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Pursuit of Higher Education Degree Requires Financial, Time Commitment
Over Career, Master's and Doctorates Worth About $250,000 & $725,000 More than a Bachelor's

   While the advantages of having an advanced degree far outweigh the positives of an undergraduate degree, many students find the commitment of time, money and effort to be a formidable challenge. At the same time, recruiters and consultants warn that the value of the degree will vary from field to field.

By Michelle Savage

   In 1990 Waleed Hazdun graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor's degree in Politics and Near Eastern Studies. Today, Hazbun is back in school, this time pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Science at MIT. As with a growing number of Arab-Americans, Hazdun realized the importance of pursuing a graduate degree in today's increasingly competitive economy.
Traditionally, Arab-Americans have always been pursued to seek a higher education, and Hazdun found no opposition from his family. Well, almost none.
   "The only obstacle was breaking the news to my father, who had taught me about Arab politics and history from a young age but who wanted me to finish my engineering BSE (Bachelor of Science in Engineering) and then go on to get an MBA," recalls the xx-year-old Hazbun, an Arab-American of EGYPTION/PALESTINIAN/IRAQI descent.
   "I first told him I was switching to study politics, then that I was going to get a Ph.D. and be an academic instead of going into the private sector. At first he thought I should use the degree to go into business consulting or the like, but I slowly made it clear I wanted to be an academic writing and teaching about politics and economic change in the Middle East. He came around by saying something like, "Well, that's okay... because you can go and become like professor Edward Said." 
   (Said, one of the most published Arab-Americans in the educational field, is a well-known literary and social critic who is a professor at Columbia University.)
   Hazbun compare his father's words to those of Joseph Kennedy Sr., the father of John F. Kennedy, who once told his son that if he was going to enter the clergy, to make sure he becomes the pope.
   "My father has supported me ever since, including with generous financial support without which I would have never finished, at least not on terms of my choosing," Hazbun says.

Arab-Americans and Higher Education
   U.S. Census data reveals that Arab-Americans, both native-born and immigrants, have a higher educational achievement level than any other ethnic group in the United States. In fact, 36 percent of Arab-Americans have a bachelor's degree or higher, while 15 percent have graduate degrees. Not surprisingly, this higher educations achievement has translated into the employment sector, with more than 66 percent of Arab-Americans reporting being employed with a median income of $40,000. Only 11 percent lived below the poverty level.
   Hazbun says that for an academic career, a higher education is essential but that full-time academic careers are hard to find and highly competitive. He is starting his search early in the game.
   "My dissertation, which I hope to finish very soon, is on the political economy of tourism development in the Arab world. I also work as a teaching assistant at nearby Tufts University," Hazbun says. "I am currently on the academic job marketing, doing interviews for tenure-track university teaching positions. In addition, I have made contacts with consulting firms who work on the tourism sector, and would take such work part-time if the right project came around."
   At least for now, Hazbun says salary considerations are not a major concern, as he could have earned a higher salary in a non-academic career. "I will instead value the prestige and sense of accomplishment," he says. "I see the degree as making possible the sort of career and lifestyle I have always wanted."

Graduate Study in the U.S
   This year over a million people entered graduate school programs in the United States. These new students are eager to gain the knowledge, opportunities, personal fulfillment, better jobs, and of course, higher salaries that graduate degrees seem to guarantee in many fields these days.

  Recent studies show that Americans with a graduate degree earn 35-50 percent more money than those who hold a bachelor's degree. Over the course of a long-term career, statistics show that a master's degree is worth about $250,000 more than a bachelor's degree and a doctorate is worth an estimated $725,000 more than a bachelor's degree. This is most likely the major reason people are choosing to go back to school, but it's not the only reason.

Sreenath Sreenivasan

   Many new students are motivated to pursue a higher education by a thirst for knowledge, a desire to increase their marketability and a simple love of the field. Still, regardless of why a new student is returning to the academic world, there are still many factors involved in deciding where, when and how to pursue a graduate degree.
   Jean AbiNader is co-founder and managing director of the Arab American Institute, which was organized in 1985 to represent Arab-American interests in government and politics. AbiNader is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, and holds a B.A. in political Science and M.P.I.A. in International Affairs.
   AbiNader says that she pursued a graduate school education to reach the level of expertise required for her field. She attributes the high percentage of Arab-Americans who pursue advanced degrees to the fact that many have great pride and are often supported by their families, often financially.
   AbiNader says that they tend to choose advanced degrees because of the challenge and marketability associated with the degrees, especially in the finance, business and higher education fields.

