Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Credential Inflation and the Diversity of Minds

By John Glaser

The Daily Progress suggests that:
Unable to find jobs, many new grads opt for graduate school, living on educational loans and stipends and biding their time till the job market improves.

“A four-year degree in business — what’s that get you? A shift supervisor position at a store in the mall.” So said Karl Christopher, a placement counselor at the Columbia (Mo.) Area Career Center vocational program, in an interview with the Associated Press.

Even in a good economy, there is the issue of credential inflation: The more people who hold four-year degrees, the less valuable a degree is in the job market. That’s partly why business degree graduates can’t land anything better than shift supervisor, or some similar position, as an entry-level job.
I think that the argument that "too many college degrees" tends to lower their market value, leading to credential inflation, is often recieved wrongly. It sounds intuitively like an argument against widespread education, some rotten urge to hold down the masses with less education and low end jobs. This isn't the case.

The idea behind credential inflation is that so much emphasis has been put solely on the degrees themselves, that it is having deleterious effects on the job market. Over-emphasizing the academic titles before or after somebody's name and under-emphasizing individual abilities not necessarily tied to that title will only serve as a detriment. Insofar as the increased college enrollment (and corresponding joblessness, underemployment, sustained student debt, rising tuition costs, etc.) has been the result of direct governmental intervention. These interventions should be curbed. In their place should be an emphasis on what there is actually demand for in the market and what people can actually afford in terms of higher education. We've spent so many years doing the opposite, that a degree is a pre-requisite for many occupations that one could easily perform with a high school degree (or less). This is the essence of credential inflation.

As I've noted on this blog before, a college degree isn't everything, and there is a huge diversity of minds out there who may not fit well into the status quo of academia, but may nonetheless be high value market contributors. As Catherine Fake, founder of Flickr, recently wrote:
College works on the factory model, and is in many ways not suited to training entrepreneurs.
The problems with credential inflation are becoming even more poignant in an increasingly technology-driven education marketplace. How much sense does it make to continue to put so much emphasis on academic credentials when vast amounts of education and marketable skills can be acheived through simply buying a laptop, instead of decades long indebtedness to pay for a college diploma?

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