The Dilution of an Academic Degree and Credential Inflation

College has expanded to be more accessible to students of various age cohorts, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnic backgrounds. Gone are the days when college or university was an educational luxury or privilege.

College graduates (especially people who hold Bachelor’s degrees) are a dime a dozen. How does this play out in the competitive job market? For starters, a degree alone guarantees and secures almost nothing. Why? The goalposts for work and labor are constantly shifting. Enter credential inflation, offshoring, and remote work.


What Is Credential Inflation?

The devaluation of degrees take on a moniker: credential inflation. Yes—alongside supply chain hiccups and subtle food packaging tweaks. Getting less for the same price. Seeking more education for the same position. (See also: credential creep.)

Once entry-level jobs (such as office administration positions) that only required a high school diploma now need a Bachelor’s. Research assistants used to only require a Bachelor’s now mandate at least a Master’s. So on and so forth.

The heralded social dividends of education are largely illusory; rising education’s main fruit is not broad-based prosperity, but credential inflation.

– Bryan Caplan, American Economist

The Rise of e-Learning and Upskilling

Unemployment and underemployment have kicked in full force with early graduates. Many previously full-time employee have had their hours cut back during the pandemic, which helped online course sales skyrocket. During this surge of free time, many have opted for e-learning and education.

Students and professionals are now flocking to MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), e-learning platforms such as Coursera, and self-directed certificate programs offered by accredited institutions. Many university professors also offer their in-depth recorded lectures on Youtube for all to access!

The only constant is change—and education reinforces the importance of upskilling. Learning new programs and software. Networking with subject matter experts. Staying curious and open-minded. Finding new tools to think creatively. Knowing how to learn most effectively from self-awareness.

A shift in mindset is required to thrive in the current era and this cannot be achieved at an academic level, social latitude, or political sphere—but at a personal level.

– Nicki Verd, Author of Disrupt Yourself or Be Disrupted

Now the looming question remains: to attend college or not? For careers in health-care, dentistry, law, skilled trades, and engineering: formal post-secondary schooling is still necessary. Other career areas, however, can take on a more unconventional approach. Creative industries such as freelance writing or acting require self-discipline and out-of-the-box approaches to finding gigs.


Educational Signaling and Its Effects on Employment

To what degree (pun intended) is college considered signaling? For starters, signaling is an economic concept where an action is taken to demonstrate or “signal” to others qualities about oneself. For example, an Instagram influencer might solely wear fancy name brands to “signal” their wealth (and perhaps score a lucrative sponsorship).

Honors (i.e. cum laude) college graduates typically score significantly high in Conscientiousness (C), Agreeableness (A), and raw IQ. Interestingly, “model” students are also deemed to be conformist, intelligent, tenacious, and diligent.

Do “A” students really end up working for “C” students? Do Cs get degrees but As and Bs succeed? Is higher education and academia ultimately a zero-sum game? These conflicting opinions run rampant across social media.

College (as well as high school) programs typically require a rigorous blend of compulsory and elective courses. Are all of these hours of lectures, tutorials, and labs directly correlated with on-the-job knowledge? Not really—unless it’s for the skilled trades.

A degree—it turns out—only plays a part in employment success. Other factors such as connections, socioeconomic status, mental health, ethnicity, and personality all weigh heavily on whether or not an individual will find satisfaction in their vocational pursuits.

Employers have been testing out cognitive ability assessments that analyze a candidate’s memory capacity, spatial/pattern recognition, vocabulary, arithmetic skills, logical deduction, and problem-solving (all correlated with IQ). Combined with EQ assessments, they create profiles that holisitically map out the traits of an “ideal” candidate for on-the-job success.


Unpaid Internships: A Growing Concern Among Young Graduates

A paid position may be offered at the end of your unpaid contract with respect to performance.

Placement programs with an accredited business are mandatory to acquire your four-year degree.

Gain real-world experience to build your resume after graduation.

