Books for the News

The Master’s Degee: “The Stepchild of the University Community”

Over at the New York Times’ Room for Debate blog, the editors have assembled a star-studded panel to discuss the age old question: What are master’s degrees worth? In this economic climate, many students are opting to stay in or return to the university system, rather than face unemployment or underemployment in the “real world.” But MA programs are rarely as well-funded as their PhD counterparts (indeed, many programs exist to fund doctorate students), and, upon graduation, newly-minted masters often face crippling student debt. So are MAs worth the cost?
One panelist, Mark C. Taylor, says, well, it depends. Taylor, a longtime Chicago author whose books include After God, Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World without Redemption, and The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture, last made waves in the pages of the Times in April when he called for the university to be “rigorously regulated and completely restructured.” Now, Taylor urges caveat emptor:

As a lifelong educator, I believe more education is always a good thing, but buyers must beware. The debt crisis is not limited to governments and universities but extends to students and their families. Far too many students come out of college with substantial debts that plague them for years.

While Taylor urges potential grad students to think carefully about their costs and critically about their needs, other panelists offer other viewpoints. One suggests that while MAs may not make you rich, they can make you more interesting (which sounds like a decent payoff to this masters of humanities degree holder); another says it’s probably not worth the debt; and yet another says it depends on the kind of degree.
Whether you are a doctor of philosophy or merely a master of humanity, you can find books here about higher education—as well as its discontents—from Chicago. For those determined to make a go of it in the ivory tower, check out The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School through Tenure and read this handy guide to entering graduate school. But, of course, if you’ve been there, done that, and are now thinking, “Now what?,” Susan Basalla and Maggie Debeliu”s guide to life beyond the doctorate, “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia, may be the better guide for your academic afterlife. Whichever route you chose, we have the books to help you along your way.