Education Opinion

How K-12 Education Policy Contributes to Graduate Student Debt

By Sara Mead — March 26, 2014 1 min read

Loads of interesting stuff in this new New America Foundation report on graduate student debt--a major and underacknowledged contributor to sky-hight national student debt levels. But what strikes me is that a lot of the growth in this sort of graduate debt is directly related to public and licensure policies. Consider: Fully 16% of graduate student debt holders hold a master’s degree in education--many as a direct result of certification policies that require individuals to earn such credentials to become teachers through alternative route programs and/or to earn a certain number of graduate credentials every so many years in order to keep their credential. (This is also true for other rapidly growing professional master’s degrees, such as social work) Others earn masters degrees because of the incentive to do so embedded in most teacher collective bargaining agreements.The crazy thing is, research suggests most of these master’s degrees aren’t doing anything to improve their receipients’ actual skills or effectiveness as educators! Change the policies and we could reduce the number of people taking on debt to enter or stay in the teaching profession, while also boosting many young teachers’ free time and discretionary income at no cost to the public. And there’s no reason to believe this would harm kids. In fact, by freeing up teachers’ time, as well as PD and compensation resources to focus on more effective PD strategies (such as job embedded coaching) or reward factors more directly connected to student learning, we could probably serve students better. Sounds like a win-win. So let’s scrap state requirements tying advanced coursework and master’s degrees to certification.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.