A Professor's Opinion
   Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor of journalism at Columbia University and co-founder of the South Asian Journalists Association, says that an advanced degree is a hot commodity in today's market. 
   "You get to specialize in a topic and become more employable," he comments. "All things being equal, for a professional job, an employer is likely to be more interested in an applicant with an advanced degree than one without."
   Sreenivasan is quick to add that there are many things that must be considered before taking the plunge to pursue a higher degree.
   "Having an advanced degree always helps you stand out from the crowd. But there are considerable costs in terms of money and time that goes into it," he says. "It really depends on your goals and the opportunity cost of going back to school. I recommend that students work for at least a couple of years before going back to school. They will know what they really want to do then."

The Basic Choices
   When pursuing an education beyond a bachelor's degree, there are two basic choices: graduate or professional school.
On the whole, those who are interested in law, medicine, pharmacy, optometry or dentistry will have to attend a professional school that is specifically geared to that field. Doctors, lawyers and veterinarians must complete professional school.
   Graduate school is the preferred choice for those entering a general field or those who are uncertain about choosing a specific career. There are many options for graduate school students in both academic and professional industries.
   "Professional school degrees usually prepare one for a specific field, such as business or law, whereas a graduate degree may offer more flexibility or a deeper focus," says Carol Schroeder, Associate Director, University Career Center at North Carolina State University.
   Sreenivasan agrees, saying that a professional school requires less academic work, and places an emphasis on practical classes and lab work.
Schroeder says that it is imperative that graduate school students have a clear idea of what an advanced degree means to them. She recommends getting out into the working world for a few years to discover all available options.
   Schroeder -- who serves as a career counselor for students in the high-tech areas of computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering -- finds that an advanced degree can have a variety of benefits.
   "An advanced degree means additional knowledge and skills that make the degree holder more valuable to the employer, she says. "Usually the dollars follow."

The Masters Degree

   Students who love their field of interest often choose to attend graduate school, often disregarding the high costs and limited job prospects a master's or doctorate degree in many subjects, such as arts, the humanities and social sciences, may offer.
   Still, in many academic and professional industries, graduate school training is becoming an entry-level requirement. With majors in virtually every academic subject from marine biology to nuclear engineering, graduate schools offer specific training that is simply impossible to learn in undergraduate schools.
   The majority of graduate students earn a master's degree, with the most popular academic degrees being the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.). Many other master's degrees are offered in professional programs, such as the Master of Business Administration (M.B.A) and Master of Architecture. 
   Master's programs generally take about two to four years to complete, in both academic and professional studies, consisting of advanced-level coursework, comprehensive exams and, in many cases, a thesis. The areas of study tend to be very specialized, unlike majors in undergraduate school.

The Doctoral Degree

   Doctoral degrees are the highest and most expensive degrees. A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D) provides training in research, and is a minimum requirement for university professors. Other doctoral degrees are offered at professional schools, and train for specific professions. These degrees include Doctor of Education (D.Ed), Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A), Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Medical Doctor (M.D.). 
   Doctoral programs take two to four years to complete, and consist of coursework, comprehensive examinations and a dissertation. The comprehensive exams involve oral presentations on a specific area of research. The dissertation is an original research document written with the guidance of the school's faculty.
   While these degrees are a necessity in many academic areas, such as education and research, they do not hold much clout in the business world.
"Realistically there will be no difference in compensation for someone with a Ph.D vs. a Master's degree once you hit the vice president level," says Todd Moore, co-founder of ExecuMED, a recruitment firm specializing in the medical device industry. "At that stage a company is more concerned about what skills and experience you can add to the bottom line as opposed to what you studied in college. Below the VP level, a candidate might expect a 10 percent increase in pay for a post graduate degree vs. a bachelor's."

The MBA-The Hottest Ticket Around
More and more recent college graduates and experienced professionals are turning away from academic degrees and going for the MBA. The value of an MBA holds a strong appeal as a stepping-stone to a more rewarding career path.
   The MBA offers specialized technical and non-technical training in several areas of business administration and management. 
   Even in today's fluctuating economy, many recruiters are still stressing the hiring appeal of an MBA. With many companies laying off thousands of employees, earning an MBA may be the best job protection around right now.
   Companies like IBM, Hewlett Packard, Bank of America and Charles Schwab are still competing for business school graduates, and graduates of top business schools can expect to earn starting salaries of about $75,000. Perhaps that explains why statistics show that nearly 90,000 people will earn a graduate business degree this year.

