Is There A Bachelor’s Degree Education Bubble?

The NY Times recently ran an article entitled The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s in which it was argued that America has become overeducated and that to stand out one must acquire a Master’s degree:

Colleges are turning out more graduates than the market can bear, and a master’s is essential for job seekers to stand out — that, or a diploma from an elite undergraduate college, says Richard K. Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Not only are we developing “the overeducated American,” he says, but the cost is borne by the students getting those degrees. “The beneficiaries are the colleges and the employers,” he says. Employers get employees with more training (that they don’t pay for), and universities fill seats. In his own department, he says, a master’s in financial economics can be a “cash cow” because it draws on existing faculty (“we give them a little extra money to do an overload”) and they charge higher tuition than for undergraduate work. “We have incentives to want to do this,” he says. He calls the proliferation of master’s degrees evidence of “credentialing gone amok.” He says, “In 20 years, you’ll need a Ph.D. to be a janitor.

So basically what we have in this country is a very Big Business (higher education) promoting the misapplication of resources for the sake of profit. Students are encouraged to earn unmarketable degrees. And it’s the students who bear the economic burden.

How do we fix this issue? By re-aligning education with economic need. By properly informing students of which degrees are most likely to lead to jobs (since most students get educated precisely for the sake of getting a job and earning a wage). By informing students that 6 out of the top 20 degrees that offer great job opportunities are two-year associates degrees.

I haven’t done the research, but I’m willing to bet that if you compared the actual distribution of majors in the United States with the ideal distribution (based on economic need) you’d find massive disparity. And solving the education bubble basically comes down to finding ways to get these two metrics more in line with each other.

Given that student debt is a massive economic issue, the Federal Government would be wise to engage in a public information campaign to inform the general populace of the information in their Occupational Outlook Handbook and to try to re-align the countries resources with it’s needs.

If there were to be a proper re-alignment, then I suspect we wouldn’t have so many people with generic Bachelor’s degrees or unmarketable Bachelor’s degrees. There doesn’t need to be a bubble. We just need more people getting educated to meet the actual needs of the economy. And an understanding that many good, high-demand jobs don’t even require a Bachelors degree. An Associate’s degree is sufficient for some positions.

In other words, let’s end the myth that everyone needs a Bachelor’s degree to find a good job. There are many people that would be happy with some of the jobs that one can get with only two years of college education.

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  1. Ramon Ray's Gravatar Comment by Ramon Ray on August 1st, 2011 at 9:27 am

    What I think is most important is the individual building their personal brand within their company or as an entrepreneur. In addition build a repertoire of marketable skills. Also invest in your personal and professional network on a regular basis. PAY for the darn lunch!

    You’ll never be unemployed.

  2. Kent Mauresmo's Gravatar Comment by Kent Mauresmo on August 2nd, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    A degree does not mean anything now-a-days. I have a feeling that all these students will just default on there debt because they will figure out that they have been sold a lie

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