Degree Inflation Undermines U.S. Competitiveness & Social Mobility

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Degree Inflation Undermines U.S. Competitiveness & Social Mobility

In his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman said, “The most obvious social cost of occupational certification, registration, and licensing, is that any one of these measures…almost inevitably becomes a tool in the hands of a special “producer group” to obtain a monopoly position at the expense of the rest of the public.”  In recent years, reformers have risen-up to question and remove many such barriers to competition.

Yet, the biggest and most significant barrier to employment in American life, the use of the college degree as a default hiring device, has hardly been discussed.  Indeed, even as reformers have begun targeting employment obstacles for felons, the pervasive use of college-degree requirements has escaped serious reconsideration.

Obviously, higher education at its best becomes a powerful engine of opportunity and socioeconomic advancement.  And that’s the way it’s almost universally described in college brochures, think-tank reports, campaign stump speeches, and the legacy media. Nevertheless, for too many Americans, the truth is that post-secondary education is principally a toll, that is to say, an ever-more-expensive, increasingly mandatory, two-, four-, or six-year “pit stop” on the road to remuneration.

In a comprehensive October 2017 report, researchers from Harvard Business School documented extensive evidence of increasing “degree inflation,” with employers demanding baccalaureate degrees for middle-skill jobs that previously did not require one and for which the work duties have not changed.  In fact, 61% of employers surveyed admitted to rejecting applicants with the requisite skills and experience simply because they lacked a college degree.  The researchers calculated that this behavior involved an estimated 6.2 million jobs across dozens of industries.

Degree inflation is part of a broader mechanism used by “the college-industrial complex” to hold students and their families hostage, forcing them to spend substantial time and money on collecting degrees, regardless of whether students wish to attend college and whether the degree in question actually conveys relevant skills or knowledge...

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