Career-Oriented Majors versus Liberal Education

In “Are Career-Oriented Majors a Waste of a 4-Year Higher Education?,” Jeff Selingo looks at the real-world impact of the push for American higher education to graduate more students in an effort to put the United States at the top in the world’s education competition.  Selingo refers to a recent post in The New York Times titled “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk,” by Catherine Rampell, which opens with the statement: “The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.”

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In her article, Rampell explains that economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and that it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Rampell writes that “across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma… are increasingly requiring one,” with this “up-credentialing” pushing the less educated even further down the food chain (citing the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma as more than twice that for workers with a bachelor’s degree: 8.1 percent versus 3.7 percent).

In a similar article by Rampell, “Degree Inflation? Jobs That Newly Require B.A.’s,” she comments that “despite the sob stories you hear about unemployed college graduates, bachelor’s degrees have actually gotten more valuable over time”  as not only is the wage gap continually widening, but it seems as well that “more employers are using bachelor’s degrees as a signal of drive or talent, regardless of the relevance of the skills actually learned in college.”  While college degrees may be getting graduates the only lowest level jobs, with degree inflation, people without degrees are being weeded out of opportunity instantly.student-debt

While Selingo might agree with Rampell in that the overabundance of degrees does not render them useless, citing he is not in the in the camp of the “Don’t Go to College” crowd, he does, however, hold the idea that without high-quality training and apprenticeship programs as real alternatives to those ill-suited for college, many higher-education institutions have become solely high-priced job-training centers.  Selingo mentions that though colleges have marketed their practical academic programs in a way to raise demand for more of them, it seems that some graduates of those programs are finding it difficult to land a job despite having majored in the latest career fields.

Selingo notes that according to surveys and interviews, top business executives say they like workers who are “creative, are adaptable, and have the ability to communicate and think critically—all telltale signs of a classic liberal education.”  So while we know that the future economy needs more Americans with a high-quality education after high school, Selingo poses that “there is certainly a place for purely practical training programs within our broader goal to be first in the world in an educated work force, but the question increasingly should be whether all of those programs need to be housed at expensive four-year colleges.”

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One Response

  1. […] It Takes to Make New College Graduates Employable,” Alina Tugend posits why this gap between what colleges produce and what employers want is widening, citing reasons such as: “when it comes to the skills […]

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