Graduate school is accessible, affordable for everyone

Saturday, April 19, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:48 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Many people think that graduate education is too expensive or that the classes are too rigorous. Yet, each year, thousands of Missourians go back to school to earn an advanced degree, seek specialized training or take a single class to learn something new. Graduate education touches the lives of all Missourians, regardless of educational backgrounds and interests, and as graduate education improves our lives, it also offers tremendous opportunities for individuals to pursue their dreams. Graduate education is affordable, accessible and affects all of us every day.

For example, the nurse who treats you when you’re sick has a master’s degree in nursing or was taught by someone with a master’s degree or doctorate in the field. Although the “Preparing to Care” initiative championed by UM System Vice President Gordon Lamb has stalled in the legislature, the program provides a blueprint of what graduate education can do for citizens across our state. The initiative depends on a wide variety of graduate programs, including nursing, public health, health informatics and nutrition.

Public health is only one of the broad areas fueled by graduate education. Our economic development has resulted, in large part, from the hard work of people with advanced degrees in business and economics. Our safe and plentiful food supply depends on the hard work of farmers working with the scientists in various agricultural fields, including plant sciences, animal sciences, natural resources, biological sciences and agricultural economics.

Many of our children’s teachers have master’s degrees, whether in education or other subject areas. The people who manage their curricula and organize their schools usually hold doctoral degrees as they develop the best methods of helping students learn. Band directors often hold a master’s in music education, and school counselors might have a master’s or doctoral degree in school psychology.

The engineers who build our bridges and roads and ensure that we have light and water either have advanced degrees or were taught in their undergraduate programs by those who do.

Biologists, chemists and physicists with advanced degrees have allowed us to understand and shape the world we live in in innumerable ways.

Philosophers and historians help us understand that world.

Indeed, many of the editors and writers who produce the newspaper you are holding in your hands were taught in journalism schools that convey advanced degrees and rely on the expertise of those who have pursued advanced knowledge through practice and research.

The most well-known graduate programs of study are master’s and doctoral degrees, but many variations exist, including specialized master’s degrees in engineering, nursing, business, social work, public affairs, education and library science. All of these degrees ensure that our college professors know their stuff and bring federal dollars and grants from foundations home to Missouri to pursue research that will find its way — sooner or later — into the daily lives of our citizens.

Overall, there are more than 900 graduate programs offered by Missouri’s public and independent institutions, including 75 that involve collaboration among institutions. In comparison to other institutions nationally, Missouri’s institutions are producing more of the master’s and doctoral degrees in our country and those are high-achieving people whose presence in Missouri has enhanced our quality of life. For the academic year 2003-2004, Missouri’s students earned 17,518 master’s and doctoral degrees, an increase of 58 percent over 1994-1995. Nationally, there was a 33 percent increase in the awarding of graduate and professional degrees.

But don’t feel you need to sign up for four to six years of intensive full-time doctoral study to participate in graduate education. Many of Missouri’s colleges and universities offer certificate programs that provide focused educational experiences in specific topics. At the end of their programs, usually just a few weeks, students receive a credential for their work.

Governor Matt Blunt has proclaimed this week as Missouri’s third “Graduate Education Week.” A number of our state’s institutions of higher education have put together a program of events highlighting the many contributions of graduate education to the state’s economic, social, cultural and medical well-being. You can see what is going on in your neck of the woods through the Web site we have put together to organize events for Graduate Education Week 2008: www.

Graduate education is both more affordable and more accessible that you may have imagined. We invite you to peruse our Graduate Education Week Web site and find a program that might be of interest to you. And we invite you to explore our Web sites, which provide a window into the myriad of offerings our state’s colleges and universities provide.

George Justice is associate dean of the MU Graduate School.

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