Monday, February 25, 2013

Tight job market has been flooded by too many college graduates

It's harder than ever to get a good job without post-secondary education. And now, many not-so-good jobs require a college degree, too. That degree will be expensive to obtain, of course. But some of the jobs that require it are hardly worth its cost.

A college degree has become the gateway for hiring at many companies across the United States, and not just for the lucrative jobs. Receptionists, administrative assistants, file clerks and even office runners making $10 per hour need a four-year degree to be considered for jobs in cities with well-educated populations, said a Feb. 19 story in The New York Times. A tight job market makes it practical for job recruiters to require college degrees as an easy way to weed their way through huge stacks of job applications.

"Degree inflation," as economists call the phenomenon, is infiltrating the job market for many positions that haven't previously required a college diploma, like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters, the story said. Naturally, the drive toward higher credentials for these jobs pushes workers with no more than a high school diploma ever further down the job market food chain. The unemployment rate for college graduates is 3.7 percent, versus 8.1 percent for workers with a high school diploma only, the story said.

A similar concern was raised in a 2002 opinion piece in Chronicle of Higher Education by Randall Collins, who described "a higher education system locked in a cycle of expanding access to degrees, which dilutes the value of those degrees in the employment market, which, in turn, drives a portion of those degree-holders back to campus for still more advanced degrees," according to Weyrich's summation of Collins' article.

For many workers, having that college degree does pay off eventually, The New York Times story said. The diploma holder who takes a file clerk job and turns out to be a whiz might soon be promoted to a position better aligned with their education.

Still, degree inflation raises the threshold for getting a good job to an artificial height, blocking opportunities for willing workers. It's a problem that hits women in the workplace hardest, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Degree inflation is making those jobs harder to get, at a time when they are disappearing anyway. Executives are booking their own meetings and travel, and other administrative work in today's offices requires advanced skills. Women lost 925,000 jobs in office and administrative support occupation between 2009 and 2011, the story said.

Some policy watchers are calling for changes.

"Developments in online education, independent certification of competencies, e-portfolios, and the like may soon help redress this severe socioeconomic problem," the story said. "Then people will be evaluated on the basis of their actual knowledge and skills and not on their paper credentials. Deseret News

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