Should the CLS/MT Education Entry Level be the Masters Degree?
What is the Rationale?
What are the problems perceived for employers?
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
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
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
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.
DOES IT PAY?
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.
STUDIES CALLING FOR CHANGE
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
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
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. (http://chronicle.com)
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?” (http://www.ed.gov/pubs/College ForAll/title.html)
4. National Center for Education Statistics. Student Financing of Graduate and
First-professional Education, 1999-2000. Statistical Analysis Report. July 2002.
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
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