My first reaction to this news was one of pleasure: she's smart, and seems to have the kind of serious, obsessional interests that would serve her well in graduate school. But as I continued to reflect on her and on several other students who have gone on to good master's programs, I realized that my satisfaction was twofold:
a) these are intellectually curious people pursuing further study in fields they enjoy
b) they are not in Ph.D. programs.
My reasons for being glad they're not in Ph.D. programs should be obvious: blah blah job market, blah blah debt, blah blah self-indulgent desire of the professoriate to see its choices validated in those of a younger generation. I think I'm supportive of those students who hope to do doctoral work, but they and their years of potential exploitation do weight on me.
M.A. programs, on the other hand, I've always regarded as benign. Sure, they're institutional money-makers and result in degrees that may or may not advantage their holders professionally, but their expenses are usually obvious and up-front. In exchange, the student gets a focused course of study that allows him or her to do advanced work in a specific field. Call it a luxury good or a pricey self-improvement project, but I assume most students recognize the trade-offs.
In practice, though, I've known very few people who have gotten an M.A., enjoyed the process, and not wanted to go on to get a Ph.D.--unless their M.A. was intended as a means to an end or life circumstances intervened.
So I'm wondering: am I allowed to feel good about my students going on to M.A. programs, even in the absence of an obvious career objective? Or am I just encouraging them to believe that the life of the mind exists only within the academy and/or with an advanced degree--and discouraging them from the discovery that engaged, intellectually rewarding lives are possible in the context of any number of other (more stable, more remunerative) careers?
Am I, in other words, part of the problem?