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Opening Arguments

Degree inflation

A new report from Burning Glass, a labor market analytics company, has the numbers to prove what a lot of people have been saying the last few years about "degree inlation" -- a college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the minimum credential required to get even the most basic, entry-level job:

The most benevolent explanation is that technology has changed the nature and responsibilities of many jobs. Duties are becoming more complicated, requiring more technical knowledge and stronger critical thinking skills.

[. . .]

Note, though, that the skills required of college grads are not always ones they are taught in college.

Which brings me to another, potentially more troubling explanation for degree inflation: signaling.

Regardless of what you actually learn in college, graduating from a four-year institution may broadcast that you have discipline, drive and stick-to-it-iveness.

I suspect that second point has always been the case. Having a college degree has always signaled that, whatever faults and talents you had otherwise, you had the ambition to set a goal and the determination to see it through for four years. When I started on newspapers, I learned more about journalism in the first month on the job than I did in four years of college. And I could have learned it just as well without the degree. But without it, I wouldn't have even gotten my foot in the door.

Going through four years of college also shows you might have reached the "plays well with others" stage. Those who want to jump right into the adult world from high school are likely to still be running with scissors.


Larry Morris
Wed, 09/10/2014 - 9:18am

"Those who want to jump right into the adult world from high school are likely to still be running with scissors."

I agree that the worst thing someone can do is jump into the middle of life right out of high school.  However, as someone who never went to college, there are other ways to accomplish the same thing.  Military service and trade school are two that come to mind right away.  I'm not sure that subjecting young people to the ultra-left environment of today's college world or saddling them with almost suffocating debt so early in their life is worth painting the picture that they can work and play well with others and they are ambitious.