Was My Master of Education Degree Worth It?

Whenever someone undergoes a challenge and comes out the other side semi-unscathed it’s quite popular to tell yourself and others, “It was all worth it – look at me now.”  It’s a natural instinct to insist that whatever you’ve just put yourself through was worth it because the alternative – that you misused valuable resources such as time and money – kind of sucks.

Rather than admit failure and learn from the decision-making process that led you to that point, it’s always much easier to simply think, “Man, look at that mountain I just climbed, I am so badass.” (Or maybe your internal dialogue isn’t quite so teenager inspired – the sentiment is what counts.)

You may have noticed a bit of a downturn in the amount of writing I’ve been able to put on the site lately.  This is due to a lot of things such as getting married (and all the endless small decisions that accompany such an endeavor), the whole day job thing, and the largest factor of all: pursuing my Master of Education degree.  My lack of writing is just one example of the opportunity cost that came with going back to school to add a few more letters behind my name.  There were many others (I’ve been told the aforementioned marriage was also close to being on the list at times) but there are obviously benefits to the decision as well.

Related: Master’s Degree vs Increased Blogging Time

Kyle Says: “Only You Can Prevent Over-Credentialization”

Was My Master of Education Degree Worth It?It’s incredibly difficult to write an article titled Is a Master’s Degree Worth It because the inference would be that I could tell you if your specific proposed path of study was worth the time, money, and overall opportunity cost in your situation.  That depends on a lot of things:

  • What field is your degree in?
  • Do you need a master’s for a promotion?
  • What would you be doing with your time if you weren’t going back to school?
  • How easy do you find academic work generally?
  • What is your level of satisfaction when engaging with your specific field of study?
  • How are your time management skills?
  • How much time do you have to manage (family, etc.)?

And that’s just the beginning.  So instead of doing an endless amount of research with various hypotheticals and trying to come to some sort of pseudo-scientific answer that probably wouldn’t be all that relevant to you anyway, I decided to take the lazy man’s way out and just tell you what my experience has been like looking at it through the rear-view mirror.  I’m just putting the final touches on my degree and have been in a reflective mood lately.  Hopefully it’ll help you gain some insights into your situation.

In Short: It Wasn’t Worth It!

Truthfully, I knew the answer to this question when I was 2/3rds done my degree, but at that point I was sort of “pot committed” in terms of what I had already put into the game.  For those of you that didn’t have a poker nerd phase, the conclusion I reached at the 2/3rd mark was that at that point, the benefits of finishing the degree (not to mention satisfying my own vanity and stubbornness) far outweighed the return I would get on not sacrificing the final of time, money, etc.

That being said, if I could go back and talk to myself three years ago, I would have to say taking the degree was a mistake.  Again, this isn’t easy to admit, and when I’ve voiced these thoughts to a very few people (right before posting it on a public webpage) the reaction was essentially, “Sure it feels that way now when you’re a little burned out, but no one can take it away from you, and you never know when it might come in handy.”  All of that is true to an extent, but at the same time you know what else would have come in handy?  The return I would have gotten from putting all that energy elsewhere over the past few years!

I should point out that I’m in no way saying that a Master of Education program is wrong for everyone or even most people.  I’m not saying that all master’s degrees are useless or that all graduate students made the wrong decision.  What I am trying to illustrate instead is that our temptation to say that a past project or experience was great in order to justify to ourselves and everyone else around us why we did it in the first place, can cause a sort of groupthink where facts and honest reflections can get lost.

Weighing the Pros and the Cons

I’m interested in hearing/reading what others think of this decision when everything is factored in.  Here’s a brief list of what I feel is relevant to determining if my degree was a good use of my limited resources:

Pros

  • My annual paycheque will see a $3,500 gross increase immediately (somewhere around $2,000 net once everyone else gets their cut).
  • The pay ceiling for my career as a high-school teacher increases by $3,500.
  • An accompanying slight raise in my pension formula.
  • I am more qualified for promotions that I’m fairly certain I no longer want.
  • I learned a valuable lesson (more on this in another post): I no longer want to pursue administrative promotions that once appealed to me.
  • I met some good folks who shared some useful experiences.
  • I learned a few small nuggets of wisdom and practical knowledge that will help me a minor amount in my teaching career.
  • I have a credential that might at some point impress someone if I ever leave the world of public education.

