A GEN Y’S PERSONAL STORY OF PURSUING A GRADUATE DEGREE, AND THE BENEFITS FOR EMPLOYEE & EMPLOYER
By Megan Mutschler
On pace to be the most educated generation in American history, Millennials are finishing college in record numbers. But an undergraduate education may not be the golden ticket it once was. Recently released data from the U.S. Census shows that 30 percent of Americans 25 and older now have at least a bachelor’s degree, up from 26 percent in 2000. In today’s challenging job market, a college degree is rarely a distinguishing qualification. With this in mind, an increasing number of 20 somethings are heading back to school to complete master’s degrees, professional degrees, certificate programs and technical training with the hopes of becoming more employable.
This was the case for me in 2008 when, at the age of 24, I found myself laid off from my job and lacking attractive career prospects. I was a high-achieving, college-educated member of Generation Y. This was not what I had in mind when my parents told me I could grow up to be anything I wanted. Having taken the GRE my senior year of college (just in case), I began researching local graduate schools, looking for programs that matched my interests and skills and could put me on a desirable career path.
Upon starting my classes, I was surprised to find so many young people in my program. Although designed with classes in the evenings for working professionals, many of my classmates were in similar situations, finished with college but unable to find gainful employment. Many of those who were employed felt they could only reach the next level or their desirable pay grade by furthering their education.
“Bachelor’s degrees aren’t what they used to be,” said Rosie Munoz, 24, a master’s student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “In today’s job market, you need advanced education to distinguish yourself. With a master’s degree, I hope to secure a job with more responsibility and higher pay.”
Many Millennials are deciding to complete a graduate degree before even attempting to enter the workforce.
“In today’s world, advanced degrees are becoming the norm, and those without one can easily be overlooked,” said Sandy Fuentez, 26, a tax consultant with Deloitte in Denver. “As an undergraduate student at Texas A&M, I determined it would be easier to pursue my master’s while I was already in school. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into a program that allowed me to complete my bachelor’s and master’s degrees within a five-year period. It also allowed me to secure an internship with a prestigious accounting firm that led to a full-time position.”
I was also able to secure employment through my master’s program through interning. The internship experience gave me a clear picture of how my skills and knowledge could fit with a career, something I was unable to connect during my years as an undergraduate. This realization affirmed my decision to pursue a master’s degree early in my career.
As the number of Millennials seeking advanced education continues to grow, organizations can support the decision of young employees to go back to school in several ways. Many companies currently offer continuing education programs in which financial support is provided to employees pursuing graduate degrees or adult education certificates. As part of these programs, qualified employees receive a stipend for tuition, fees and books if they successfully complete classes with a certain grade.
Second, offering employees a flexible schedule to attend classes, study for examinations and attend group meetings can make a world of difference. My own employer allowed me to come to work 30 minutes earlier two days a week in order for me to make it to my classes on time. Although a small adjustment, without this adaptability I would have been unable to attend my classes.
Additionally, acknowledging the effort of Millennial employees in their pursuit of advanced education can go a long way. Taking on a master’s program while working can be a daunting endeavor, comparable to working a second job. By showing interest in the individual’s academic work, employers endorse the efforts of their team member and encourage ongoing loyalty to their company.
Finally, rewarding the completion of a degree or program through an increase in responsibility shows Millennials that their commitment to education was time well spent. It also demonstrates a recognition of the added value their continuing education provides the organization.
Now that I have completed my own master’s program, I highly recommend advanced education to my fellow Millennials looking to advance their career opportunities. Whether it is through a graduate program, technical training or adult education classes to hone professional skills, advanced education can be a symbiotic partnership between organization and employee. In the end, a more educated Generation Y benefits the entire workforce.
Megan Mutschler is an associate account executive at KGBTexas communications in San Antonio. She received her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio in May 2011.
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