19 October 2020

Degree Inflation

Currently, about 60 million people in the U.S. labor force have a Bachelor's degree or higher. This is almost 42% of the labor force, up from 26.2% in 1992.

From Calculated Risk

I graduated from college in 1992. My daughter graduated from college in 2020. My degree set me apart from the pack a lot more than her degree did, although it helps that both of us graduated in three years from highly selective liberal arts colleges with STEM degrees.

But I am very skeptical that the quality of the workforce has increased all that much because more people have earned college degrees. I assume that the shift is mostly degree inflation.


Dave Barnes said...

There is some, but a degree does demonstrate:
1. That you can stick to something for 4 years.
2. That you learn beyond [non-challenging] high school.

Father 1948 7% Engineering
Me 1970 14% Engineering, MS Engineering, MBA
Daughter 2008 30% English

andrew said...

My parents were first generation college students who grew up in rural areas and were born during the Great Depression. They each had about a dozen people in the high school graduating class and in each case, Latin was a mandatory subject. My father's parents farmed (mostly wheat, corn and soybean cash crops, with a horse when he was younger and a tractor later on) in rural Northern Ohio. My mother's father was a lumberjack and subsistence farmer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in an area that was even more remote. Their degrees (like those of three of my mom's four siblings that lived to adulthood, my dad's brother was a non-CPA accountant with some advanced training but no degrees) definitely set them apart.

My father got his PhD in Civil Engineering at Stanford in 1970 and his BS in Civil Engineering and Math sometime in the 1960s from Ohio Northern University, with military service (peacetime draftee serving mostly in Germany and D.C.) somewhere along the way, I don't recall if it was before, after, or during, his undergraduate years, and I presume but don't know that the GI Bill helped to pay for it along with his job in high school and college as a surveyor.

My mother got her BA in a social science (maybe sociology?) at Michigan State University in the 1960s, am MA in Sociology from the University of Chicago in the 1960s, and her PhD in Educational Leadership (i.e. university administration) in the 1980s from Miami University (where she worked).

There is no doubt that a college degree is an effective sorting device, but it is a pretty cumbersome one that doesn't add a lot of value for a lot of graduates.

Dave Barnes said...

Your parents were over achievers.