Cons

  • My tuition cost about $10,000 over the course of the degree. (I know, this is exceedingly reasonable for a graduate program, and I will actually get most of this back through tax incentives over the next few years.)
  • Travel costs, textbooks, and other incidentals cost about $4,000.
  • A lowball estimate of time allotted over the past three years is probably in the 1,000 hour range when travelling time is included.
  • The constant splitting of focus and energy negatively impacted a lot of areas of my life as I’m not a great multi-tasker.
  • The frustration of dealing with very abstract educational theories (many of which are based on faulty premises in my opinion) when being confronted on a daily basis with educational realities that are all too real – likely took days, if not months, off my projected time on planet Earth.
  • I may have priced myself out of future teaching jobs if I ever move.

Looking at these lists as I come to the end of my journey I feel pretty confident in saying if I could do it all over again, I’d rather have the hours and energy instead of the fancy piece of paper.  The upfront investment of money is a no-brainer considering the pay increase and the tax incentives that more than offset the tuition costs.  It’s harder to quantify the value of having to split your focus on a daily basis, as well as the simple opportunity cost of doing something else with your time.

With the time and energy put into the degree I could have invested much more into promoting my writing, lucrative freelance work, entrepreneurial opportunities, and my students!  Not to mention pesky projects like exercise (I honestly have no idea if more energy would have been directed in this direction).

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ll look at things differently in fifteen years when the M.Ed behind my name helps me get taken seriously somewhere.  It’s hard to predict what some of those long-term benefits will be.  In the short term however, I think I’d do it a little differently if I knew then what I knew now.

Am I missing something?  Have I failed to considered a major factor?  Has anyone else out there been afraid to admit when a major commitment of theirs didn’t turn out as well as they might have wanted or projected?

12 Comments

  1. Master Nerd on April 20, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Hi Kyle,

    I think your post and general experiences with the MEd program are fairly common. I’m currently pursuing an MA in Ed Technology, and I’ve shared many classes with MEd students at my university. I think the value of an MEd really depends on your reasons for pursuing the program in the first place. Personally, I plan on continuing on to a PhD and building a career within the realm of academia, so it’s simply the standard stepping stone for my career path. I’d say for many teachers, graduate programs are useful if they wish to pursue administrative roles or move towards research/consulting, or just generally get out teaching in the public system. Beyond that, the benefits are the pay-bump or just personal interest.

    I’m not sure how the programs work in your area, but here design-based research programs are quite popular since it allows students to take what they learn in grad school and directly apply it to their own classrooms on the fly. Much like any degree program, it would be interesting to see how useful those teachers found their programs down the road. I could see the skill sets learned through doing design based research could be useful for teachers to continue making improvements in their classrooms.

    As for theories, yes it can seem like they are built on faulty premises, but I think it’s simply those were the premises that they were aware when the theories were created. It’s true, there is often a disconnect between academia and the front lines of a classroom, but researchers rely (hopefully) on real teachers like you to tell them which theories are actually valid and which ones suck. My experience has been that it’s not about trying to put all those (confusing) theories into practice, but rather engage in meaningful discussions with colleagues and scholars about them and draw your own conclusions about how they may or may not impact your own teaching.

    All in all, thanks for an honest opinion about your experiences. Hopefully you will benefit more from your degree in the future, and if nothing else at least you now know what you do and do not want to do with your career.



  2. Jordan on April 21, 2015 at 8:55 am

    Perhaps you are right. Only time will tell. I can tell you that my M.Ed was not what I expected and, in reality, was more about writing papers than achieving results. For example, in and Educational Leadership class, I had 5 writing assignments that would determine my grade. While don’t consider to be a great writer, nor do I consider myself to be a poor leader, based on a grade I was less of a leader than those that could write and have never engaged in leadership. I think that there is something really wrong with graduate degree’s when the are more about theories and writing rather than action and results. Was it a waste of time? I guess time will tell.



  3. Kyle on April 21, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Wow did you hit the nail on the head with that comment Jordan. I gotta watch what I say on here because it’s a public blog, but lets just say I’ve had many of the same sentiments.



  4. Kyle on April 21, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Cool reply MN, thanks for stopping by. I think Faculties of Ed are especially susceptible to a problem that plagues many of the “social sciences” in that they are not really sciences at all. Using sets of data to drive theories is fine – in theory. The problem is that unlike physical sciences it is virtually impossible to control experimental processes and variables in the way that other disciplines require. This often results in people reading into the data whatever they need to in order to declare themselves a highly-paid education consulting guru.

    You are right though, that the most valuable thing is learning exactly what administration is all about and now knowing that isn’t something I want to pursue. That’s very valuable in and of itself.



  5. Master Nerd on April 21, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Haha, I think you may have just angered the social science gods (don’t worry I won’t tell them anything). Yes, the social sciences are an entirely different beast, but I would say you can’t really compare the two, and both have their problems. My undergraduate degree was in Physics and Astrophysics so I’ve seen both sides of the fence. That said, there are some very empirical streams of research in the social sciences as well, in fact for many novice researchers that’s the go-to approach (I’ve since converted).

