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The Declining Benefits of Degrees Part 1

educator-employer disconnect

In this series, we’re catching you up on the many shifts within the educational world over the past few years and what it means for you. If you’re considering school after Peace Corps, you won’t want to miss out on this.

For the sake of discussion, let’s call students a middle man. They “purchase” degrees from universities, and “sell” them to employers to make a “profit” a.k.a. making a living.

This is a convenient arrangement for universities. Students are, by definition, newbies. Most of them don’t know what they should be looking for in an education, and they rely on the university make this decision for them. By the time students know what they needed from their education, it’s too late to go back. And there’s an endless stream of new customers in line behind them waiting to get a degree.

This disconnect, along with a steady rise in demand for higher degrees, has allowed universities to get pretty lazy about customer satisfaction.

who’s the customer? 

On the surface, a university’s customer appears to be the student. Universities have done a great job satisfying this customer—grade inflation, reduced rigor, gorgeous campus amenities, and a suite of collegiate experiences keep students happily paying rapidly rising prices for degrees of decreasing professional value.

But universities have almost completely ignored the ultimate customer and end-user of their degrees: employers. Most of us unquestioningly accept that the “real world” is totally different from what they teach in school. But why should it be this way? Universities claim to make us competitive job candidates by preparing us for the real world of work. When they consistently fail in this, does their product still have value for us?

The common response: school teaches you how to think.  This is correct and good. But is that all we can reasonably expect from multiple years of full-time study? Various cases of successful education-to-employer pathways around the world would suggest otherwise.

career students

Universities train students to be successful in universities. This has fueled the growing trend of career students, who perpetually study because they are proficient academics and feel unprepared to do anything else.  Career students often end up with PhDs, which allows them to become professors. They train up the next generation of academics without ever having experienced other work environments. The academic world isolates itself further.

The number of careers well-suited to academic training are precious few. For everyone else, the school-work divide means their first employer has to start from square one training them to operate in a professional setting, just like their non-degree holding counterparts. The amount employers are willing to pay for their degree decreases accordingly.

That’s not the whole story. Stay tuned for Part 2, and what you can do about it.


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