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HR graduate education

Arguments for and against grad school in HR

By Brian Kreissl

Is going to graduate school for an HR-related program worth it? If so, what type of program is best?

The answers to those questions depend on where your ambitions lie and what direction you want your HR education to take you. I also think it’s important to have realistic expectations about what graduate school can and cannot do for you.

Is graduate school ‘worth it?’

I’ve been following a heated debate between career advice blogger Penelope Trunk and some of the commenters on her site. While Trunk’s blog is not specific to HR, her opinion on graduate school is it’s often a waste of money and it won’t necessarily land you the perfect job.

Trunk believes, with the rising cost of tuition, the opportunity cost of forgone earnings, expansion of the scope of information available online, and the fact people now change careers so often, most people would be better off not pursuing graduate studies. She also believes grad school is often an excuse to delay adulthood and entry into the “real” world.

With respect to business school, Trunk argues people might learn more from starting their own company than pursuing an MBA. She also believes MBAs may only be worth it for those who can get into a top tier school, or for those able to study part-time.

People who disagree argue education is not just for increasing one’s earning power or knowledge in a specific field. Instead, they point to the intrinsic value of education, the sense of accomplishment people feel and the improved ability to communicate, reason and construct a logical argument.

They also mention how specific graduate education is a requirement for certain fields such as law and medicine, and having a graduate degree can be a de facto requirement in some industries. Many also tell their own stories of how certain graduate qualifications led them to better opportunities.

This debate will probably never be fully resolved because both sides make very compelling arguments. And every person’s situation is different.

However, tuition fees are rising much faster than inflation. Even here in Canada, the full cost of a graduate program can be in excess of $100,000. Unless you’re sure of the payoff at the end, that’s a lot of money to spend on self-exploration or to dodge a poor job market.

It’s also true graduate education isn’t the ticket to increased prosperity it once was. Employers often feel those with advanced education are overqualified for certain jobs. And it can be difficult to change careers when you’ve completed a highly specialized graduate degree.

However, we keep on hearing how most new jobs in a knowledge-based economy require advanced education. And for many roles — particularly senior positions —graduate qualifications can still be just the ticket to differentiate one applicant from another.

Graduate programs in human resources

One thing I’ve noticed about HR professionals is few seem to leave the field altogether. This implies a graduate education in HR may be useful throughout one’s work life.

On the other hand, we all know the HR profession is headed for major change. And HR still hasn’t fully arrived in terms of being seen as a respected strategic partner and trusted business advisor.

For this reason — especially if you’re looking to move into a director or vice-president role — an MBA might be a good idea. An MBA can help you further your knowledge of business, become more strategic and possibly move into other types of roles in the future.

Depending on your ambitions, an MBA with a specialty in HR may or may or may not be best choice. A more general degree might be better, especially if you’re worried about the future of the HR profession or feel you might want to change careers down the road.

But without extensive experience in HR — and possibly some additional relevant coursework — an MBA on its own probably won’t get you into the C-suite. I wouldn’t advise someone to do an MBA without first considering how it might help them accomplish their goals.

I’m also a firm believer in part-time education and agree with Trunk an MBA might best be pursued part-time and even then only after significant relevant experience.

I’m going to continue with this theme and will discuss other types of HR graduate education, as well as alternatives to grad school, in future posts.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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