It was about this time last year that my bride and I approached the fork in the road. As the character is old Johnny Carson skits advised, we took it and embarked on a journey that saw us leave jobs, pack up a home, and move two states away to care for an aging parent while entering graduate school. One year later the journey continues, in a different town, new school, but with the same goal of earning a Master's which has evidently become the equivalent of what a Bachelor's degree used to be.
Few things spell out reality more clearly than sitting in a classroom with a dozen or so other students, all of whom are younger than your youngest child. Faced with stumbling economy, they opted to stay in school rather than apply for jobs that do not exist. Can't say I blame them. My rationale for returning to school was different - whereas applying for jobs once meant humans looking over resumes for qualified candidates, today's technology scans them for specific keywords. And, when a job posting says "Master's preferred", it may as well say required. My experience never mattered, because HR never had the chance to review it.
What happens if the economy continues to stagnate, a good likelihood of government persists in meddling with it? How many hyperqualified bartenders, waiters, retail clerks, and others working far below their ability and qualification levels does a society need? I left a job that I enjoyed, working with people I enjoyed for a company that, frankly, seemed to take its responsibility to employees seriously. At the same time, I had topped out; there was no upward mobility available that I could see and most of us expect to have at least the possibility of moving up. So, I have more than a passing curiosity in learning what my soon-to-be-earned degree will bring.
At the same time, will my competition for work be ex-classmates, whose experience is virtually non-existent compared to mine, but whose salary expectations will be substantially less? Will I wind up working for someone a bit younger, perhaps someone wondering if I am angling for his/her job? Will the experience of 20+ years actually carry some influence, particularly when combined with a graduate degree? Or, will I just be another in the growing legion of folks whose jobs are at odds with their experiences and qualifications? A lot of letters after one's name do not guarantee finding the right job, or even a suitable one. They don't answer how an individual will react to stress, how that person will work with others, how he/she would solve problems, or what someone genuinely brings to the table.
Not long ago, a four-year degree was sufficient for launching a successful career. Now, it seems like a start, particularly as some question the value of their educations. What did they really learn that prepared them for professional environments? Can they think independently, can they handle perspectives other than their own, and how can the classroom translate to the office? And, does adding two more years of school really change anything? Seems that, like me, society has come to a similar fork in the road, decided to take it without knowing to where it leads, and is headed toward an unknown destination.