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Thinking of a Hospitality Management Degree? 6 Crucial Things to Know Before You Get One

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There are a few ways to get ahead in the hotel management world.

You could turn your hotel into an ecotourist’s dream. You could get great hotel management software to help your facility run more efficiently. You could get a job at a higher-end hotel in a prime location.

Or, you could go back to school and get a degree in hospitality management.

But should you?

After all, it’s a lot of work and costs a lot of money. The average four-year hospitality administration/management degree costs $137,536.

On the other hand, a hospitality management degree can mean a significant bump to your salary, which could have a big impact on your lifetime earnings.

That doesn’t mean you should immediately jump in with both feet, however. There are a few things you need to consider before making such a big decision.

1. Downside: It’s a mediocre-to-bad return on investment

Salary.com placed “hospitality/tourism” on its list of “8 College Degrees with the Worst Return on Investment.” It’s worth noting that everyone’s situation will be different, and that people with college degrees out-earn those with just high school degrees by $1 million over a lifetime.

But Salary.com found that hospitality may be one of the few degrees where maybe it’s best to just pass. Graduates in hotel resident management saw just a 102% return on investment (ROI) over 30 years compared to those without a degree, while meeting/event planners got an 87% ROI, and catering managers saw just a 66% ROI. The figures were even lower for private colleges: 30%, 26%, and 20%, respectively.

There’s also the fact that, as many commenters on the article pointed out, the ROI depends on the notion that people without a degree will stay stuck at the median salary for 30 years. More than likely, they’ll gradually climb the ladder over the years and eventually earn a salary that is more comparable to people with college degrees.

2. Upside: It’s still a nice bump in salary

A 102% ROI may not be great when compared to other majors out there, but that’s not nothing.

The article estimates you’d earn $3,838,180 over 30 years with a college degree in hotel resident management, whereas at the current median salary of $65,076, that number falls just shy of $2 million.

Again, however, that implies people without a college education would spend three decades at the median salary. Still, it may take years for you to catch up to someone with a college degree if you eschew going back to school.

3. Downside: It’s a ton of work, and a big time investment

If you’re like most people, you can’t just quit work and spend a few years in college without earning money at this point in life. So you’ll probably have to take courses at night and work on the weekends. That takes a lot out of you.

If you’re working a full-time hotel management job during the day and taking a full spread of college courses at nights and on weekends, you’re probably cheating yourself of the sleep you need. And chronic sleep deprivation has a ton of downsides, like what a recent study from the University of Washington found that chronic sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system. Or a study from the University of Warwick that found that late nights can lead to a higher risk of strokes and heart attacks.

And then there’s the financial downside. You’ll probably be shelling out more than $30,000 per year while in school, which is tough for anyone to afford early in their careers.

However, you’ll have plenty of company. Nearly 14 million Americans work while taking classes, making up a staggering 70% to 80% of all college student and nearly 10% of the labor force.

4. Upside: It may help you boost profits at your hotel

Bad management can really cost a hotel. All it takes is a few episodes of “Hotel Hell” by Gordon Ramsay to demonstrate that. In each episode, the world-famous chef and hospitality maven explores the disastrous behind-the-scenes situations at many hotels where people got in way over their heads trying to run a business they don’t understand.

On the show, hotel managers make basic mistakes like overcharging for rooms, micromanaging staff, doing a poor job of general upkeep, serving terrible food, and ignoring guests or treating them badly.

If you don’t manage a hotel well, you can lose tremendous amounts of money. If you go to school and learn the tricks of the trade, you can spot opportunities to boost profits by simply running a better hotel that will both attract guests and allow you to raise your room rates. That itself can allow you to demand a higher salary as ownership is impressed with the hotel’s bottom line.

Even in hotels with restaurants, rooms contribute 60% to 80 % of the hotel’s revenues. Increasing the value of these rooms through good management is the best way to maximize profits for stakeholders.

5. Downside: Ownership may not care about your degree

Hospitality degrees actually aren’t highly regarded by everyone. Traditionally, employees get ahead in this industry by climbing the ladder and learning the trade on-the-job rather than in a classroom.

Some hotels may value your degree, but others may shrug their shoulders at it, feeling that what you learn working in the hospitality field is far more important.

“Hotel companies don’t necessarily embrace graduate education,” Elizabeth Barber, associate dean of Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, said in an interview with Skift. “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.”

6. Upside: Ownership may offer tuition benefits

Barber went on to note that if hotels really valued hospitality degrees, we’d see more employees going to school. But certainly, many hotels out there value education, and you may be able to find a hotel that is willing to offer tuition benefits to their employees. You may even reach out to ownership at your current hotel to ask about such a program, although be prepared to make a pitch as to why it will be worth it to them.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts, for example, offers a tuition assistance program, although reviews suggest that it is significantly limited.

In 2011, Choice Hotels — which owns brands like Quality Inn and Comfort Suites — unveiled a “revamped scholarship program.”

“The Choice Hotels International Foundation scholarship program will award up to fifty $2,500 scholarships this year – 30 awards for dependents of corporate associates and 20 awards to employees at the company’s independently-owned hotel franchises or their dependent children. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, scholarship recipients will be selected based on academic achievement, participation in their communities and evaluation of their work experience.”

Do you think a hospitality management degree is worth it?

This is a controversial subject to say the least. So we want to hear from our readers: did you get a hospitality degree, and if so do you think it helped you? Did you decide against getting such a degree? Let us know your decision and thought process in the comments below. Or, if you’re still torn about it, we’d love to hear why.

Looking for Hospitality Property Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Hospitality Property Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Dan Taylor

Dan is a content writer at Capterra, specializing in hotel management, construction and real estate. Outside the office, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, catching up with the latest offering from HBO or paying a visit to a new place.

Comments

This is kind of a tough one to comment on. I intentionally chose to get a hospitality management degree and this was 20-some-odd years ago when there were only 3 schools in California that offered a bachelor’s degree. It was a great experience, had some a couple memorable professors, partnered with another classmate and we ran a restaurant on campus for a day and the best part were the field trips to other hotels. In hindsight, I’m not sure I would have chosen a hospitality degree. All employers like seeing candidates with degrees, I think more so because of the time, work and dedication it takes to earn a degree. In hospitality though, you’re not necessarily going to get a management position with a degree alone and no practical experience. You learn on the job and move up. After getting my degree, I started as a hostess in a hotel restaurant and a few months later, moved into a role assisting the director of F&B and managing the hotel’s bakery/deli outlet of two hourly employees. Not at the same hotel, but I then became a catering manager, then convention services, executive meeting manager, sales manager and presently senior sales manager. Again, I had a degree but still had to work my way up and learn the ropes. With the expansion of colleges and universities offering hospitality management programs, I’m sure the curriculum has expanded and improved. If I were to do it all over again, I would choose to go to Cornell or a degree in something completely different and still go work in hotels if that was what interested me. If you’re considering a hospitality degree, definitely recommend talking to a few people in your local industry and get there take – talk to those who have degrees and those who don’t. Life is all about choices!

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