So You Want Your Master’s Degree?

The young man across from me was enrolled in a master’s degree program in engineering at a state university. His story was not exactly one that warmed the cockles of my heart.

“I went to talk with my thesis adviser,” he said. “He told me that our dissertations are due in June. He said that if I planned on writing the thesis myself, I’d better start now.”

I wasn’t quite following. Writing your thesis yourself as opposed to…? He elaborated.

“He told me that if he wrote the thesis for me, it would cost $1000, but that’s a lot of money! I know two other students who have already told him they won’t pay.”

He joked that the thesis advisers needed to be able to afford their sports cars. After a pause, he said, “I’m sorry to say that corruption is everywhere in our university system.”

Tuition for his two-year master’s degree in engineering costs the equivalent of a little under $500 per year.

“As soon as most students begin the program, they begin working so they can pay for their classes and thesis paper,” he told me.

“So even if you wanted to go to all your classes and actually learn the material and write your own dissertation, could you?” I asked.

“I guess that would be very difficult,” was his laconic response.

To no surprise, he told me most graduates from local master’s programs have no actual knowledge.

“Why do students even want to study master’s programs then?” I asked.

“The law requires them to have a master’s degree to get a job.”

So it all boiled down to a very coveted piece of paper. That was all that mattered. You want to work as an engineer with such a such a firm? Be prepared to show them your piece of paper. Got it? You were in. No engineering knowledge necessary.

I understood his every word, but for my life I couldn’t wrap my mind around what he was telling me.

“Wait, so what happens when these guys get jobs and start building roads and buildings?”

“Yeah, it’s dangerous.”

“What do you think would need to happen to change the system?”

“University staff get paid very little. From their salaries alone, they don’t have enough money to live.”

Laura and I once took language lessons from a college professor who earned $140 a month. She taught classes at our language school for more income. A friend of mine who teaches English at the university level makes a whopping $230 a month. I can only guess how he supplements his income. It’s not hard to understand, then, how low wages promote corruption.

“So do you think if university staff were paid high enough salaries, the corruption would stop?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he said.

The young man across the table from me wanted to finish this master’s degree and then study a second master’s degree in Europe.

“What do you want to study in Europe?”

“Something in a related field, like seismic movement,” he said.

“Ah.”

Looking for a master’s degree in engineering? Have $2,000 for tuition and your dissertation? You’re in. No engineering knowledge necessary.

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