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Should the CLS/MT Education Entry Level be the Masters Degree?

What is the Rationale?

1. What are the reasons that NAACLS has initiated this study?

a. One reason is that the particular meaning that a specific degree carries has changed and developed and the scope of graduate education has broadened dramatically. The number and variety of professional programs, combined with persistent efforts to differentiate these from the arts and science model, have resulted in an avalanche of new titles and resulting curricular models reflect this.

In a 1988 study of the master’s degree the author, Judith Glazer stated: “The degrees have become based more on utilitarian and measurable objectives and directed toward more immediate outcomes that reflect contemporary societal values.” (1) More recently, several reports have urged that master’s level education in general be strengthened and the professional master’s degree options be expanded. Since 1997 the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the William M. Keck Foundation have financed the startup of 67 new professional masters’ degrees in the sciences at 30 US institutions. The goal was to create a new type of two year master’s degree in the sciences and mathematics that equips graduates for work outside of academia. (2) Uncounted other programs related to this initiative have evolved on their own and degrees now cover the whole gamut of science.

In addition to the expanded diversity of degrees, access to higher education has expanded markedly and the public has increasingly supported the idea that all high school graduates should have the opportunity to go to college.

In 1940 only 6% of those in the 25–29 age group actually graduated with a bachelor’s degree and by 1950, even with the GI Bill, It had increased to only 8%. By 1999, 27% in the age group 25-29 graduated with a bachelor’s degree and 33% of those graduates enrolled in graduate programs.

208,000 master’s degrees were awarded in 1970 with 30,000 doctorates. In 2002 the estimate was 414,000 master’s degrees and 46,000 doctorates. (3)

Counselors have had an impact on college enrollments by increasing their efforts to advise even low academic achievers into college. In 1982 they were advising 33% and by 1999 they were advising 66% of low achievers to go to college. For many related reasons, degrees themselves are considered less prestigious than before, regardless of the curriculum pursued.

Interestingly, one of the categories included in the increasing number of degrees for the 1970s and forward was health related fields. Baccalaureate degrees in these fields grew by 234% from 1970 to 1999. Masters degrees in these fields grew by 583% over the same period. Employment projections in the 1990s were for ample opportunities for people with advanced degrees. Going to graduate school came to be considered a smart career move on the part of college students.

But how did all of these folks afford graduate education? The National Center for Educational Statistics indicates that in 1999-2000 2.7 million were enrolled in graduate level programs with 58% of them at the master’s level. At a public institution, for example it was shown that a full time master’s student paid on average $19,000 per year which included all fees and living expenses. (4) The same report shows that 44% of these students worked while going to school and 58% received financial aid either federally or from the institution in the form of assistantships, etc. Apparently the money was available.


If it was such a good career move, did it pay to get a master’s degree? The Center’s report indicates that as of 2002 the typical holder of a baccalaureate degree earned $2.1 million over a 40 year career, a masters degree earned $2.5 and a PhD. $3.5 million over a 40 year career.


b. Another reason for the Task Force’s initiative is that it appeared timely to do so. A large number of important national studies have recently called for major changes in the U.S. health care system.

National Academy Press (2001) : Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century

CDC (2001) : Genomic Workforce Competencies 2001

AHA (2002) : In our Hands: How Hospital Leaders Can Build a Thriving Workforce

National Academy Press (2002): The Future of the Public’s Health

National Academy Press. (2003): Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality

These and more, taken together, promote a tremendous thrust to reinvent, reorganize, restructure, reconceptualize, rethink, or reshape the health system. There seems to be general agreement that the system has to change. From what and to what are not always clear. But laboratory professionals make up a large and increasingly important cadre within the system. They must have input into changing roles and changing structures.


2. Why is NAACLS Doing This?

The question is asked “why is NAACLS and not some other entity doing this?” The answer to that involves the inherent diversity and objectivity of the processes NAACLS carries out, the national recognition and stature it holds, and its basic responsibility to be futures oriented.

First, NAACLS is an independent accrediting agency, not directly connected to professional organizations. It is nationally recognized for accrediting a variety of laboratory professions. As such it carries out its work by means of four diverse but highly symbiotic components:

1.) Three review committees (N=36)
2.) A Board of Directors (N=13)
3.) Executive office staff (N=9)
4.) Several hundreds of NAACLS volunteers across the country.

These components represent many different professions, different levels of education, different institution types and organizational structures, as well as diverse political and social orientations. NAACLS works as a synthesis of all.

Second, NAACLS is currently and independently recognized by the non-governmental Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Such recognition means that NAACLS has undergone a through review of qualifications and activities to determine whether they meet specific standards for carrying out the responsibilities. These responsibilities include advancing academic quality and encouraging needed improvement. Because of this, NAACLS works closely with many constituent organizations to understand their needs and to invite their input into the policies and procedures. These constituent organizations related to the laboratory are numerous and have diverse objectives and philosophies, unlike the singular organizations that represent most other health professions.

Finally, given the responsibility for determining educational standards for the professions it represents, NAACLS is charged to look far into the future, because the process of developing and then implementing new standards takes many years. This ‘futures’ orientation requires NAACLS to be proactive. The Task Force on CLS Entry Level was appointed to aid NAACLS in carrying out its responsibilities.

1. Glazer, Judith S. “The Master’s Degree”. ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, Washington, DC 1988.

2. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Career Network. “Reviving a “Lesser” Degree in the Sciences”. June 17, 2003. (

3. National Library of Education. A Report to the U.S. Department of Education. “College for All? Is there too Much Emphasis on getting a 4-year College Degree?” ( ForAll/title.html)

4. National Center for Education Statistics. Student Financing of Graduate and First-professional Education, 1999-2000. Statistical Analysis Report. July 2002.

What are the problems perceived for employers?

Fear of increasing salaries and, therefore, increasing costs

Perception of the utilization of over-qualified people

Perception that we just need someone to run tests.

Fear of upsetting the salary /wage program with regard to other allied health professionals and nurses

Poor understanding of laboratory function and personnel qualification
levels and responsibilities

Threat of licensure (as loss of control)

Perception that the medical director is paid to oversee laboratory functions and to consult; therefore, other higher level personnel are not needed

Threat of an invasion of the physicians’ turf

1 Rationale for Task Force Activity
3 Risks in Moving to Post Baccalaureate Entry to CLS/MT.
4 What are the Benefits?
5 The Impact on Hospital-Based Programs if the CLS/MT Entry level is advanced to a Master’s Degree?
6 Problems for Certification Agencies.
7 What are the problems perceived for employers?
8 Laboratory Administration’s Perspective: Masters Entry Level CLS/MT.
9 What Problems Would CLS/MT Post Baccalaureate Entry Pose for NAACLS?
10 Ramifications for CLT/MLT if CLS/MT becomes a Master’s Entry Level.
11 Differentiation Between the CLS/MT and CLT/MLT
12 The Progression of Academic Standards in CLS.
13 The Debate Continues: Is a Master’s Degree the Answer for Clinical Laboratory Science?
14 Clinical Laboratory Scientist/Medical Technologist of the Future: Task List.
15 Bibliography

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