Degree Inflation: It Takes A BA To Be A File Clerk


“The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma,” writes Catherine Rampell in the New York Times, “the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.”

Economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including major job boards and small- to midsize-employer sites.

This up-credentialing is pushing the less educated even further down the food chain, and it helps explain why the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma is more than twice that for workers with a bachelor’s degree: 8.1 percent versus 3.7 percent.

Some jobs, like those in supply chain management and logistics, have become more technical, and so require more advanced skills today than they did in the past. But more broadly, because so many people are going to college now, those who do not graduate are often assumed to be unambitious or less capable.

Some observers might be tempted to argue that this “up-credentialing” is a positive thing. Who can be against a more thoroughly-educated work force?

The problem, of course, is that requiring entry-level workers to invest tens of thousands of dollars and years of time into degrees qualifying them for entry-level jobs is hardly a positive development for our economy. Higher education policy has all but turned student loans into an entitlement, and the end result is an oversupply of college-educated workers in the job market.

To the point where jobs which shouldn’t require a college degree are not requiring it. Because why not? Everyone has one anyway.

Which speaks volumes about the diluted value of higher education in general. These days higher education isn’t helping some students find jobs. In some ways it’s acting as a barrier to getting jobs.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Kevin Flanagan

    What’s the point of investing in a degree if you don’t much of a return on it?

    • ellinas1

      Did you invest in a degree?
      If yes, is it worth it?

      • Kevin Flanagan

        Yes I did and no, from a financial point of view, it wasn’t. It has added to my enjoyment of life, however.

  • flamemeister

    Over the last few decades college has actually become high school. After attending a good public high school in Minnesota, I attended a well-regarded state university majoring in mathematics & science and tested out of most of the freshman year—not because I was particularly brilliant, but because the material had been covered in my high school. More and more students had to take more and more remedial courses their first year at the university. Also, nothing focuses the mind like working a year or two or serving in the military. Those people did very well when they came back to school. They were no-nonsense & knew what they needed to get out of an education.

  • Captjohn

    Actually Rob the facts are a college diploma is the rough equivalent of a high school diploma. Dr. Shirvani is right most of our high school graduates aren’t being prepared to do college work. Thus college is a four year extension of high school.
    I agree with those that think any remedial courses colleges provide to students who can’t do college level work should be charged back to the students school district.
    If school districts had to foot the bill maybe they wouldn’t give out diplomas unless the student was prepared to move on.
    Maybe there should be two high school diplomas. One stating the student has successfuly completed a college preparatory curriculum. The other signifying the student has completed a curriculum of basic skills in reading,writing and math.
    Another approach would be removing any requirement for higher Ed to accept students who haven’t satisfactorily completed a college prep curriculum.
    As it now stands U.S. public education has been dumped down so far that we are becoming economically uncompetitive. We have some very bright people but our work force on the whole is getting less educated.
    Another one of those issues legislators are loath to tackle.

    • Rob

      Actually Rob the facts are a college diploma is the rough equivalent of a high school diploma.

      I think you’re right, and I think the reason for that is we’ve turned going to college into an entitlement.

      Things stop having value when they aren’t earned.

