So a friend of mine sent me a link to a recent Forbes Magazine article that ranked the “best” and “worst” (which, by the way are value-judgement categories and not objective qualifiers) Master’s degrees for jobs. The forwarder of this piece happens to be a graduate student in a professional field (social work – #30 of 35) listed as one of the “worst” degrees. The author, Jacquelyn Smith, explains what Forbes set out to do.

Forbes set out to determine which master’s degrees would provide the best long-term opportunities, based on salary and employment outlook. To find the mid-career median pay for 35 popular degrees, we turned to Payscale.com, which lets users compare their salaries with those of other people in similar jobs by culling real-time salary data from its 16.5 million profiles. We then looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment projection data to see how fast employment was expected to increase between 2008 and 2018 in popular jobs held by people with each degree. Finally we averaged each degree’s pay rank and estimated growth rank to find the best and worst master’s degrees for jobs.

Needless to say, most of the “worst” jobs are found in the humanities or professional programs focused on service to others: education, divinity, social work, history, counseling, english, music and the like. I understand that Forbes intended to do something ostensibly positive — namely, identifying those programs that lived up to the popular view that ‘having an advance degree means you will earn more money,’ while also pointing out that this is not necessarily the case. And if you were interested in pursuing higher education for monetary gain, you are better off not doing it.

Yet, by making a value-judgment about each of these particular career fields in ranking the 35 most popular Master’s programs, Forbes is perpetuating the idea that one should make career decisions based on financial return or gain. This reminds me of another friend who recently earned an MBA at a competitive state university. The very day he graduated, he mentioned that he spoke with someone who was earning a PhD in comparative literature while they waited for the academic procession to begin. My friend was entirely confused by the choice of that program of study, suggesting to his wife and me that it would never be a high-paying job, that there was no demand for people trained in that field and so on.

As both a Franciscan friar (for whom Francis of Assisi made clear that the friars are to work, but left the type of work open-ended) and someone committed to the field of education (my area is theology, for the record, which makes me a double-whammy: ministry and education), I find this sort of demarcation absolutely obscene. While it might be helpful to report on job trends, qualifying “better” or “worse” fields of study with salary the primary category of comparison strikes me as very disheartening.

I move in a circle of family and friends who are employed in the sectors listed as “the worst,” all of us with at least Master’s (some with several) or Doctorates in those fields. And, yes, while none of them makes the kind of money someone who has a BA and works on Wall Street does, I believe that their choice of career is “better” than those who chose their respective path primarily to make lots of money. This is not to suggest that there are no laudable or philanthropic people in highly paid careers, but just because one field offers more money than another does not make it “better.”

I believe the world would be “better” if there were more English, History, Language, Theology, Social Work and Education majors in the world, people who were more interested in making a difference, helping others and transforming the world, than those primarily focused on raising their incomes.

Oh, and a bit more pious note, what did Jesus say in the Gospels about the wealthy and entrance into the Kingdom? Maybe you should think about doing an MSW or MDiv instead of your other plan.

Photo: Getty via Forbes Magazine

3 Comments

  1. As a teacher, I find it to be comical that education is considered one of the “worst” jobs by Forbes. As education becomes increasingly politicized, much of the media rhetoric directed towards teaching portrays it as an easy way to make lots of money and have a ton of vacation time. In some cases, teachers are demonized a greedy. I have a master’s degree in education and I have the best job in the world, but it does not pay well. I teach second grade in a rural school where I also coach middle school soccer and basketball. My wife is also a teacher and we work additional jobs throughout the year to support the family (I cater and work at a summer camp). I am very lucky to do what I love, but the teaching profession is taking a beating these days.

  2. Did you notice that the “worst” jobs had women pictured, while the “best” jobs almost entirely had men in the pictures?

    I know what you mean about perception and degrees. My mom frequently told people I was going to be a teacher, rather than have to confess that her daughter was a composer. (This is when I was at a competitive MFA program at a performing arts school.) Then again I’ve had people tell me that my doctorate isn’t “real” because it’s in music. Whatever.

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