Do we really need higher education?

Mar 3, 2009 by

You can hardly avoid the stories in the news about the cost of college skyrocketing and more and more students losing out on a higher education because of those high costs. Frankly, I’m disgusted every time I see or read these stories.

College should not be a ‘luxury’ that only the rich can afford. It should be very cheap (or even free) and everyone who wants to should be able to attend. In short, an undergraduate education is something to which every American should be entitled. What’ s more, I think it is wrong and unfair that so many of us leave college saddled with huge loads of debt (one example: yours truly, who won’t be finished repaying student loans for another 23 years). What has happened in our society when it is acceptable to deny people an education?

But…by the same token, I am concerned with an elitist attitude toward education in the nonprofit sector. I recently heard a recruiter at a job search firm say that the first two things a potential employer looks at on an applicant’s resume is where the applicant currently works and where s/he went to college. According to this recruiter, there is a natural instinct for people to look for others who may have grown up near them or went to a familiar college. My question is what happens if that applicant doesn’t have a college listed? Or when s/he attended a college that isn’t ‘prestigious’? Does their resume automatically get thrown in the trash?

More broadly, why is there such a demand for more and more higher education? Now, I understand that living in DC means that I’m in a rarified environment of overeducated people all competing for the same jobs. But as someone with 7+ years in the sector and no master’s degree, I know that I am qualified for a broad range of jobs in middle and upper management. I think I’m more qualified than someone who has a master’s degree and 5 or 6 years of experience. Yet time and time again, the minimum requirement once you pass the assistant and associate levels is a graduate degree.

Dare I suggest that the reason employers demand graduate level education is because they don’t feel like putting in the time to assess an applicant’s real qualifications? If you receive a huge stack of applications, its much easier to throw out those from people who don’t have letters behind their name than to critically evaluate everyone’s experience and skills.  

Do I think that having a higher education can benefit nonprofit professionals (and most other people)? Yes. Do I think it’s fair to require young people to mortgage their entire future for a ridiculously expensive piece of paper just because we don’t ‘have the time’ to give them a chance? Not quite.

Did you like this post? Follow all my posts by bookmarking this page or subscribing to the RSS feed

Related Posts

Share This

  • Matt K

    Interesting thoughts. Of course many non-profits are hypocritical and despite the money you paid for education and how seriously they take it in the selection process, they still throw all the envelope stuffings, the company breakfast setup and cleanup, etc. at you on a regular basis. It shows how strained the sector is for resources espcially in times like these.

  • You’re definitely right Matt. I’ve had the thought more than a few times while envelope stuffing, making copies, moving furniture, etc. “is this what I paid over $100K for”? I sometimes wonder whether they have the opposite thought and wonder why they are paying you X number of dollars to do whatever menial task has been thrown your way.

    I try to look that kind of stuff as an opportunity these days. While it’s true that everyone can stuff an envelope, if you’re good at mail merge or at coaxing the fax/copy machine to work, everyone you work with will have to come to you to get it done. Then you are indispensible.

  • I definitely think there is something to be said for on-the-job training. I recently completed my BA in Economics, but work full-time as a Web Developer. I learned all of my web-related skills through an internship and personal projects. However, not having a degree in something related has made me feel pressured to get a Master’s in something related to web development. Of course, I’m from the DC area, so maybe I don’t need a Master’s Degree for jobs in other cities. It’s a difficult discussion to make.

    Thanks for your post! It made me think. 🙂

  • Hey Erin,
    I wonder sometimes too whether the pressure to get a master’s degree would be lessened outside of DC. At this point, I’m not ready to move, but it’s interesting to think about how the high level of educational achievement around here has a ripple effect.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the post! 🙂 Can I ask where you found out about it?

  • vl

    “Do I think it’s fair to require young people to mortgage their entire future for a ridiculously expensive piece of paper just because we don’t ‘have the time’ to give them a chance? Not quite.”

    Who gives a shit about your opinion? It is clearly the case so get a higher degree or get skipped over. Obviously an entitled females interpretation of the corporate world.

  • Vl: Thanks for your…interesting comment. I suggest that the next time you decide to comment, you first read not only the post, but the basic information about this blog. To whit: I don’t write about the corporate world, I write about nonprofits; I never said I wasn’t entitled; and this is a blog – the point is to express my opinion!

  • Kevin

    It is a difficult conclusion to come to, because there are valid arguements on both sides of the ledger. In looking back at my own career, a graduate degree, has helped me immesurably, but then I work in an environment that is heavily unionized and populated by social workers, so there seems to be a cultural bias for master’s degrees, especially the MSW. Outside of the social services/social work sector, I would argue that it would be important to earn a master’s degree while getting the experience in the sector. I beleive that this is important because many people, like you, are developing skills while climbing the ladder, but the master’s degree helps introduce skill sets, networks, and lines of thought that are not as easily acquired in the work place, such as exposure to certain organization and human resources management and research methods. However, more than anything else, I think what is being looked for is a credential signifying a commitment to developing skills and to the overall sector. The most common and most accepted is the master’s degree, however, the American Society for Association Executives offers their certified association executive designation. This is also well reguarded. I think if you were to look at your portion of the nonprofit sector, you would see the trends that are most commonly accepted. You have the choice of either accepting the trend as the way the work or work to become absolutely crucial to the success of the organization in order to succeed.

  • @Kevin – I don’t question the inherent value of a graduate education (well, mostly); what I do question is the notion that it is ‘necessary’ in completing certain jobs. In my particular area of expertise, which is organizing, outreach and movement-building, the experience is what carries you through each campaign. While social movement theory is interesting and may be helpful, the books professors tend to use for classes are hopelessly outdated (um…hello internet!). I think I could learn from them, but I really doubt that reading a few books and writing yet more useless papers would make me so much better at my job that I would be more qualified than someone who hadn’t. However, that likely does not apply to those in different job roles or areas (like social work).

    I’d like to find a graduate program that works hard to relate the academic learning to real-life experiences. At least then it would be easier for me to see the connections with my own work and experience.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Marianna

    On the useless papers tip…a good graduate program will not have you writing useless papers. Most papers will be related to current work (or related activities.) They key is to find graduate programs where the majority of their students are professionals with a significant amount of experience (and that recognize this). When this is the case, they tend to cater assignments to your experience rather than to some arbitrary (and often useless) topic like in undergrad programs.

    Also, assuming they are not the only resource, out dated books aren’t entirely a bad thing. They can give you a perspective on history that you might not get if you focus only on modern organizing approaches.

  • Marianna, I sure hope you are right! Here’s my question: how do I figure out which graduate programs are the good ones that don’t make you write useless papers?

    I do agree that getting a historical perspective on things can be really useful and can give you ideas you’ve never thought about before. The only slight problem is that those that are ‘respected’ enough to be textbooks often don’t bring in a more updated perspective. When we’re talking about organizing, a book that talks about the use of telegrams as an effective tool to influence legislation (which many from the 70s and 80s do), it seems a *wee* bit irrelevent.

  • Pingback: Taking the next step: The benefits of college after graduation | TalentEgg Career Incubator()