Many college undergraduate students reach a point in their academic careers when they begin weighing the pros and cons of graduate school.

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Some fields require advanced degrees, while others let employees choose what’s best for them.

Hospitality degrees are still new concepts in an industry that’s traditionally made employees work their way up the totem pole to senior management positions. Still, some employees pursue graduate education with hopes that it will make them stand out from the pack.

The question remains: what do hotels think about this?

Hospitality graduate degree programs say hoteliers aren’t their biggest fans, even though these degrees often help employees distinguish themselves among their colleagues.

“Hotel companies don’t necessarily embrace graduate education,” said Elizabeth Barber, associate dean of Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.
“This is an industry where a graduate degree has never been important. My perception is that they really believe that employees really need to start from the ground up and work your way through the different departments.”

Of the 80 students currently in Temple’s hospitality graduate program, Barber said she’s noticed about 75% of students have little to no experience upon entering, and about 25% have some experience. Much of the industry never went to college, and those who did may not have studied hospitality, Barber says.

“If companies have tuition reimbursement benefits, why aren’t more employees going back to school?” Barber said. “When you think about the hospitality industry, it’s changing so much with online digital marketing and the third party providers, so wouldn’t hotels like to have some new ideas and new blood coming through the door?

Publicly, at least, hotels say yes.

Marriott offers tuition reimbursement for employees pursuing graduate degrees in hospitality or other disciplines, said Angela Wiggins, a spokesperson for Marriott’s human resources department.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) said they “provide education assistance, and empower managers to work directly with their employees on accommodating schedules to allow for flexibility while obtaining an advanced degree.”

“Those who hold a hospitality degree also have a better line of sight into career opportunities and a demonstrated interest and commitment to our industry,” said Lori Gaytan, a spokesperson for IHG’s human resources department.

Many hotels have their own graduate training programs providing specific resources and leadership education pertaining to that company, which leaves employees to determine whether a graduate degree or hotel-specific training program would benefit them more.

IHG has a menu of options for employees seeking professional development. These include a general managers development program and a career insight program, the later giving employees training they need for developing skills for positions they want to hold.

The company also offers IHG Academy, a program working with educational and community organizations to fill jobs in hospitality, Gaytan said.

Hospitality schools continue to check-in with us on their curriculum, so they can adapt to the latest developments and trends in the industry, which shows that they are invested in making sure they are preparing students to have a successful career,” said Gaytan.

Neither Marriott nor IHG could provide the number of employees who currently hold graduate degrees at their companies, whether in hospitality or other fields.

Alan Fyall, graduate program director at University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Rosen College of Hospitality Management, says the school’s Orlando location, the theme park capital of the world with countless hotels, makes it easy for schools and hoteliers to keep an ongoing dialogue about industry changes. Fyall said there are 150 students in his graduate program today, and he’s noticed many students wanting to learn how to build their own hotel operation. Barber’s made similar observations.

“We consistently have entrepreneur-aspiring students, I wouldn’t call it a trend since there’s always been a consistent number of them,” said Barber. “But young people aren’t as enthusiastic to go off and work on their own after the 2008 market collapse, I see more students wanting to work for corporations now.”

Both Temple and UCF offer online and in-person courses for graduate students to help accommodate their demanding work schedules. Starting next fall, UCF will offer only online or only in-person tracks or a track with both online and in-person class meetings. Barber said Temple will begin offering an MBA in hospitality asset management this year, which she expects will be popular.

“One of the areas we’re focusing on lately is asset management, we believe students need to know more about asset than operations,” said Barber. “Asset needs to be managed to make sure not only is it profitable but also to make sure it continues to increase its value.”

Fyall also said being flexible geographically and having international experience helps bolster resumes. At UCF, he said an increasing number of Asian students in his graduate program come to the U.S. to study and return to work in Asia, where he notes the industry is seeing significant change.

Photo Credit: Many hotel employees, such as hotel managers, seek graduate education to help themselves stand out in companies. Holiday Extras / Flickr