Is Higher Ed Losing Value?

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Is the widespread push for everyone to go to college turning into a problem for higher education itself? A college education is often pushed as the cure-all for getting better employment, but the benefit is not as good as it once was. On top of that, the graduates being turned out of colleges apparently do not show as much education as previous generations.

Is the widespread push for everyone to go to college turning into a problem for higher education itself? A college education is often pushed as the cure-all for getting better employment, but the benefit is not as good as it once was. On top of that, the graduates being turned out of colleges apparently do not show as much education as previous generations.

A January opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal noted that a college degree is not worth as much as it once was, in comparison to a high school degree. On top of that, tuition is still rising and a phenomenon of underemployment has followed.

“We now have more college graduates working in retail than soldiers in the U.S. Army, and more janitors with bachelor’s degrees than chemists. In 1970, less than 1% of taxi drivers had college degrees. Four decades later, more than 15% do,” say the authors. They suggest the numbers of students attending college is greater than the market of professional jobs.

With a higher percentage of Americans going through college, their more-highly-educated characteristics are also wearing off.

“In 1970, when 11% of adult Americans had bachelor’s degrees or more, degree holders were viewed as the nation’s best and brightest. Today, with over 30% with degrees, a significant portion of college graduates are similar to the average American—not demonstrably smarter or more disciplined. Declining academic standards and grade inflation add to employers’ perceptions that college degrees say little about job readiness.”

Now it is Master’s degrees versus Bachelor’s degrees that hold a growing income earning edge.

The authors say colleges will have to change in the next five years as demand for more lackluster education falls. Institutions will have to cut costs and survive competition from sources such as online courses and outside evaluations. The authors conclude that the competition may cause some inferior institutions to crumble but, “The cleansing would be good for a higher education system still tied to its medieval origins—and for the students it’s robbing.”

Vedder, Richard and Christopher Denhart. “How the College Bubble Will Pop.” The Wall Street Journal. 8 Jan 2014.

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