Archive for March 1st, 2013

March 1, 2013

A college degree has become the new high school diploma

by Grace

Megan McCardle on how a college degree has become the new high school diploma:

… the BA is becoming what a high school diploma became before it: a signal to employers that you are not stupid, lazy, or poor enough to drop out before you’ve finished your education.

This method of signaling is inefficient, a huge waste of resources.

 … That’s valuable for the employers, but it’s increasingly expensive for the students, without necessarily preparing them to better do their work.  And it’s far from clear that it’s worth removing people from the workforce for four years in order to prepare them to do sales, or manage an office.

McCardle wrote in response to a recent New York Times “lengthy article exploring this phenomenon through the lens of a law firm which requires everyone, even the lowliest clerical worker, to have a college degree”.

This built-in inefficiency has its roots in a dysfunctional K-12 educational system and the government’s misguided intervention into higher education funding.  Too many high school graduates that are poorly prepared for college or career are being subsidized to enroll in colleges with watered down standards.

The old model is no longer working.

I recently chatted with a friend who had pushed her two sons to attend college even though they were not strong “college material”.  After they received their degrees from lower-tier schools, both went on to start their own businesses.  Both are doing well, but neither has really ever used or needed their college education in their line of work.  However, as my friend explained, both had very good college experiences.  For them, it was a time to mature, have fun, and learn about different types of people and places.

Growing up and learning new things can occur in many places other than on a college campus, usually at a much lower price.  But because we see how employers use college as a sifting tool for employment, we are forcing college on many people who don’t need it.  We do this at great expense, both in terms of money and opportunity cost.  The soaring rise in college costs, a faltering economy, and technological advancements are causing big changes in this system, although it’s still anybody’s guess what exactly the next model will be.


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