  • NDConservative2011

    I can understand why today’s college degrees may equal the last generations high school diplomas. High schools today do not educate youth nearly as well as in the past dispite nearly one (1) Billion in state funding as well as nearly $200 million in keep it local taxation. I make my point a little further into this post.
    The 11 colleges in the state have become “economic drivers” and not the institutions of higher learning which they were once intended to be. The all important research dollars and programs as well as the push for their professors to complete as many “papers” as possible has relegated instruction to a secondary consideration of their intended mission, and that is to educate our youth.
    Need proof? Approximately 40% “plus” of North Dakota’s high school graduating seniors require remedial courses just to bring them up to a level needed to be on par with the other 60%. These 40% cannot read, they cannot complete simple math without an elecronic aide, and the proper use of the English language excapes them as well. By the way, approximately 40% “plus” do not complete college, joining the ranks of the 51 or 52% who want a free ride by complaining that the successfull do not pay their fair share. What is so astounding is that taxpayers are funding well over a BILLION dollars on a system that has 40% of high school graduates not ready for college. This is a failure rate that has went on unabated for the last generation with nothing in place to rectify the situation. One would hope that the North Dakota Department of Education as well as the Board of Higher Education would come forward with a plan to correct this deplorable state of affairs.
    Those who do complete college commonly take 5 years to complete a 4 year degree program. What is the Board of Higher Education and the 11 colleges suggesting to improve the situation so that the 5 year student may complete their degree in the normal 4 year period? Nothing that I know of, for if they keep the 5 year student around for that extra year, they can continue to collect not only from the student, their parents, but also from the taxpayer. Their mission is being fullfilled as an economic driver.
    My good friend’s son worked at a sports store while attending college, and he graduated in 3 1/2 years with nearly a 4.0 GPA, and with very little debt. What is he doing today you might ask? He is earning in the neighborhood of $225,000.00, and is quickly joining the ranks of the successfull that the 51 or 52% deplore.
    With Governor “Spendrymple” proposing that the state pony up 79% or $932,200,000 ($932 Million) state dollars for K-12 and the locals contibuting 21% or $199,800.00 ($199) million, the locals will be able to continue their unabated overtaxation at the keep it local level.
    The keep it local advocates wish to collect from the state, gouge their taxpayers locally, and still cry that there is not enough funding.
    The state buys down the mils, property values go up therefore more taxes are collected, and the keep it local crowd proudly claim that they did not raise the mil levy.
    The legislature is afraid that if they held the keep it local crowd accountable, they just might not be elected again, and the Governor suggests an increase in spending with no real permanent tax relief.
    After all, the igregious spending is justified by crying “It’s for the children”, and the citizenship is therefore fooled once again into believing that increased spending is justified to educate not only our high school graduates, but neighbouring states as well. I would be remiss if I did not bring up the request from UND for a $124,000,000.00 million dollar medical school building. I for one would like to know how many students graduate as doctors, and from which state do they come from, and where they go to practice once they graduate. I’m afraid that the answer will shock the taxpayers of North Dakota. OOPS, I forgot, it is an economic driver for the state, the city that it is located in, as well as “it’s for the children”. Forgive me for I must have lost my head for a moment.
    Talk about a shill game. Talk about a ruse. Talk about disgusting.
    I never use profanity when posting, but the spending in our state can only be described as PROFANE.

    • JoeMN

      Here in the Peoples Republic, the charter school program has been regularly dumped on by the apologists and benefactors of the failed public school system

      While charters are not truly the answer (they are bound to the states curriculum) they do provide an alternative to the miserable decrepit often violent public school debacle

      The real answer lies in private schools.

      But they are rendered unaffordable to most families.

      No, not because of the prices they charge (their costs are considerably lower than their public counterpart)

      Rather that a family must FIRST have a pound of flesh extracted for the public school, then scrape up enough to pay private school tuition.

      You must be able to, in essence pay for two schools at once.

  • yy4u2

    I like how this guy explains it:

  • mickey_moussaoui

    In Madison Wisconsin you couldn’t get a job driving a cab with a Masters Degree because all the positions are taken by PHD’s.

    • JoeMN

      Yes, but who in their right mind would get in a cab driven by a graduate of UW Madison ?

  • avengingspirit

    Four year colleges and universities are the biggest racket going today. The more people buy into this degree inflation garbage, the more they’ll continue to push it. Every healthcare profession is trying raise its status to be more doctor-like. With doctorates required to now enter professions such as physical therapy and pharmacy, previous five year programs are now fluffed up with meaningless coursework such as extra art courses to pad tuition bills and make graduates think they are more qualified than their predecessors with master’s degrees.

    The big winners here are the schools. They don’t call it the guaranteed student loan program for nothing. The schools are guaranteed the government loan money and the student is guaranteed a mountain of debt.