As an essential component of the educational process of student learning and development, the contributions made by student affairs educators (#SAEds) are invaluable. Contrary to the belief of many not in student affairs, our work is not about “recess” (i.e. clubs, organizations, student activities, and recreation) and the principal’s office (conduct), extra-curricular and bloat, or non-essential and replaceable activities. However, the learning that occurs in our non-traditional classrooms is essential to the cognitive non-academic skill and competency attainment of many of our students. I would argue that this learning best occurs in these spaces.
However, I constantly hear #SAEds contemplating the decision to pursue terminal degrees. They say things like, “I don’t want to teach, be a President or even a Vice President so, I don’t need a doctorate,” or, “why should I get my doctorate, I am just a practitioner and am I ever going to use it?” In fact, Student Affairs is a discipline and an important part of the academy. Without the credentials/degrees that are most valued by constituents of the academy, we will always struggle to be recognized as major contributors to the educational process.
I will address the age-old question of “to pursue or NOT pursue” a terminal degree. In reality, this is not the right question. The question is WHEN to pursue the degree. I understand that it depends upon a number of variables including but not limited to the following:
- Life circumstances;
- Career goals;
- Personal and financial consideration; and,
- Family matters.
The timing of earning a degree notwithstanding, the need for continued and life-long learning is becoming more of a necessity rather than an option. The educational aspect of a well thought-out career plan must include consideration for a terminal and/or an advanced degree. In the field of student affairs, a master’s degree is usually required for many entry-level positions. Even now, a master’s degree and a few years of experience accompanied by the appropriate levels of supervision make most professionals competitive for middle- and upper-level positions. Until recently, even senior student affairs officer (SSAO) positions required only a master’s degree and preferred a doctorate.
While many professionals contemplate the pursuit of a terminal degree, it became increasingly clear to me as I continued my career trajectory in higher education that a degree at the highest level was necessary if I wanted to be competitive for positions at the highest levels. Today, more and more SSAO position announcements are seeking candidates with terminal degrees.
While a doctorate is not yet required for many student affairs positions, I am of the opinion that it will not be long before this trend changes. In addition to aforementioned relevance in the academy, if we want to be able to “choose” versus being “chosen,” or “pick” rather than being “picked” for a position, we need to consider those things that will make us competitive. That said, choosing or picking the ideal job can be directly influenced by many things, and of great importance is a person’s educational qualification. Having a credential may mean the difference between getting a resume reviewed or not, between getting an interview or not, between being offered opportunities in our current roles or not. Even if our experience is indicative of our ability to perform and move organizations forward, an advanced or terminal degree often the first characteristic considered in reviews of applications or personnel.
This post is part of our #SAdoc series, which aims to show that the journey for a doctorate in Student Affairs is about more than just a piece of paper. A variety of SA pros working towards, or who have obtained, their #SAdoc will share their stories of the hustle and struggle of the process; the ups and downs. For more information, please see Kevin Wright’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
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