Sunday, August 3, 2008

Don't listen to them--you should go to grad school!

I'm quite annoyed. Lately I've read three different blog posts all discrediting grad school stating its overrated. Yes, I'm biased and I'm in grad school, but here are 5 reasons why you should go to grad school.

1. This one blogger questioned why nonprofit folks are getting MBA's and an advanced education. My response to that is, it won't hurt us one bit to learn about competition and marketing. Yes we are different than businesses, however the nonprofit sector is getting more competitive and as I said in my post about nonprofit confidence, nonprofits need to do something to improve their marketing to raise public awareness which will raise public confidence in nonprofits.

2. These bloggers seem to be forgetting about the nonprofit specific masters degree programs, there are 242 colleges and universities that offer Masters level courses in nonprofit management and 157 that offer graduate degree programs in nonprofit management. Mine happened to be in a school of business and while I was pursuing my Masters of Management in Nonprofit Administration I had many classes with MBA students. We all did projects together and I enjoyed teaching corporate folks about nonprofits and vice versa.

3. So there are some bloggers or commenters on Give and Take blog discrediting nonprofit masters and MBA degrees alike because they were disconnected from the real world. I agree that some masters degree programs are not in touch with the real world, however the programs that I have been through have been for successful working professionals and we learn as much from professors as we do from one another. Also one thing that sets nonprofit degree programs apart from others is the amount of real world experience and applied projects the students do. My colleague Emily Davis did so many amazing projects for various nonprofit organizations during her Nonprofit Masters degree program that she was able to start a successful consulting business. In other words people who earn graduate degrees in nonprofit management have an advanced degree and lots of real world experience too.

4. I really like Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist Blog, however I'm going to challenge her post on seven of her reasons for graduate school being outdated.
  • Graduate school is an extreme investment for a fluid workplace-WRONG-nonprofit graduate degree programs are discounted by almost 50% and they provide a massive amount of scholarships.
  • Graduate school is no longer a ticket to play-WRONG-just look at my last post about how 89.1% of alumni had a career change because of the NLM graduate degree program at USD.
  • Graduate school requires you to know what will make you happy before you try it-WRONG-there are many jobs in the nonprofit sector, check out idealist's nonprofit career guide for first time job seekers and sector switchers and you don't have to decide right now.
  • Graduate degrees shut doors rather than open them-WRONG-I can speak from personal experience also, this seems to be a repeat of above, the statistics show otherwise that a nonprofit graduate degree opens doors.
  • If you don’t actually use your graduate degree, you look unemployable-WRONG-the nonprofit graduate degree is good even if you are volunteering and makes you a better board member.
  • Graduate school is an extension of childhood-WRONG-as I mentioned above I go to school with adults in my graduate degree program, my program has provided me real life experience and taught me to be more patient, calm, and a better leader. Plus we challenge the work of our professors and other scholars alike--we are engaging in inquiry.
  • Early adult life is best if you are lost-WRONG-again, you don't have to know what you want to do the great thing about grad school is the inquiry and exploration process. If you do know what you want to do then you can be more specific with what you read and study. It works either way.
5. Here's several blog posts by Future Leaders in Philanthropy about why they chose to pursue a MPA or an MBA.


Jennifer said...

Great post. I agree with you on every count.

I am a professional fundraiser who decided to pursue an MBA very specifically for application in the nonprofit sector.

My reasoning: I observed people with programmatic-specific talent trying to run a business, and the two kill sets were not always equal in strength.

Getting an MBA did a number of things:
1) it provided real-life business skills that I can (and do) apply in any context;
2) it opened up a network of amazing colleagues who have purpose and ethics, but who did not choose "my " sector -- this was important to provide some perspective and counteract the "institutionalizing" effect I observe in people who have been in nonprofits a long time;
3) it made me attractive to nonprofits with a desire to apply best business practices to their missions--I find that these environments are a better cultural fit for me anyway. I also fell that the MBA sped up a leadership career path for me, because it is respected for its rigor.

Thanks for your post.

-Jennifer K.

Cathy Goodwin said...

I agree with you also. As a former college professor and current career consultant, I recommend grad school as a great way to create a network. Advanced degrees can close some doors, but they open even more. Many of my clients prefer to work with someone who has a PhD and/or MBA and I have both.

You *do* have to be careful. If a program seems to admit anyone with a credit card, and if everyone seems to get A's effortlessly, I would go elsewhere.

EDA Consulting said...

I really appreciate everyone's thoughts and comments and I agree! Of course, I am biased too, but the whole reason we have academic programs in nonprofit management/administration/leadership is because the sector has formalized. That is, those who cam before us shaping the sector through the Civil Rights Movement, Chicano Movement, and Women's Movement have made it possible for there to even BE academic programs. We have been able to learn lessons and put them in a format to teach people in 2 - 4 year programs rather than asking people to spend 10 - 20 years learning these lessons.

I say THANK YOU to those pioneers who came before us and made the academic field for nonprofit employees and entrepreneurs possible!

As someone earlier said, be careful and shop around for the program that is best for you...make sure to get hands-on experience where you might not otherwise get it and find truly amazing leaders as professors who can mentor you and share their experiences.

We can only hope that the sector will begin to truly appreciate and value the academic experience that so many of us bring to the table. After all, running a nonprofit IS running a business, so why not learn the best practices?

Anonymous said...

I recently pulled a list of NPO job sites together:

There's a bevy of development jobs open everywhere; it seems that MBAs and other graduate degrees would be very useful in developing best practices in how to get people to agree to part w/their funds

Nonprofit SOS said...

Thank you for this post! Although, I have to admit I am biased as well. I have a MA and am currently pursuing a PhD, I have found my graduate studies to be extremely beneficial to my nonprofit work.


Erin said...

Thanks so much for this post. I'm currently enrolled in a Master's of Organizational Leadership at Chapman University in San Diego for the specific purpose of figuring out the direction I want to take in a career. I started it not knowing where I was headed, but this program has narrowed my focus incredibly towards the nonprofit sector and am looking forward to doing more research on the sector and various organizations. I even found your blog through the YNPN San Diego chapter listserv. Thanks for the wealth of information. And I'm glad you emphasized "you don't have to know what you want to do. The great thing about grad school is the inquiry and exploration process." And for me so far, exploration is the fun part.