Working for “experience” (read: free) has its own long list of caveats and implications. In many cases, unpaid internships fall under the gray area between legal and illegal labor. Law journals have even called these opportunities America’s new glass ceiling.

With credential inflation under full force, unpaid internships with the sliver of hope of an entry-level full-time position after completion has garnered competition among new graduates. Under the FLSA, that is considered illegal.

In the United States, unpaid intenships must fulfill all 7 points to be deemed legal (i.e. primary beneficiary test):

1. Both the intern and employer understand there is no expectation of compensation.
2. The internship provides similar training to what would be given in an educational environment.
3. The internship is based on the intern’s educational program as a requirement for integrated coursework or academic credit.
4. The internship corresponds to the intern’s academic calendar and commitments.
5. The duration of the internship is limited to which the intern gains beneficial learning and knowledge.
6. The intern’s work complements (rather than replaces) the work of paid employees.
7. Both the intern and employer understand the conduction of the internship is carried on without entitlement to a paid position at the end of the work period.

According to the FLSA, the above points can be waived solely for internships within non-profit and public organizations. In all other cases, if the employer is determined to benefit more from the internship agreement, then the intern is required by law to state minimum wage and overtime pay.


Personality Traits of Students Who Drop Out of High School and College

Are there personality predictors of a student dropping of secondary or post-secondary school? Why are dropouts stereotyped as delinquents, outcasts, bums, and failures or ingenius, groundbreaking entrepreneurs? What are some other important factors that come into play?

There are three (3) main predictors of dropping out within the Big Five personality model:

  • Low Conscientiousness (C) → present-oriented, lax, prone to procrastination
  • Low Extraversion (E) → introverted, aloof, solitary
  • High Neuroticism (N) → moody, tempermental, mercurial

Low Conscientiousness (C) was found to be most strongly linked to low feelings of autonomy and self-efficacy. In Layman’s terms: a lack of control and confidence over one’s situation. (Why even bother trying? It is what it isI have no control over my persistent failures.)

Does this observation hold true for all students who chose to leave school for good? Absolutely not. Some chose an alternative path to employment through self-taught e-courses (such as coding, programming, or writing). Others opted to job shadow and gain field experience.

Still others obtained a career through networking. Some borrowed funds and created a business, some bootstrapped a startup. A prominent reason behind unintentional dropouts is the failure to recognize accomodation needs for conditions such as ADHD/ADD, ASD, GAD, or dyslexia.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

– W. B. Yeats, Irish Poet & Writer

References

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Giuseppe Migali, Eugenio Zucchelli. Personality traits, forgone health care and high school dropout: Evidence from US adolescents. Journal of Economic Psychology, 2017; 62: 98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2017.06.007.

Horowitz J. (2018). Relative Education and the Advantage of a College Degree. American sociological review83(4), 771–801. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122418785371.

Marôco, J., Assunção, H., Harju-Luukkainen, H., Lin, S. W., Sit, P. S., Cheung, K. C., Maloa, B., Ilic, I. S., Smith, T. J., & Campos, J. (2020). Predictors of academic efficacy and dropout intention in university students: Can engagement suppress burnout?. PloS one15(10), e0239816. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0239816.

Rothschild, Philip & Rothschild, Connor. (2020). The Unpaid Internship: Benefits, Drawbacks, and Legal Issues. Administrative Issues Journal Education Practice and Research. 10. 1-17. https://doi.org/10.5929/2020.10.2.1.

Talaifar, S., Ashokkumar, A., Pennebaker, J. W., Medrano, F. N., Yeager, D. S., & Swann, W. B., Jr (2021). A New Pathway to University Retention? Identity Fusion With University Predicts Retention Independently of Grades. Social psychological and personality science12(1), 108–117. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550619894995.

Yi, Gon & Mcmurtrey, Mark. (2013). The impact of academic inflation on the labour market: if everyone has a PhD, who will be the custodian?. International Journal of Electronic Finance. 7. 250-262. https://10.1504/IJEF.2013.058605.