   However, the typical graduate-level business school student is not fresh out of college. The average age for new business school graduate is now 28, and an astonishing 40 percent of these graduates are women.
Robert DePeralta, Partner/IT Director of Resource Management Group, an El Segundo-based IT executive recruiting firm, recommends pursuing an MBA to anyone who is interested in business management.
   "In the management field we first look for those with advanced degrees, then we consider those with extensive management backgrounds," says DePeralta, whose clients include DirecTV, Citicorp, Disney, AOL Time Warner and Universal Studios. "I would definitely recommend all managers to pursue advanced degrees."
   The most valuable skills sought by his clients are specialized talent, degrees from distinguished institutions, reputable references and polished intangible skills.

Technology Knows No Degree
   It seems that the only market out there right now that delivers high salaries with low education requirements is the technology industry. MIS/IT management positions are offered at $80,000 to $150,000 with virtually no degree required, provided that the job candidate has 10-plus years of technical management expertise.
   Mike Daley, owner of Daley Consulting firm, has been recruiting technical professionals for more than 16 years, and says that 90-95% of his clients aren't interested in an advanced degree. Daley's clientele includes Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Byer California and Macy's.
   "Some of the more sophisticated companies, such as Charles Schwab, prefer higher degrees," he says. "But if a person is an expert in a specific field that they have a high demand for, they will waive the degree requirement in favor of the technical expertise."
   Daley adds that an MBA might be useful in technology in a director's position, as it will be useful in understanding both the business and technical side of the company. Still, he says he has never had a client demand an MBA or Ph.D as an absolute requirement.
   "In the technology industry, my clients look for a certain level of expertise and knowledge of technology, the ability to communicate succinctly and articulately, and the ability to work well with others," he says. "Salaries in technology are typically high and with the right skills, the market is what dictates what level you'll come in at."

Making a Move Toward Higher Education
   It is important to study the job market before deciding to pursue a higher education. Many people go to graduate school for the sole purpose of increasing their income. Some are disappointed when they find that an advanced degree doesn't make much difference in their profession.
   Still, many job markets have a high demand for master's and doctoral degrees. For example, it is difficult to land a college-level teaching job without a Ph.D. And an M.B.A. will certainly come in handy when competing for a high-level business development position.
   After learning more about a your chosen job market, focus on the investment of time, commitment and money associated with an advanced degree. How many credits will you need to earn to complete your degree? Will the degree have a significant effect on your career? Will the increase in pay and prestige outweigh the cost and time commitment you've invested into your degree? If your degree costs $100,000 and your salary increases by $20,000 upon graduation, it is probably worth the five years it takes you to repay the cost of your education.
   Develop a realistic timeline and financial plan for your education. Most students must maintain a full-time job while in graduate school, so it is crucial to set a study schedule and budget that will not leave you exhausted and broke. 
   One benefit of working through school is that many companies offer 100% tuition reimbursement for job-related coursework. However, a recent survey by Hewitt Associates shows that only seven percent of employees take advantage of company plans that pay for job-related courses. Take the time to visit your human resources representative when contemplating the financial burden of graduate school.
   Lastly, keep in mind that graduate school is very different from undergraduate school. It is a more demanding and intense environment. When returning to school, you must be prepared to cope with the pressures of student life, and those who have not been in school for many years may have a hard time adjusting. It is important to allow some time for your body and mind to adjust to a new academic lifestyle.
   The many benefits associated with advanced study make it an attractive goal for many. Making the most of your education and life should be a top priority.
   Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic Studies at Colgate University, earned a B.A, M.A., and Ph.D. at Duke University, which he says was a necessary career move as a professor. Safi says that graduate students must really take the time to learn about the options for graduate school, and more importantly, the people in the schools.
   "Be sure that you are keenly interested in the field itself. It is a long and arduous road. Make sure after the program is through, there are real job prospects for you," he says. "Go to school for the advisor, not for the name of the school. A real advisor who will mentor you is worth much more than the good name of a school where you will be ignored."


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