Should I pursue an MA in Higher Education Administration?
June 14, 2014 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I am currently working my dream job in the Advancement/Development office of my alma mater. I've only been there four months, but I love it and they are already talking about promoting me! Yay! The only problem is that I need to earn Masters degree if I want to travel the career trajectory my boss plans for me. I have applied and been accepted at a relatively good Higher Education Administration graduate program with a concentration in fundraising management, and am due to start a summer class in just a few weeks, but I am feeling unsure.

When my boss mentioned that I needed a Master degree, he suggested Higher Education Administration. I did some research and applied to a relatively highly ranked graduate school in our area, and was accepted. I've received funding and am scheduled to begin a summer course soon. I am an avid reader of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and I've noticed MHEAs get little to no respect in the forums there and some people have even said MHEAs are scams.

Bearing the above in mind, if I attain an MA in Higher Education Administration, will it be worth anything to a hiring manager in the Advancement office at another school, or is this a meaningless degree with low or no ROI? In order to get promoted, I need to put a few more letters behind my name, so I need to pursue a Masters in something, I'm just not sure what. If I want to continue my career as a fundraising professional at a college or university, what Masters degree should I pursue, if Higher Education Administration is a bad option?
posted by SkylitDrawl to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know nothing specifically about the niche degree you mention, but an MBA is both generally recognized and has very broad general utility, making it not a bad idea for someone in your position.
posted by killdevil at 12:30 PM on June 14, 2014

I think it depends on what you want to do with it later. From the sounds of it, you want to go into... higher education administrations.

Other programs that might deal with similar content you can check out are MPA (Masters in Public Administration) and M.Ed. (Masters of Education). For both degrees, you can probably find a program with a specific track in higher education administrations or whatever your main interest is. Both degrees also generally seem pretty well-accepted.

MPA will focus more on the administrative side (it's similar to a MBA, but for public-sector-minded people), but I know there are programs with an education bent. M.Ed. is focused on the education side, but I'm sure there are programs that also have an administration track. If you can, you can also look for programs that let you pursue/combine two degrees. I know people who have done that.

I recommend looking at a couple of programs you're interested in and seeing where their alumni end up and see if it matches your goals. If you can, take them out to coffee to talk and ask questions. Also, I think having a slightly broader degree is not a bad idea in case you ever decide to move out of your niche in the future.
posted by pockimidget at 12:46 PM on June 14, 2014

If it's being paid for by someone else just do it. It seems specific to your interests.
Though be warned most people these days don't stay at a job for a very long time. Don't get it because you're boss wants you to because he may not be your boss in two years because he left or you left.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:18 PM on June 14, 2014

Not to thread-sit, but just a note: the need for a Masters degree is not only specific to this job, but appears to be a general requirement for Advancement/Development jobs a step up from the one I have now. Even if I leave this particular school and go to some other school, if I want to advance, I apparently need a Masters degree to do it.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 1:34 PM on June 14, 2014

I am in higher education and many many people in our area are enrolling in these MHEA programs. If you are interested in the field, it can only help you, as there are pretty severe limits to how far you can progress without a masters.

That said, when applying to new positions, you need to show that you have professional experience in the field as well, as a lot of people are suspicious of those who enter into the MHEA programs without any relevant professional experience, and are less likely to take their opinions seriously. That's why the chronicle commenters can be so down on them - a lot of MHEA students are fresh out of college and don't have the professional history (or perspective). That and some of those young MHEA's get hired to be supervisors above seasoned professionals, regardless of their experience, so that will always cause dissatisfaction.

Based on what you've written here, and if you have funding and will be continually employed in higher education, I don't see a reason not to do this.
posted by Think_Long at 1:46 PM on June 14, 2014

You need a masters to advance in HEA. But, it does not have to be a masters in HEA. If you have an academic interest that you would enjoy doing graduate work in, that might actually serve you better in the long run. If you have good math skills/background, a masters degree in statistics would make you amazingly attractive to faculty hiring committees at smaller schools.
posted by hworth at 2:56 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am also in higher education and no one I know in fundraising has or is pursuing an MHEA. If one didn't come into the position with a masters, people take the MBA route. Unfortunately, I can't personally speak to the value of any degree over another.
posted by sm1tten at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am also in higher education and no one I know in fundraising has or is pursuing an MHEA.

I currently work in higher ed fundraising, in a director level position, and I do not have a Masters (although everyone else on my floor, including the admins, does). I did, however, come in with about a decade of NPO fundraising experience, which apparently counted for something.

That said, were I to pursue a Masters, I would go for a Masters in Public Administration over an MHEA, simply because I think you'll find a MPPM is much more generally suited to folks who want to do development specifically -- and, who knows? Perhaps someday you'll want to do development somewhere other than higher ed, and then your degree will be more useful.
posted by anastasiav at 5:54 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work in a development office for a university as well. I echo that I would strongly consider doing an MPA instead of the MHEA. Much more versatile a degree and a very highly respected credential. Gives you more options than the MHEA without much of a tradeoff- you can always focus some of your MPA projects/work toward higher ed. Or you can get the MPA and then pick up some higher ed specific training through a reputable program like Indiana.

No one I work with has a master's level degree - but I also think this is going to change drastically in the next 20 years. The younger people getting into the game now are probably going to have master's degrees as required education for advancement in the field. But - development is still kind of a new professional field, and there's a lot of competing certifications right now. The benefit of the MPA is that it is a solid degree that isn't going to lose any clout in the next few decades. The MHEA/other fundraising certifications? It's unclear how they will hold up.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:31 PM on June 16, 2014

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