Things have changed
If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering going back to school after Peace Corps. And it’s a good thing you’re doing your research, because a lot has changed in the past few years. Before you dive into this week’s article, make sure you’re caught up on Are You Ready for Graduate School?, 5 Reasons in Favor of Grad School and 4 Against It, The True Cost of Graduate School, and The Declining Benefits of Degrees Part 1.
How it used to be
During the Baby Boomer generation, Bachelor degrees earned a reputation for being the best way to launch a successful career. So the Boomers pushed their kids into Bachelor programs. It didn’t matter so much what degree they earned. Almost any degree, from any institution, was a ticket to success.
The scales tip
The message definitely got through. As demand for college admission went up, the cost of education skyrocketed. Yet no matter how much debt students and families incurred, the Bachelor remained worth the promise of a good career later on. The pressure for students to achieve increasingly fell to professors. Rigor began its descent and grade inflation was born. By the time early Millennials were finishing the Bachelors, there were more degree holders on the market than there were jobs for degree holders.
So Millennials and their Boomer parents shot higher. If one degree was good, two or three will really be great, right? Master and Doctorate degrees began to follow in the footsteps of the Bachelors. High demand bloated prices and reduced rigor. For example, a PhD previously represented not simply completed coursework, but also a demonstrated ability to conduct complex research that pushed the bounds of human knowledge. Now, you can obtain a PhD with 2 years of part time online coursework.
Employers have responded to the glut of degrees on the market by taking them for granted. Costly Bachelor’s degrees join the rank of basic prerequisites, along with the likes of high school diplomas and typing. Master degrees are the new Bachelors. The salaries that all degrees fetch have fallen accordingly, and those without degrees are confined to a shrinking ultra-low wage sector of the economy.
This is degree inflation. The middle man—students—have purchased their degrees at great expense, only to discover that employers are no longer willing to buy at that price. It has brought us record levels of Masters and Doctorate holders and a record-breaking national student debt crisis. A record number of people hold degrees that their employers don’t require—either because they are overqualified for the work, or because they switched fields. And a record number of degree holders are unemployed or have dropped out of the job market completely.
If anyone saw this coming, they didn’t update their career advice to Millennials.
Supply and demand theory tells us this extreme situation will eventually equilibrate. As the cost of a degree exceeds the benefit of having it, students will choose alternative career paths. Degrees will become rarer. Employers will become more willing to hire people with less education and pay more for degrees.
In the meantime, how do we navigate this mess? For the answer, watch for our upcoming article on Updating Your College Modus Operandi.
This is stuff you need to know that no one is talking about.