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Advanced degrees can provide added job security

With a master’s on the resume, some workers find it easier to land jobs and advance in their chosen fields

Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe

Ryan Barber, who works at a Boston law firm, enrolled in a library sciences master’s degree program at Simmons College in 2010. He had been laid off from a library job in 2008. He hopes an advanced degree will help him move ahead in his career.

Nothing like a deep recession and weak recovery to focus workers on a key question: What can I do to stay employed?

The answer for many: Get an advanced degree.

Continue reading below

Most local universities offer part-time programs that allow workers to pursue studies while holding down a job. The combination can be grueling, but a master’s degree or higher can act as insurance against potential layoffs, offer a ticket to promotions and raises, or provide an advantage over job-seeking rivals without such credentials.

Some might consider traditional graduate school paths, such as getting an MBA. But advanced degrees are available in a wide field of studies, from gastronomy to accounting. Here are some popular part-time programs that full-time workers are pursuing:

Master’s in library and information science (Simmons College)

Cost per three-credit course: $3,387 (current year)

Number of courses required: 12 (13 next year)

Average time to get degree: Three years

So you thought librarian jobs in the digital age were a thing of the past? Wrong.

Simmons College’s part-time master’s of science program in library and information science - available nights, online, or as a hybrid of the two - is booming, with 637 students enrolled. The reason: Digital information has created a huge demand for people who can catalog and keep track of computer data for medical and law libraries, museums, financial firms, government agencies, and, of course, your old-fashioned neighborhood public library.

Ryan Barber, 32, a technical services specialist in the library of Boston law firm Bingham McCutchen, enrolled in the program in 2010. Laid off from a different library in 2008, he has no desire to lose his job again, if he can help it.

“You realize you really need to have a degree to move up,’’ said Barber, a Somerville resident with a bachelor’s degree in history from Eastern Connecticut State University. “Otherwise, you remain just an assistant specialist.’’

Bingham McCutchen’s tuition assistance program is helping pay Barber’s school expenses with about $5,000 a year, or enough to cover about 1 1/2 courses. Barber is taking the ninth of 12 required courses and expects to finish his degree at the end of this year.

Master’s of project management (Metropolitan College, Boston University)

Cost for four-credit course: $3,040

Courses required: 12

Average time to get degree: Two to three years

Terry Robbins, 45, a director of operations technology at a major insurance company in New Jersey, peered into the future and realized he had many years of work ahead of him.

“I was looking at the market and said to myself, ‘How can I make myself more competitive?’ ’’ said Robbins, who already has a bachelor’s degree in management information systems.

The answer was BU’s part-time master’s program in project management, described as an “alternative to MBAs.’’ Robbins started his graduate studies in 2009.

Students get a crash course on finances, but they also learn to work with teams, organize projects, and make businesses and institutions run more efficiently, said Jay Halfond, dean of Metropolitan College and Extended Education at BU.

A resident of New Jersey, Robbins has taken all of his courses online and expects to complete his degree later this year.

Master’s of gastronomy (Metropolitan College, Boston University)

Cost for four-credit course: $3,040

Number of courses: 10

Average time to get degree: Two to three years

BU’s master’s in gastronomy isn’t a culinary program for aspiring chefs. Instead, it’s aimed at training people in the business and operations side of the food industry.

The program is gaining in popularity, with about 100 students this semester, up 20 percent from last year, according to BU.

Graduates may go on to work at managing restaurants, food processing firms, catering companies, and other food-related businesses.

Erin Powell, 24, is now working as a cook in the cafeteria of a private elementary school. But she sees herself possibly in a management role one day, leading efforts to increase the amount of fresh, healthy foods served to children in schools as a way to improve nutrition and reduce childhood obesity.

“It’s about quality and sustainability,’’ said Powell, a South End resident who expects to complete her 10-course program this month.

“I’ve always been interested in food and love eating, and I want to convey what I’ve learned to others,’’ she said.

The gastronomy program includes cooking courses. But students also learn about the history of food and wines, how climate and agricultural methods affect what people eat, and other aspects of the food culture and industry.

Forensic accounting and accounting information systems (Bentley University)

Cost per three-credit course: $3,654

Required courses: 10

Average time to get degree: Three years

Bentley University is known for its business curriculum, so it’s no surprise that one of its most popular part-time graduate programs is accounting, which awards a master’s of science in accountancy.

More students are concentrating in the fields of forensic accounting and accounting information systems, reflecting the growing demand by companies for expertise in complying with increasingly complex government regulations.

Forensic accountants, also often known as forensic auditors, are trained to dig into financial data looking for mistakes, discrepancies, and other red-flag items that can lead to regulatory or legal troubles.

Those specializing in accounting information systems learn in-depth technical knowledge about sophisticated computerized accounting systems.

Juris doctor in law, intellectual property rights concentration (Suffolk University)

Cost for degree: $32,948 per year

Number of courses: 26 (average)

Time to get degree: Four years

Though applications to US law schools are generally declining, Suffolk University’s part-time degree program is holding steady, in part because of the popularity of its intellectual property rights concentration.

Intellectual property is becoming a growth specialty because of the escalating number of legal fights between companies over patents and copyrights in technology, biotechnology, and other cutting-edge fields, Suffolk officials said.

As a result, the students in the program are not your typical aspiring lawyers with eyes on careers in law firms or politics.

Instead, they are often midcareer professionals in high tech, biotech, and health care, who go on to work at the intersection of business, law, and technology, said Michael Rustad, codirector of the intellectual property program at Suffolk University Law School.

The concentration requires students to take six to eight classes on intellectual property issues as part of the coursework they must complete to earn a degree.

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