If you don’t already have a bachelor’s degree but have been thinking about getting one, this post might be of interest (and possibly useful) to you. It’s based on an article by Lee Lawrence titled “Has the Bachelor’s Lost Its Edge?” published in The Christian Science Monitor Weekly on June 18. A key premise is that the value of a four-year degree is going down at the same time as the cost of a college education is increasing, which is prompting people to seek new ways to make themselves distinctive and marketable to employers.
According to the article, studies have indicated that a four-year degree does offer advantages, including enabling people to earn more money, increasing their likelihood of finding jobs and enhancing their chances of being chosen for on-the-job training. That sounds like it ought to be a no-brainer. However, as the article also points out, studies are based on the past and aren’t necessarily good predictors of present and future trends. What has happened is that large numbers of people have rushed to get a degree, and now there’s something of a glut, at least in some respects–and the glut appears to be increasing.
Also, the school you went to or are considering going to can make a big difference in whether or not your degree will help your job search. What’s more, the field in which you earn your degree could significantly influence your job search success. Basically, the decision about obtaining a bachelor’s degree isn’t as clear-cut as you might like.
Professor Richard Vedder of Ohio University refers to a concept he calls “spiraling degree inflation.” His concern is that many Americans will get stuck with huge student loans for degrees that don’t bring them the anticipated benefits. As the article quotes, “‘The fact is that it is not a sure shot you’re going to get the high-paying job’…and the notion that the earnings differential ‘is continuing to grow and expand is somewhat suspect.'”
So what are your alternatives? They include completing a two-year degree program at a community college or a trade-specific certificate program that takes less time to earn, as well as free online education from reputable sources (such as Udacity and Coursers) and company-specific training programs (such as Novell and Microsoft certifications).
One potential problem is that fact that companies can, do and might continue to require a degree for jobs that really don’t need them, so they can screen out many applicants. I’ve commented on this before and won’t go into it again here. The other concern is that the two-year college programs might not be as widely available going forward as they have been in the past. The article notes that “just as some manufacturing sectors are reporting worrisome shortages of qualified workers, cuts in state funding are forcing many community colleges to replace occupational classes with cheaper-to-run liberal arts courses.”
If you are considering earning a degree, then, it’s important that you evaluate your options carefully before committing to a program and an educational institution. On the other hand, if you already have a degree, you should at least consider whether it’s helping or not. In cases where it’s not clearly helping, maybe you need to find an alternative to beef-up your perceived value and increase your marketability as a job seeker companies will want to talk to.