We’ve all felt economic inflation as prices go up on lower-value items (four chicken nuggets in an order instead of five anyone?), but have you felt the effects of degree inflation?
You likely have.
These days, it’s tough to find great jobs without a bachelor’s degree. And that’s where both the education bubble and degree inflation come into play.
It used to be that a person who was smart and worked hard could get a decent-paying entry-level position and maneuver their way up through the ranks. Many factory supervisors, for instance, used to be people who graduated from high school and started as machinists or crane operators. They worked hard, mastered their skills, and ultimately were rewarded for their efforts by being promoted to foreman or supervisor.
Now it’s hard to find a great factory management position without a bachelor’s or master’s degree in engineering. So what if you’ve learned every inch of the factory line and product? So what if you have more real-world experience? So what if that new grad has never worked a machine line? They’ve got that crisp, clean piece of paper — and now they’re your boss.
As colleges and universities churn out hundreds of thousands of shiny new graduates into a recovering economy, employers in nearly every field have found that they can hire people with their MBAs to be clerks, or people with bachelor’s or master’s degrees to be assistant managers at the local pizza store. People without college degrees are finding it tougher to get the jobs previously open to them. Now they’re out-maneuvered by debt-laden college grads who take that $10 an hour job after financing a $100,000 post-secondary education.
"Degree inflation," as economists call the phenomenon, is infiltrating the job market for many positions that haven't previously required a college diploma. Naturally, a recent New York Times article espouses, the drive toward higher credentials for these jobs pushes workers with no more than a high school diploma ever further down the job market food chain.
So, it’s hard to say no when a new legislative proposal (House Bill 4148) is put to legislators in Lansing that would allow more community college bachelor’s degrees. If approved, community colleges could grant four-year bachelor’s degrees in nursing, ski area management, wastewater treatment technology and manufacturing technology, among others. This follows legislation in 2012 that allowed such four-year degrees in areas such as cement technology or maritime technology.
It seems like a great thing to allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, right? To increase access to post-secondary education for more people, right? While it’s difficult to urge restraint in this area, there must be a voice of reason injected.
One has to wonder why someone who pours and molds cement has to have a college degree in cement technology. And why should nursing be expanded from two- to four-year degrees? What’s wrong with the two-year degree?
The same goes for ski area management or culinary arts or manufacturing technology. Isn’t real-world experience through technical, hands-on training of more value? Why flood the wastewater technology market with people who have expensive four-year degrees?
There are many well-paying trades that haven’t traditionally required college degrees — electricians, plumbers, painters and mechanics. What’s next for them? Require master’s degrees to fix your toilet or change the oil on your car?
Enough is enough.
There has to be a line drawn and restraint shown. Legislators should not further open the expensive education floodgates to require advanced degrees for trades that are best learned on the job, not in classrooms.
Give hard workers a chance to advance through the ranks on merit and hard work, not only on their pedigrees. And, for goodness sake, recognize that some of the most revolutionary and successful innovators of our time came from humble roots and never earned college degrees —Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are just a few.
But think about your parents or grandparents, who didn’t need calculators or fancy degrees to get the job done. They also likely did it better than the current generation of kids graduating college with student loans in the five or six digits.
Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.