    True, some ‘researchers’ are definitely on the questionable side with their interpretations, but those don’t tend to last too long, or at least aren’t very well respected. On the flip side, I find the interpretive side of things and the lack of trying to control everything very fascinating and liberating. Applying strictly empirical approaches to human beings is dangerous and very limiting. It’s just not possible to account for all the variables and say that student X fits into box A and student Y fits into box B and that is true in all scenarios. So I don’t think the interpretive nature of the social sciences is the issue, rather its what people do with those interpretations and making sure they are accountable for any consequences (good or bad). Ideally researchers should also collaborate with others to help ensure their interpretations are entirely off the wall.

    I’m currently diving headfirst into a very interpretive research methodology for my own work, but in the future I’d love to do mix methods (don’t have the time right now in a MA). My supervisors have more empirical backgrounds so it can sometimes make for interesting discussions when I try to justify certain aspects of my research (spoiler, we don’t always agree).



  6. Master Nerd on April 21, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    I get what you’re trying to say, but for better or worse, I would argue the very purpose of graduate school is to engage in scholarly forums and wallow in theories. I wouldn’t say it’s primary goal is to improve/measure your leadership skills as in a workshop or something like that. That said, I agree it is a lot of writing and it’s hard to say how much of that writing can actually translate to improving teaching/learning, but how else would you do it? This is an issue that affects nearly all levels of education. I’m sure there are teachers in your school that practice very similar teaching approaches: talk about theories/hypothetical situations, then test you through writing or exams, while not necessarily improving/measuring your actual abilities/skills.

    Sadly, written text is very strongly engrained in the world of academia, so it is unlikely to change anytime soon. Writing is simply the standard way to engage with other scholars, especially on a theoretical level. Perhaps this will change in the future, but it’s the system we live in for now.



  7. Kyle on April 25, 2015 at 9:55 am

    As you say MN, the problems come into play when people use limited sample sizes and limited time frames to do “natural research” and then draw the conclusions they were working backwards from when they reverse engineered whatever “study” they needed to do to authenticate their guru status. The one area we disagree is that you believe these folks tend not to last too long. From what I can tell some very major trends in education that come around ever 20 years or so, and are currently in vogue are due to this flawed reverse engineering thinking. I find very few people in education research that are honestly trying to neutrally collect data and use it to solve practical problems. Instead I find reams of people who have strong passions as a result of a small amount of anecdotal evidence, and then acting on those passions under the guise of academia.



  8. Rob on April 26, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Hey Kyle,

    Wonderful and honest critique of your program! A part of me feels you are overstating one or two of the cons, and possibly underestimating one of the pros. I will expand on this–and try not to be so wordy I put you to sleep!

    OK, I’ll start with the pros, I guess.

    “I am more qualified for promotions that I



  9. Master Nerd on April 29, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Sadly, I think these issues are simply the nature of the beast when working with human beings. These types of trends are no different than in politics, finance, healthcare, etc. I actually think there are lots of great scholars out there doing solid, meaningful work, but there are problems translating their research findings into the practical real-world. Things can get especially convoluted when mainstream media, politicians, administrators, etc. get hold of research data and only pick and choose bits and pieces of the findings. That’s how I think things become trendy, yet can also become diluted and potentially transform into something different from what the original researcher may have intended.

    It would be great if we could get around all of these issues, but I suspect that’s near impossible, since you’d be fighting basic human nature. I try to be optimistic about the whole thing and put some faith into the idea that even the trends do advance educational research and knowledge in some capacity, even if it’s not a very efficient approach. While at the same time being critical of other people’s research, and trying my best to look past trends and popularity contests.



  10. Kyle on April 30, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Interesting glass half-full view. So you believe we do advance forward in a somewhat-inefficient-if-progressive zig zag pattern as opposed to running in circles?



  11. Master Nerd on May 3, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    @Kyle

    Haha, yes, a “somewhat-inefficient-if-progressive zig zag pattern” I think is a good way of describing it. I suppose you could also put an investing spin on it and say that much like the stock market, education has its ups and downs, but overall is moving onwards and upwards. It drives me bonkers when people start using arguments like “back in my day…. we did [insert pretty much anything]… and it was better because…[insert isolated anecdotal evidence]” While it’s true certain things may have been better at times in the past, there has been so many other things that have improved.

    Anyway, happy teaching!



  12. Kyle on May 3, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Isolated anecdotal evidence = proof is quite possibly the bane of my existence. That is all. 😉



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