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Higher Education Watch
A Leak in the College Bubble?

When the housing bubble burst and sent the economy into a tailspin, the college bubble started to inflate even more rapidly. Desperate to compete in a brutal labor market, workers faced intensifying pressures to rack up degrees. Colleges (even marginal institutions) found a pool of captive consumers willing to pay high prices for their dubious credentials. And businesses, which had a dominant edge in the slack labor market, had the luxury of tossing out applicants without impressive educational histories.

But now that the labor market is tightening, each of these dynamics is changing, and the artificially inflated value of a college degree may be starting to come back down to earth. USA Today reports:

Less educated workers are suddenly hot commodities. […]

Openings that traditionally have gone to college graduates, such as in sales, are being filled by less educated applicants, Glaser says. Tech companies, meanwhile, are finding programmers among high school graduates who have some coding experience and raw talent. With employers placing more emphasis on skills than educational background, staffing giant Manpower revived its MyPath program in May to train applicants’ for its clients’ open positions, says Senior Vice President Kip Wright.

Companies are also relying more on aptitude tests, says Jeanne Branthover, a partner in executive recruiting firm DHR International.

“It’s no longer, ‘Tell me what you did in school,’ ” she says. “Now it’s. ‘I want to know how you think.’”

This trend couldn’t be more welcome. As we’ve noted before, college—at least for many students, and in many areas of study—”functions more and more as a signaling device for employers and a networking tool for the middle and upper classes rather than as a rigorous educational program.” There are a number of interests that would like to see this system sustained—academic bureaucracies, downwardly mobile children of the rich, and investors in student debt chief among them. But employers, students, and the public at large are all better served by a job market that allocates opportunities based on actual skills and knowledge, rather than empty letters on a resume.

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  • Blackbeard

    When you read about the goings on at our most elite Ivy League institutions you wonder why we have colleges at all. But of course academia is a potent bastion of the blue team so it must be supported at all costs hence the calls to make college “free.”

    • RedWell

      “Goings on” are anecdotes, not trends or systematic facts. The Ivy League represents perhaps 5% of higher ed, and very few of those elite institutions are public. It’s true the academia is blue, but the military is red. Does that ideological bias discredit the work of those professionals? Some on the left are calling for totally free higher ed, but that is a minority position.
      Basically, this comment is habitual grousing based upon stylized evidence.
      We get it. We’ll get off your lawn.

      • Blackbeard

        The Ivy League is indeed only one segment of academia but its symbolic importance, and its importance in educating the sons and daughters of our elites, cannot be overstated. As for calls for “free” higher education that is hardly a fringe position, it’s part of Hillary Clinton’s platform. And if you think that the collapse of standards in the Ivy League, as well as at many other elite institutions, are mere anecdotes, then, I am afraid, you have your head deep in the sand.

      • f1b0nacc1

        The military’s job is quite different from that of academe, hence its ideological bias (which based upon voting behavior is actually far less than that of academe) is largely irrelevant. On the other hand, if the military demands (or ‘calls for’) vastly increased government spending on defense (something that has happened in the past), their assessments are often dismissed by those opposed to such spending for precisely the same reason as we might be suspicious of those in academe calling for ‘totally free higher-ed’ (nothing is free….basically they want the rest of us to pay for it).
        Oh, stay off my lawn, by the way…

    • TANSTAAFL, aka,

      There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free lunch. I read that decades ago in a Pool Anderson (I think) novel. It’s just as applicable today as then…someone ALWAYS has to pay for it.

  • Brian Gulino

    Proclaiming a trend doesn’t make something a trend. As far as I can tell, all management jobs, and most good sales jobs, require a college degree. Occasionally, you can get the rules stretched if you enjoy support by upper level executives. But then you are stuck with the company who promoted you, as no other company will hire you at the same level without a degree. In addition, if your company is acquired or merged with another company and there are excess people who need to be let go, the non-degreed people are let go first.

    • f1b0nacc1

      You aren’t asking the right question….WHY are good jobs dependent upon a college degree? Hint: Duke v Griggs

      • Jim__L

        But in a fascinating throwaway line, this article references aptitude tests.

        Google certainly gets away with that in their interview process.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Ah, but they do it in their interviews (I went through the same game when I worked for Microsoft), which is very different. Aptitude tests were thrown out because they were used for screening, not just placement.
          With that said, Google supports the Dems…I rather doubt that they would have much trouble beating the rap…

  • FriendlyGoat

    We really should not be trying to talk people out of acquiring credentials as though this is anything but bad life advice for most people.
    Yes, a relatively-small number of people can do well to retirement on a high-school education, but there are lots and lots of risks of becoming a commodity or dead-ending or simply not being able to keep up some physical pace—-like welding or plumbing.
    The real key is for young people to get as much credential as they can—-as cheap as they can—–as fast as they can. As far as I know, there is no deal better than dual-credit high school for those who have it available and can hack it.

    • Jim__L

      Junior college can be highly cost-effective too.

      But to be honest, it’s a waste of time for kids to get credentialed for learning stuff they could be learning on the job. My current job has me working with interns a lot, and with a little bit of thought and some lightweight processes, they can be extremely productive, while learning what they need to know to be even more productive in industry.

      Why we’re keeping them out of the workforce is not clear to me. College is to a great extent enforced idleness, when rewarding work is available.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Yes, junior college is a good resource for many people. Paid internships would be too—-maybe not so much for the type which are not paid.

        • Jim__L

          I don’t hold the purse-strings here. Wish I did. =(

          These kids are worth more than just “educational benefits”, although the resume bullets they’re going to get will likely result in better pay once they get a job, and the job will more likely be aligned with their (engineering) education, because they have experience.

          At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Employers like to see successful internships on resumes, and people like you can probably help the younger people learn all kinds of things. I wish the corporate trend wasn’t going in some cases from paid to unpaid, but we hear that it is.

    • Boritz

      “The real key is for young people to get as much credential as they can”

      If you are advocating the acquisition of a photo ID suitable for voter identification, that is unfair, unrealistic and discriminatory.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Do you suppose that an employer will be impressed when a potential hire points out in his/her resume that he/she has obtained a Photo ID from an “accredited” Department of Motor Vehicles?

  • Marcus Jones

    Interesting that there is a quote from someone at DHR International. Does she have an education? See

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