Credential Inflation: Bachelor’s Degree Not Enough

In today’s tumultuous economic climate, when we hear the term “inflation” we think money and a failing economy our minds immediately turn to expenses, debt, and money woes. Rarely, however, do our minds turn to college degrees and job prospects. On July 22, 2011 Laura Pappano from The New York Times published an article titled The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s. Introducing into the public mindset the concept of “credential inflation” and “degree inflation”, this article has caused quite the hoopla in the academic world and many a panic attack among 20 somethings throughout the country.

Pappano suggests that there is a certain amount of credential inflation occurring throughout the job market today. College graduates are not finding the positions they would have in the past because those same jobs are now seeking candidates with more educational experience. So, 20 somethings entering the job market with their newly earned bachelor’s degrees and a pocket full of debt are told they have to double that debt in graduate school before they can hope to earn the money to start paying if off. Sounds like good reason for a panic attack. While this is obviously a problematic mindset for our young and qualified job-hopefuls to hold, is it actually based in truth?

According to Pappano’s article, the master’s degree is the fastest growing degree in the nation. Students are graduating from undergrad and entering master’s degree programs to wait out the economic recession. So, this means that there more highly educated individuals entering the job market, while the young and enthusiastic bachelor’s degree holders struggle for air. Because there are so many individuals in the job market with master’s degrees, employers are beginning to seek only master’s degree holders for positions that had previously been obtained by bachelor’s degree holders. In other words, overqualified individuals are gaining jobs that should be going to fresh graduates just out of undergrad excited and ready to enter the 9 to 5 world. Quite simply, this is an example of credential inflation… bachelor’s degrees are losing their value while at the same time the expected advantage of a bachelor’s degree on the job market is decreasing.

While educational devaluation is certainly occurring to some degree throughout the country, it does not have to be utterly devastating for our shell shocked 20 somethings. If you were planning on getting your Master’s degree anyway, now may be a good opportunity because of the economic climate. The key of course is the level of your overall debt. But if your debt is minimal or you qualify for serious scholarships, spending another year in school and emerging with a higher degree is better than spending a year trying to find a job and emerging a year older with nothing to show for it.

Stella Walker is a freelance writer who writes about topics including credit, debt, investment, bankruptcy.


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  1. says

    I graduated in a similar economic climate back in 1980 and spent a lot of time job hunting. And looking back I wish I had spent the year getting my Master’s instead.

    Tim McMahon, editor


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