College degree becoming the new high school diploma

Hi, I just watched this brief video from MSNBC - it's an interview with Catherine Rampell who recently wrote an article about "degree inflation" in the NY Times (I haven't read her article yet).  The gist is that her research shows that more and more employers are requiring at least a Bachelor's Degree - even when the jobs offered do not require that level of education/training.  

Here's the link to the video:

Here's the link to the article:

So how does/will this phenomenon affect our work?


Underemployed and Overinvested: Should We Be Trying to Increase College Degree Attainment?

Marie and all: This is a timely topic. Today adult educators are being asked to provide college readiness education to adult learners in the Adult Education and Literacy System (AELS). This is a challenging task and it is not clear that it should be the business of the AELS to do this. But that is another issue. For now the question is how wise is the general policy of college for all. In their January 2013 policy paper entitled Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed? University Enrollments and Labor-Market Realities,  Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, and Jonathan Robe of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity examine the wisdom of the college for everyone movement being spurred by the federal government.  Here are some extensive quotes from the policy paper:


Quote:”The mismatch between the educational requirements for various occupations and the amount of education obtained by workers is large and growing significantly over time. The problem can be viewed two ways. In one sense, we have an “underemployment” problem; College graduates are underemployed, performing jobs which require vastly less educational tools than they possess. The flip side of that, though, is that we have an “overinvestment” problem: We are churning out far more college graduates than required by labor-market imperatives. The supply of jobs requiring college degrees is growing more slowly than the supply of those holding such degrees. Hence, more and more college graduates are crowding out high-school graduates in such blue-collar, low-skilled jobs as taxi driver, firefighter, and retail sales clerks.59 Credential inflation is pervasive. And, as Hernstein and Murray noted nearly two decades ago, one by-product of this phenomenon is a dumbing down of the college curriculum; as they put it “credentialism… is part of the problem, not the solution.”60


That suggests the earnings advantage associated with a bachelor’s degree will change over time. By one way of looking at it, the college degree becomes less worthwhile financially: If one compares earnings of those with bachelor’s degrees with that of all workers (not merely high-school graduates), the day may come when the bachelor’s degree will pay less than that of all workers, as the proportion of workers with more than bachelor’s degrees comes close to approximating that of those with less than a four-year diploma. The college degree will be the new normal, and the credential inflation leading to more and more college-educated taxi drivers will continue to escalate. Yet this is not to say going to college is unnecessary: Indeed, it would be almost impossible to get a job without a degree. Vocational success would require even more education.


But at what cost? Can we afford to expend $100,000 or more in resources giving kids a college degree, only to see them take taxi driver jobs for which the college education added hardly a scintilla of employment skill? Can we afford to lose the labor services of 18-to-22 year olds going to college for little employment advantages, persons who could start driving a taxi or working as a bank teller at 18 instead of 22? In an era where the worker-to-dependent ratio is rapidly falling, the underemployed college graduate isan expensive luxury we can ill afford as a nation. …


All of this calls into question the wisdom of the “college for all” movement. Does it make sense to become the world’s leader again in the proportion of young adults with college degrees? Is the goal of individuals like President Obama or groups like the Lumina Foundation to increase college degree attainment desirable? Should we look for new and cheaper ways to assure employee competency?... Economists for generations have long accepted the law of diminishing returns—when one adds more and more resources, at some point the marginal contribution to output falls. The law applies to education as to almost everything in life. “end quote

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So Marie, how will this affect our profession of adult education? I suspect that we may find it more and more difficult to provide the extensive service that the very least prepared adult learners require to make even modest gains, while we invest more and more in trying to provide college readiness education that will in fact help a relatively small percentage of undereducated adults achieve college degrees (at least 2 year college degrees) while failing to find a very large increase in the percentageof adult students who actually move from entry levels of education in the AELS to the completion of college.


Tom Sticht