Degree Inflation: It Takes A BA To Be A File Clerk


“The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma,” writes Catherine Rampell in the New York Times, “the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.”

Economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including major job boards and small- to midsize-employer sites.

This up-credentialing is pushing the less educated even further down the food chain, and it helps explain why the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma is more than twice that for workers with a bachelor’s degree: 8.1 percent versus 3.7 percent.

Some jobs, like those in supply chain management and logistics, have become more technical, and so require more advanced skills today than they did in the past. But more broadly, because so many people are going to college now, those who do not graduate are often assumed to be unambitious or less capable.

Some observers might be tempted to argue that this “up-credentialing” is a positive thing. Who can be against a more thoroughly-educated work force?

The problem, of course, is that requiring entry-level workers to invest tens of thousands of dollars and years of time into degrees qualifying them for entry-level jobs is hardly a positive development for our economy. Higher education policy has all but turned student loans into an entitlement, and the end result is an oversupply of college-educated workers in the job market.

To the point where jobs which shouldn’t require a college degree are not requiring it. Because why not? Everyone has one anyway.

Which speaks volumes about the diluted value of higher education in general. These days higher education isn’t helping some students find jobs. In some ways it’s acting as a barrier to getting jobs.