In Changing Economy, Graduate School Becoming a Necessity - Higher Education


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In Changing Economy, Graduate School Becoming a Necessity

by Michelle Nealy

Access to graduate education is an invaluable resource for this generation of Americans. For the “public good” of the nation, the U.S. government must allocate more in the way of financial support and public policy to ensure that students have access to and experience success in some form of graduate studies, a new study reports.

Most scholars agree with Salem State College President Patricia Meservey’s current assessment of the American educational system and future job market. “In the world that looms before us, a bachelor’s degree alone will no longer suffice. More jobs than ever will require both advanced degrees and advanced credentials.”

“A strong link exists between U.S. graduate education, the production of knowledge and economic and social prosperity,” said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., during press briefing Thursday in Washington on the societal benefits of graduate education.

Reading the opening lines of a report released by Council of Graduate Schools, Capps said, “The United States needs a cadre of high-skilled leaders and experts in a variety of fields to address current and future challenges.”

In a 20-page report titled “Graduate Education and the Public Good” researchers at the Council of Graduate Schools illuminated the obvious and obscure benefits of a graduate education for the nation, as opposed to a single individual.

It is common knowledge: the more education one has, the more one earns. On average, adults with advanced degrees earn about 44 percent more than those with bachelor’s degrees, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

The federal government benefits in many ways from having a highly educated population that garners high wages: increased tax revenue, greater productivity, increased work force flexibility and decreased reliance on government and financial assistance.

 “Without advanced education we wouldn’t have medicine,” said Dr. Joann M. Eisenhart, vice president for human resources for Pfizer’s Global Research and Development Organization and Pfizer’s Medical Division, noting another societal benefit afforded through graduate education.

Since Benjamin Franklin attached a key to a kite string, research and innovation have always been the drivers of the U.S. economy. Invention coupled with groundbreaking research has allowed this nation to carry the title of superpower nearly 100 years, the report indicates.

Graduate school enrollment increased by 2 percent from 2004 to 2005 thanks to a spurt in the numbers of female and Black students earning advanced degrees, according to a 2006 report released by the Council of Graduate Schools. To sustain that growth by recruiting more ethnic minorities to higher education, institutions will have to buy them, the scholars said. 

In 2006, Black graduate students composed the largest minority group, not counting non-U.S. citizens, with 135,020 students, or roughly 12 percent of the fall 2005 graduate population. Hispanics were the second largest group at 7 percent. Asians and American Indians were 6 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

 “Getting more first generation and low-income students in graduate schools, you are going to have buy them,” said Nan Wells, the former director of government relations at Princton University. “Many students are concerned about the costs of graduate studies. Graduate students need reliable, multi-year financial support,” she said.

Strengthening American research in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is imperative to secure our position as a global leader in the future.

According to the report, the social effects of a graduate education are far reaching.

Parents with postsecondary degrees are more likely to educate their children about community, national and world events. They are more likely than parents who did not complete college to involve their children in community activities, such as concerts, religious services, sporting events or plays. Individuals with graduate degrees are more likely to vote, read the newspaper frequently and engage in shaping local tax policies.

Beneficiaries of graduate education become the teachers of tomorrow, said Dr. Joan Lorden, former associate provost for the graduate school at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

“At the state level, undergraduate students are often the focus of public discussions. But it is the people with advanced degrees who train our future teachers. Their impact is felt all the way up the line,” Lorden said.

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