Season 1, Episode 2 - Dean Amanda Bryant-Friedrich - Today@Wayne podcast

Dean Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, who leads the WSU Graduate School, talks about why masters degrees, why they are more important than ever and why it's imperative that we broaden access to graduate school for greater swaths of Detroit, our state and the nation.

Episode Notes

In the latest episode of the Today@Wayne Podcast, host Darrell Dawsey chats with WSU Graduate School Dean Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, Ph.D., as she explains why masters degrees are more important than ever and why government and universities must broaden access to graduate school for more Michiganders.


Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, Ph.D., is currently dean of the Graduate School and a professor in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

Her research interests center around the study and use of naturally and synthetically modified nucleosides and nucleotides in the determination of disease etiology and drug design and development.

She is a fellow of the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She also is a leadership fellow of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

Additional Resources


Introduction: Welcome to Today@Wayne, a podcast that engages and informs the Wayne State University campus community. With news announcements, information and current event discussions relevant to the university's goals and mission, Today@Wayne serves as the perfect forum for our campus to begin a conversation, or keep one going. Thanks for joining us.

Darrell Dawsey: I'm Darrell Dawsey, and welcome to the Today@Wayne podcast. As the world moves further into the 21st century, an educated workforce has become more indispensable than ever. And that means that advanced college degrees have become ever more valuable. Paradoxically, though, we're hearing an increasing amount of criticism of college education as legislators, business leaders and others challenge the assumed value of college degrees versus vocational training.

Joining us to discuss the continuing need for higher education is Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, dean of the Wayne State University Graduate School, and a huge proponent of continuing education. Welcome, Dean Amanda.

Amanda Bryant-Friedrich: Thank you so much for having me today.

Dawsey: Great to have you. Great to have you, and welcome to Wayne State. We know you just joined us, I believe, last August, if I'm —

Bryant-Friedrich: Yes, it is. It's really a good time to be here. Thanks for having me.

Dawsey: All right, crazy, folks. Well, anyway, let's get after this issue: We're hearing a lot of people argue against the four-year college degree, let alone a master's degree. Can you just tell us why graduate school is so important?

Bryant-Friedrich: It's a very good question, nowadays particularly, because people are so concerned about the level of student debt and the actual socioeconomic mobility of all of our students as they come into the university. What is going to be their prospect for actually earning a good living, and being able to deal with all of the different things that life is going to throw at them.

And the thing about graduate education is that now we're moving toward a more advanced workforce. We really do have a need for higher level skills, higher than what we can actually obtain at the bachelor's level. So if you are going into the university and you have already decided that you want to get an undergraduate degree, then you should be thinking about, What am I going to do after I graduate? And if your goals actually will be better met by getting a graduate degree.

So what's the advantage of a graduate degree? And the advantage is, of course, in-depth knowledge. So there is a definite benefit from the perspective of knowledge of getting a graduate degree, especially a master's degree — because you then understand your area, you become more specialized, and then you become more valuable to employers. And so that's one of the key things.

And as far as socioeconomic mobility is concerned, your earning potential goes up over a lifetime exponentially. And so you want to make sure that you take that into consideration when you're looking at the paycheck today versus the paycheck in five years. Then you want to make sure that you're seeing that evolution of your salary that you want to see to live a good life.

Dawsey: Interestingly, even as we're hearing a lot of this criticism, these attacks of higher education by folks, it seems as though the graduate degree has become in the 21st century what the bachelor's degree was in the century before. Is that right? And can you elaborate on that a bit?

Bryant-Friedrich: It is right. And the fact of the matter is it's the percentage of jobs that are out there that are actually going to require an advanced degree, that's going up. So we're going to see a much higher need. And as you see things happening like the pandemic, like the social unrest we're having in our country, and then actually the environmental issues, all of those things are going to open up spaces in workforces that were before actually held by people at the bachelor's level.

And we've been talking about the master's degree, but we also need to think about the doctoral degree — those really advanced degrees, actually — also, because you want to have the knowledge to have the influence so that you can be at the table to make those critical decisions about what's happening in your environment, in your country.

So in the health professions, particularly looking at the pandemic, we're going to be dealing with the whole issue of viruses coming into our populations. And we're going to have to be prepared to deal with that. And so people who are looking at perhaps a master's in public health, they are right now at the right time looking at the right thing. Because we need to understand how those viruses spread out, and we need to be able to help our populations deal with it.

Thinking about a master's in nursing, of course, we need nurses, we need front line workers. And if you're at the master's level, you're going to have a better time with the kinds of assignments that you're going to get in the hospital as a nurse, you're going to have a better time and actually [get] a higher salary.

So there's a lot of stuff going on that's really actual right now in today's society that is dictating that advanced degrees are going to be much more important in the next years.

Dawsey: Unfortunately, we've seen numbers that suggest that Detroiters specifically don't have the college degrees at the levels that they should have and need in order to have a much stronger economy. And that's largely because Detroit is a blue collar town built on the notion that you go into the factories and you work, and hopefully you can attain a decent living. How do you sell the idea of graduate education to a city like this and to a region like this?

Bryant-Friedrich: Yeah, that's a great question. And I came to Detroit in August of last year because of that very question. My personal mantra around graduate education and education in general is that universities and institutions of higher education in general should provide access to everyone who wants to get an education at the undergraduate, graduate level — whatever level for those who have the desire and the ability to actually come into these institutions and [get] the degrees.

And one of the things that has to do with access is making the environment feel comfortable, making the environment feel like a space where you belong. And so we talk about a sense of belonging, and we talk about all of those kinds of things. And if you come from a blue collar family and you don't have those folks at home who are telling you constantly about how great their college education was, you don't know anything about that.

