I’m screwed.  I might as well do the things that make me happy and learning is one of those things.  Just not learning in a formal classroom setting.


* For-profit universities and colleges.

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3 Responses to Degrees – Useful or Misrepresentational

  1. I did not finish my PhD, but like you I’m doing quite well without. Though I occasional still think about going back to finish, it’s really not practical or necessary. A PhD could get me a teaching job, but that would mean a pay-cut and a long struggle with the tenure system. Someday I may consider retiring to a community college teaching job, for which I should be well qualified. There is some matter of pride – I would really have liked to have finished – but pride is not a good reason to subject my family to the stresses of going back to school.

  2. Sophist says:

    I will try to address this as delicately as possible as I’ve had this discussion (argument) with my brother many times. A degree is only relevant if you’re going to use it. I’m in the process of finishing my third graduate degree. Every single one I’ve used to move up the ladder or change careers into greener pastures. I’m a farily bright person, my brother is obviously my intellectual superior and he’s completed maybe 2 semesters of undergraduate work. Now the story could stop here if he were happy and doing what he loves. Sadly, that is not the case. He’s never had a career, but held many different jobs over the last 30 years. He’s bitter and can not abide the limitations that are placed upon him due to his lack of degree. He reads and studies on his own and could easily satisfy the requirements for many management-level and technical positions but the consequences are obvious. I’ve told him repeatedly to bite the bullet and do it, but he refuses to accept the reality that people less educated or intelligent then himself should be able to dictate this course of action.

    His case is extreme, but it underlines my primary point. A degree is what you make of it. It is a tool, nothing more. Knowledge can be gained easily and it is nearly free. Unless you intend to use a degree for a specific purpose, don’t waste the time and money, but at the same time don’t let the time and money (or other considerations) constrain you if you have achievable goals in mind. If I were to remove the need to make money from the equation, I may not have a single completed degree. I would probably be the perpetual student, learning enough about a specific subject to satisfy my curiousity and then moving on to learn something new. Unfortunately, from my perspective, that’s not how the world works.

  3. ogremkv says:

    Sophist, I agree with you. But the point of my article was more about how others (industry for example) perceive the degree than how or whether it is actually beneficial.
    For example, would you rather hire a new MBA graduate with no experience or a guy with a bachelor’s and 2-3 years experience.
    Unfortunately, most businesses will hire the MBA.

    Of course, the other side of the coin is whether businesses (especially schools) avoid hiring MBAs because they think they can’t afford paying the extra money for a Master’s degree… especially with a person with no experience.

    Personally, I’m perfectly happy where I am. I am planning on moving up the ladder as high as I can get in a non-management role. I’ve been a manager and hated it.

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