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Monday, July 19, 2021

The Master of Fine Arts Scam

     [In July 2021], the Wall Street Journal published a troubling expose on the crushing debt burdens that students accumulate while pursuing master's degrees at elite universities in fields like drama and film, where the job prospects are limited and the chances of making enough to repay their debt are slim. Because it focused on MFA programs at ivy league schools--one accumulated around $300,000 in loans pursing screenwriting--the article rocketed around the creative class on Twitter. But it also pointed to a development in the world of higher education: For colleges and universities, master degrees have become an enormous moneymaking scheme, wherein the line between for-profit and nonprofit education has been utterly blurred. There are, of course, good programs as well as bad ones, but when you scope it out, there is clearly a systemic problem.

     Few have written more convincingly on this topic than Kevin Carey, director of the education policy program at New America. As a journalist and think tanker, he's argued for years that "universities see master's degree programs as largely unregulated cash cows that help shore up their bottom line," and shown how even schools like Harvard offer effectively predatory programs. The rise of online learning has only supercharged the program, by allowing universities to parlay their brands nationally and internationally in order to enroll students at an industrial scale.

Jordan Weissman, "Master's Degrees Are the Second Biggest Scam in Higher Education," Slate, July 16, 2021

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