And so I feel like one of the things that the universities across the country — and Wayne State in particular — we need to actually think about and reckon with our past, our present and how it's going to perpetuate our future. Wayne State has not always been the place where people from blue collar families would think that they should be included. Wayne State needs to recognize that, needs to speak to [that] and needs to say, "We understand what you're thinking, and we want you here. We want you to understand that we know that you want to actually increase the socioeconomic mobility of your family. We know that generational wealth is something that you want to accumulate."

And so we need to start sending out that message to our community: that this is the place where you can actually get that future that you're looking for yourself and for your family.

Dawsey: OK, OK. And we talked a little bit about the culture of blue collar towns, and you're absolutely right. But there's also a larger criticism that we're seeing emanate from many of our centers of power in this country. The legislators are talking about, "We don't need college education versus vocational training," and that kind of thing. What do you think is driving that kind of criticism?

Bryant-Friedrich: Yeah, that's a good question. And I think about this very often myself. So one of the things is that we have to look at who's sending the message: Are those people who are sending the message, are those people college educated people themselves? Are they people who have advanced degrees? So then we have to wonder what's their driving force? What is it that's making them say that "We don't feel like a college education is that important?" Have they themselves had to deal with the issues of college debt? And if they have, let's get them to start talking about ways that we can actually fix the problem.

They know, and the people in legislature, our federal state, local governments, they know what's coming. They know what kinds of employees they're going to need. And they're going to start seeing that the workforce is going to require that advanced level of education. And so we really do need to start having a very open conversation. "Why are you saying that people should not get advanced degrees? Do you have one? And if you have one, talk to me about why it is you got an advanced degree and you don't feel that it's necessary for me or my children to have one."

Dawsey: I think that's always a really good question to present to the folks who operate the centers of power. Let me ask you this: In terms of your — I know you just arrived, so I don't expect you to have shifted the entire paradigm in a short time on Wednesday, but I would like to know so far, what have you done and what are your priorities? What's your vision for the Graduate School?

Bryant-Friedrich: So it's really important to me, as I said, access and making sure that everyone has access if they have the desire to get a graduate education. Every decision that I make is based around that. And I don't care who you are. I don't care where you come from. I don't care how much money you have in the bank, or how much money your parents have. I want this institution to be able to give you that access.

So that means that we're going to have to find ways to make the education that people so desire affordable, and make it accessible from the perspective of the life that they're living. So a huge population of our master's students are part-time folks. And part-time means that you probably got a job, you've probably got a family — you got all kinds of things going on at home, but we need to be there when you want us to be there to actually help you get the education you want. And so we're planning around a lot of conversations around how do we serve our populations who are right at our back door. This is an important piece to me.

Detroit is a place where I actually came back from my time in Europe. I spent many years in Europe, came back here and this is where I landed. And I came to the Detroit area with very open eyes, looking at the plight of my people — the people I identify with — as well as the broader community. And I see how that this lack of success of one part of our community is impacting the success of the broader community. And that's very important to me. And so we are really trying to make sure that we are providing that access.

And people sometimes think of access as being a fishy word or a word that doesn't have substance behind it. To me, access means opening the door. It means opening the door, and it doesn't just mean that we take the lock off and open the door. But when you walk through that door, we provide you with the directions to get to where you need to go. We provide you with the resources that you need to get to where you need to go. And when you're done, we open the door again and kick you out because we need to get you out. We need to get you out of here so that you can go out there and spread the Wayne State name and populate the companies, the institutions, the hospitals, and make people recognize that Wayne State is a great place to get an education.

Dawsey: Awesome. One other thing — I want to circle back to something you said a little bit earlier. You mentioned debt. We know that there have been criticisms and cultural issues, but to what degree does the fear of debt or the current debt burdens that we see so many students facing, to what degree does that impact their decisions to pursue a master's degree?

Bryant-Friedrich: Wow, that is a very actual question. So very recently, I served on a panel for the Council of Graduate Schools, which is the national organization that oversees graduate education in the U.S. We found out that at the master's level, it's the No. 1 issue: debt — the fear of accumulating debt, the fact that there is existing debt, and people are really saying, "I will come back to the university if you can help me find a way to pay for it." And many people think that that's about extending the hand and saying, "Give me some money so I can come," but it's not. It's about, really, "Help me find out how it is I can do this on the budget that exists in my household."

And so it was really eye-opening for me to see that data — it's a really high percentage. And interestingly enough, Darrell, the second is the climate and culture of the campus. That is the second one. So people are out there trying to find the money to get together, to come to school and get an education. And they're worried about how they're going to be received when they get there.


So those are the two things. So we have a lot to work on.

Dawsey: Lot to work on, absolutely. Well, listen, I want to thank you again for joining us. I'm going to get ready to wrap up. Dean Amanda Bryant-Friedrich?

Bryant-Friedrich: Yes.

Dawsey: Friedrich, OK. Because you can say it in a way that my tongue just doesn't work it, but I really appreciate you taking your time to talk with us and to share your points of view. And once again, I want to welcome you to Wayne State, and we look forward to having you and to having your impact here on our campus.

Bryant-Friedrich: Thank you so very much, Darrell, for talking to me today. And I'm looking forward to every person who's listening who wants to be a Warrior: Come on down and let us open the door for you.

Dawsey: Absolutely, absolutely.

Bryant-Friedrich: Thank you.

Dawsey: Well, thank you so much, and we'll be talking to you again soon.

Bryant-Friedrich: Thank you.

Dawsey: All right.

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