change in the last several decades has been toward the professionalization of master’s education.3

So, the master’s degree now means different things to different stakeholders and has a varied purpose across fields. To some, this has seemed a source of confusion or even chaos. To others, this ability to mean different things to different people in varied settings is the key to its “silent success” as a degree4 and its ability to be responsive to the changing needs of both students and society. “Students pursue master’s degrees,” writes the Council of Graduate Schools, “to prepare for further advanced study or for entry into public school or community college teaching, to improve and upgrade their professional skills, to change professional fields, and to explore their own personal intellectual development.”5

Many factors have spurred this change in master’s education. Primary factors have been the need for students to obtain sufficient knowledge in an area of practice and to acquire an awareness of professional standards in order to gain access to and recognition in a profession. Professional and master’s education in business, public administration, and public health developed to meet these needs in response to the demands of the marketplace as institutions adapted to important changes in our society, economy, or government. (See Appendix F.) The development of the master of business administration (MBA) is illustrative. In 1881, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania became the first institution to offer such a degree, but the MBA degree did not immediately take off. Only in the 20th century did it grow in popularity in response to employers’ need for staff who could apply scientific methods to management and labor as American industry matured. Only after World War II did pressure from accreditors and foundations lead to graduate rather than undergraduate business schools. Business school curricula have evolved over the last century with the development of new management approaches: quality control in the 1920s; operations research and cybernetics by the 1950s; total quality management in the 1980s; and reengineering in the 1990s—all further responses to industry change.6

The development of professional education in public administration and public health has followed similar trajectories, and in these fields the master’s degree supplanted the bachelor’s as the credential for entry


As the award of so many master’s degrees in what are, for most recipients, areas of professional practice, Judith Glazer-Raymo suggests that for many, professional and master’s education are re-converging. Ibid., 16.


Clifton Conrad, Jennifer Grant Haworth, and Susan Bolyard Millar, A Silent Success: Master’s Education in the United States (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).


Council of Graduate Schools, Professional Master’s Education: A CGS Guide to Establishing Programs (Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools, 2006), ix.


Glazer-Raymo, Professionalizing Graduate Education. Conrad et al., A Silent Success.

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