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Has America Been Overwhelmed by Creeping Credentialism?


Editor’s Note: In this view of the future, students debate “credentialism,” the ever-increasing demand for university degrees. Next week we’ll ask: What is the most dangerous flashpoint for US foreign policy in the coming year? Taiwan? Iran? Or elsewhere? Students should click here to submit opinions under 250 words by November 3. The best answers will be published that evening.

I moved straight from high school to the workforce after graduating in 1985, taking on a series of blue-collar jobs of increasing complexity. In the late 1990s, I took my first administrative job, where I applied the interpersonal skills learned in blue collar roles to white collar duties.

My 20-year administrative career culminated in a decade at the executive level, earning more than many colleagues with masters degrees, without onerous college debt. My current pursuit of a bachelor’s degree is a bucket list item funded by company tuition reimbursement.

Such a career path now seems improbable. Even entry-level jobs require a degree, although I see little evidence that those degrees improve skills on a daily basis. Corporate communications are often riddled with noteworthy errors. College graduates also don’t seem to have learned reliability in college lecture halls, where attendance is optional.

While Covid has forced a rethinking of traditional business models, the business community has rethought remarkably little of its educational requirements. People have a reasonable expectation that their neurosurgeon will be both competent and educated. Countless other jobs, however, could easily be filled by people who have developed skills applicable outside of college. Instead of requiring degrees, companies should develop mentoring programs that allow people without a degree to apply their skills to opportunities that are currently closed to them.

—Thomas Bonnett, University of Minnesota, English

Credentials are a shortcut

The proliferation of degrees may set off alarms about degree inflation, but the trend could just as easily be a matter of economic efficiency. Various professions lack clear metrics for assessing new job applicants, while the practical need to distinguish between applicants persists. A college degree, which says “I have something,” is an easy-to-use tool for recruiters to justify narrow selections.

The sad reality is that neither a college degree nor any other degree can fully capture the potential. Confusing diplomas and skills leads us to pursue the wrong goals. Even if we accept accreditation as a necessary evil, its pitfalls are crucial to keep in mind: a college degree certifies the skills required to earn that degree, but it says little about how those skills translate into success. skill that really matters for a job.

—Shih-wei Chao, University of California, Berkeley, Law (JSD)

Diplomas matter less in STEM

The attestation of a college diploma may be more important when the job in question has spongy selection criteria. However, it’s not difficult to gauge whether someone knows how to use something like the Python programming language: run candidates with a HackerRank test, and you’ll have a pretty good idea if they can complete the tasks you’re assigned. need.

If your business isn’t that STEM-y, however, you usually can’t get a hard math answer. At this point, a lot of people will be looking at credibility. If the candidate is a summa cum laude graduate from a leading university, this can offer a workable approximation of the capabilities needed, in an information vacuum. Businesses like to have as much confidence as possible that a candidate has not escaped the cracks of the hiring process, and references can provide the best level of certainty businesses can get. In contrast, accreditation is less important when the skills in question can be quantified.

—Will Griffin, University of Chicago, Economics and Mathematics

The new high school diploma

A college degree is required to get a white collar job, not to get the job done. Do I Really Need a Journalism Degree to Write Effectively? No. I can learn it in high school or how most great writers learned it: by doing. Nevertheless, the diploma signals to employers that I have crossed a certain threshold of intelligence. That creeping degree equated yesterday’s high school diploma with today’s college degree, a costly change that leaves many Americans behind.

America’s wealth gap is only widening, and if we continue to assess people by a piece of paper rather than work ethic, courage, and determination, we risk missing out on greatness. Some of the biggest known names in America aren’t college graduates: Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs.

—Robin Panzarella, University of Pennsylvania, decision-making

University degrees prove specialization

Advances in education have always tended towards specialization. This has been the case since the establishment of universities in the Middle Ages, when they were used to train and educate priests in the complexities of Catholicism.

Even a liberal arts education usually requires its students to choose a major. The job market rewards this specialization, with higher paying jobs often requiring even higher degrees of academic specialization in the form of a master’s or doctorate. At the beginning, a small specialization distinguished the candidates. But as more applicants have followed suit, employers have raised the bar of selection. A college degree has become necessary, but not always sufficient, for almost all white-collar jobs.

Credentials are simply the means by which employers are best able to verify a candidate’s specialist knowledge without having to spend a lot of time scouting and testing.

—Francisco Castillo, New York University, Real Estate

Why is high school not enough?

A college diploma is an approximation of basic skills that were previously common among high school graduates. The demand for university degrees has unnecessarily prolonged studies, created debt and limited the earning capacity of those without a bachelor’s degree.

The change is understandable. Companies allow a college to screen a candidate rather than doing it themselves, eliminating candidates who cannot read or do basic math, while reducing the liability associated with other aptitude tests, which are often contested as discriminatory.

Colleges also have an incentive to inflate the value of a college degree – that is, to increase public funding and tuition fees. It is not in the interests of higher education to say that university is a waste of money. Instead, colleges are fueling the narrative that a degree is necessary to be employable, which is currently true in much of the business world.

Government policies, including professional licensing, tend to impose unnecessary credentials. Combine occupations covered by state licensing laws with jobs requiring college degrees and the result is a huge percentage of US jobs requiring a degree beyond a high school diploma.

Shifting the credibility of the US economy will require a concerted effort from businesses, colleges, and all levels of government. It doesn’t seem likely.

—Sarah Montalbano, Montana State University, Computer Science

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