Elimination of Civic Leadership Program could give undergrad program more prestige

One more program at the University has been cut. Because of lack of funding, the master’s degree part of the Civic Leadership Program has been eliminated, and there are plans of integrating the program into the undergraduate political science department.

Students who completed the program began their studies their junior year; had a 7-month internship anywhere in the world, aided by $10,000 funding from CLP; completed a master’s degree in political science; and completed a group project thesis. On top of it all, members were eligible for tuition waivers.

Students in the program are upset about the decision, to say the least, and they have every right to be. Fortunately, students already admitted into the program will be able to finish their master’s degree as they had planned.

But the program has had its run, and integration into the undergraduate program could help give the undergraduate political science department more prestige.

Integration would boost employer perceptions of the University’s undergraduate degree because CLP, devoid of the additional year of school, could make it more competitive. If students didn’t have to stay for another year of school, more students may apply for the program, making the selection process all the more selective.

But for students who are enrolled, the part that probably seemed most attractive was the master’s degree — ranked 21st in the nation’s political science programs, tying with Northwestern University and the University of Texas at Austin, according to U.S. News & World Report — and it was cut. Giving more emphasis to the bachelor’s degree is a much better course of action.

Over the past few decades, the bachelor’s degree has morphed into the high school diploma — a four-year degree is a requirement for nearly every entry-level job. Since the recession began five years ago, the number of students applying to master’s degree programs has increased — and so did the thought that the master’s is the new bachelor’s. In 2009-10, nearly 700,000 master’s degrees were awarded, more than twice those awarded 10 years prior.

Professional and academic opinions on the value of a master’s degree vary, but it seems that several sources would agree that not every master’s degree is equal in value — some are worthy of the lofty $50,000 each while some are not. Although CLP was virtually a free degree because of tuition waivers, the master’s degree could serve to hinder the program’s graduates.

Despite the extra education, employers may value the experience over additional classes.

Too much education comes with the pejorative “overqualified.”

The real-world experience that employers value wasn’t devoid from CLP, though. The program was responsible in providing students with practical and applicable skills for the real world through the residency and the practicum, something that many other ivory-tower humanities and social science programs don’t explicitly include.

CLP’s seven-year run did show that University students have an interest in pursuing further education in political science and civic leadership, but that doesn’t mean they have to pursue those interests in a master’s program, especially if the undergraduate program is bolstered by cutting the master’s degree.