Sunday morning I’m flipping through the Memorial Day coupon flyers and scanning the headlines when I noticed this title from the WaPo: “Master’s degree programs surge”
Georgetown, for example, awarded 1,871 bachelor’s degrees and 2,838 master’s degrees in 2012. Its annual bachelor’s output rose 12 percent over eight years. Its growth in master’s: 82 percent.
My first thought was about how this is representative of the continuing corporate inclosure of the university. Just like a suburban chain restaurant looking to get its customers served and back out the door without any loitering, universities can hope to improve their revenue by making short graduate degrees more attractive than long ones.
This news story, in addition to having really interesting Marxist remarks in the comments section about capital forcing labor to pay for its own training, got me thinking about how anthropology could get in on the MA hustle. Granted, it’s not a natural fit. For many persons — professional anthropologists included — a Masters in anthropology is not a very valuable degree. How has that come to be? And does that necessarily need to be the case?
Back on the old Savage Minds website I wrote a piece of science fiction called “Brick and Mortarboards” which was about how in the not too distant future it turns out that the neoliberals were right about higher education and the disruptive technology of online classes were putting the universities out of business. It was economic armageddon for the college towns until all that remained were the privately endowed elite institutions that could afford to be above the fray and the schools that became playgrounds for the rich packaging education with lifestyle experiences. In this alternate future because anthropology refused to play ball with the capitalists the market squeezed all of us professionals out of a job, unless you happened to be a programmer and got in on the ground floor writing that highly lucrative anthropology-themed MMORPG.
Doctoral degrees are expensive and in the future perhaps fewer people will be able to afford them. So if our
customers students want a graduate degree for less why not sell them a Masters? You generate less debt, still get to participate in advanced study and research, and earn some fancy letters after your name.
One problem with this is that a lot of professional anthropologists have a low opinion of an MA in anthropology. The PhD is the terminal degree and it is the standard by which our tribe measures one’s place as a peer in the scholarly world. A Masters will get you a job at a community college or, if you’re an archaeologist, a CRM job with the state. One of my former SLAC students picked up a Masters in public anthropology and worked for some time in the US for a charitable organization in Africa, but now I think she manages a pet salon or something.
As I’m getting ready to begin my Masters in Library Science studies I am reflecting on the fact that I earned a doctorate without bothering to get a Masters in something else along the way. It’s my perception that many anthros have a narrow view of what a Masters-level education can be and what sort of work this qualifies you to do. These are self-imposed ideological constraints. Try thinking like a neoliberal capitalist! If the market is rewarding Communications and Psychology departments for pumping out MA’s instead of PhD’s then Anthropology could be missing out on a growth opportunity… if only we thought it was worthwhile for someone to buy our “product”.
Alright, here’s the antithesis. Also back on the old Savage Minds I had a post titled “The Greater Humanities”, which was reporting on a talk delivered by Jim Clifford on the future of the university. In it Clifford hailed his audience to think big about what the Humanities could be. He granted himself “a license to want” and imagined an ideal scenario to his own liking, unemcumbered by budgetary constraints or the politics of market demand.
Basically I want to combine the two opposing future imaginaries. There are market pressures that are producing this MA gold rush which Anthropology is missing out on because we have this belief structure in place that tells us the Masters is not a valuable degree in our field. But what if we could reimagine the Masters? What if we started over from scratch? Think big!
Imagine you had talented grad student with a BA from a good school: what would be the best possible thing you could do with them in just two or three years? And why would that be a worthwhile thing for a talented young person to do?