Museum TrendsWatch 2024: Short Take: Dropping the Degree

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

June 26, 2024

The Center for the Future of Museums (under the American Alliance of Museums) publishes a TrendsWatch report annually. The report includes topical deep dives and insight into emerging trends in the field; this post focuses on Dropping the Degree.

With a combination of strategic foresight, global visioning, and keeping up with the latest in ethics and technology; the Center delivers content on wide ranging topics housed within a theme. This year the report theme is TrendsWatch: Navigating a Volatile Future and includes three main trends: Culture Wars 2.0 , AI Adolescence in Museums, and Decarbonizing the Future. Then, in the pattern they adopted last year, a Short Take: Dropping the Degree; a For Your Radar: Digital Twins and Doom Loops; and a Trend Alert: Combatting the Loneliness Crisis.

The intention of this miniseries is to offer TrendsWatch snapshots to support distillation and application at museums. For our purposes we’ll cover each trend with a post. Today’s post will focus on Short Take: Dropping the Degree. For this trend I’ll provide a summary of the topic as presented by the Center. Throughout, I’ll offer analysis, insight, and tie-ins to related topics.

The Paper Ceiling

This was a new-to-me term, so please allow me to define it for others. The paper ceiling is a limitation present within the hiring system with the net effect of keeping out job applicants who don’t possess a 4-year degree (or higher in the museum field). Elizabeth Merritt, Founding Director of the Center for the Future of Museums launches right into statistics for how this depressive effect impacts races differently, sharing that this degree requirement excludes the following:

  • 70% of Black job seekers
  • 75% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • 80% of Latinos

The TrendsWatch report posits that one main origin of this requirement was born from a need (or want) to filter out job applications. Merritt then identified what many of this field know, stating: “Data suggests museums have succumbed to ‘over-credentialing’ as well.” This statement is highlighted to comedic effect when considering the degree ratio: 90% of those in the museum field have at least a 4-year degree compared to the general population average of just 33%.

Museums Experience Difficulty in Hiring

In this Short Take, Merritt suggests there are two main motivators that may encourage museum directors to reconsider hiring practices:

  1. The nonprofit labor shortage; and
  2. Directors reporting they can’t fill positions. (Note: There is no citation in the TrendsWatch report for this statistic).

What is not said and yet seems glaringly obvious is that many unfilled or hard-to-fill positions are precarious (non-permanent nor full-time employment) and/or simply don’t pay enough. The devaluation of the field—partly due to the paper ceiling—has led to many people leaving. Both a trend and statistic covered in Museum TrendsWatch 2023: The Future Workplace, but not mentioned here.

DEAI, Student Loan Debt, Devaluation

What Merritt does include is a discussion of how the paper ceiling stifles the ability to support ethical hiring practices that support Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) initiatives. For museums, that paper ceiling exacerbates job access issues because the hefty student loans that come with degrees. What is not acknowledged in the Short Take is that the removal of degree requirements is often used by museum administration to justify lower salaries. Often referred to as “de-professionalization” and a known cause toward the devaluation of the job. This secondary action negates much of the goodwill intended by the degree removal and still financially punishes the job recipient by keeping them in a lower salary bracket.


The paper ceiling is certainly something for the field to radically reconsider, but equally important is considering it within the context that—regardless of the degree—this X job has X value. In other words, the salary must be commensurate with the value of the job being performed, not the paper degree, or lack thereof, behind it. Please join us for our last post for TrendsWatch 2024: Digital Twins and Doom Loops & Combatting the Loneliness Crisis.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Woody advises on museum strategies, digital museums, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. She has authored several titles published by Lucidea Press, including her newest: Demystifying Data Preparation for a New CMS. Rachael is a regular contributor to the Think Clearly blog and always a popular presenter.

**Disclaimer: Any in-line promotional text does not imply Lucidea product endorsement by the author of this post.

Similar Posts

Leave a Comment

Comments are reviewed and must adhere to our comments policy.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This