Fiat Degrees

Over the last 30 years there has been an emphasis on the need for a college degree in order to be successful. There has been so much of an emphasis on obtaining a degree that degree programs are everywhere, and the cost to obtain one has far exceeded inflation. While Food and the (CPI) Consumer Price Index had just over 200% increase, and Shelter just over 300% increase, Tuition rose over 1100% during the same period (see graph).

tuition graph

Is the cost worth the return? Have we begun printing degrees like the Federal Reserve prints money? Fiat money as defined by Investopedia is “Currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, despite the fact that it has no intrinsic value and is not backed by reserves.” Could this surge on the apparent need for degrees by the same definition – A Degree(s) that a government has declared to be legal tender, despite the fact it has no intrinsic value and is not backed by reserves (reserves being solid market demand). If the demand is low (college graduates can’t seem to find jobs in their field of study) then why the high cost? Is the cost artificially high versus the value of the degree?

When I was in high school the opportunities to advance in a company in many cases were because there were few people with a college degree, so those who had one were the ones with the best opportunity to “climb the corporate ladder”. Now it seems everyone has a college degree; the janitor, the girl who makes your latte in the coffee shop and the security guard by the elevators. The value of the degree has decreased because there are only so many available spaces at the top of the company. I recently had a young man with a Bachelors degree in Physics tell me that his degree is now the equivalent of a high school diploma. He can only get a job in a lab for just over minimum wage.

In analyzing the value of a college education today I came across this article from Globalization 101 a Project of the SUNY Levin Institute:

American Perception of the Value of a College Education
Hundreds of articles in major newspapers on the decreasing value of a college education have been written over the past year.

Basic findings:
• School quality is declining. A federal study showed only 25 percent of college graduates had information literacy. Thirty-three percent of college students had less than 40 pages of required reading per semester (The Economist, 2012), a measurement that demonstrates a lack of rigor in U.S. colleges. The book Academically Adrift, confirms the decline stating that students did not gain critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills after three semesters in college (Ripley, 2012)

The tech sector inspires and rewards college drop-outs. The Thiel Fellowship pays students to drop- out of college and pursue their own ventures. While, many tech companies are hiring college drop-outs, who are viewed as free-thinkers and risk-takers. (Williams, 2012)

The bachelor’s degree is worth less than it used to be. Many bachelor degree holders are employed in jobs that do not require a college degree and furthermore these degrees are not necessarily aligned with job openings that require different skill sets. So, alternatives, such as training programs and online programs are proliferating and Master degree programs are increasing as well (Lawrence, 2012).

Has your college degree provided you the salary you expected?

An Article from the Wall Street Journal entitled The Declining Value Of Your College Degree  stated ; “ A four-year college degree, seen for generations as a ticket to a better life, is no longer enough to guarantee a steadily rising paycheck.”

Have you received your college degree and found it difficult to find a job in your field of study?

Did you feel you received your money’s worth for the education you received?

In retrospect would you have reconsidered getting a college degree?

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4 thoughts on “Fiat Degrees

  1. Great article, and the subject is something close to my heart since I have multiple degrees, am considering another, and I teach at the college level. I agree that our colleges (at least the one at which I teach) seem to be declining in quality (except, of course, for my classes 😉 I teach computer programming, and I am strongly considering continuing my education, but for me it isn’t about getting a better job. (Although my field (teaching at the college level) is one of the few that does reward more degrees) I love to learn, and I love the rigors of a degree program.

    When you mentioned the physics graduate, that reminded me of a house painter my parents had once that had a degree in physics. His case though wasn’t that he couldn’t find a job; he just didn’t want to do it. I think a lot of students don’t really know what their intended profession entails. I’m a perfect example, actually! I started out as an astronomy major, but then I realized that astronomers typically work in labs looking at computer screens of numerical data. Not something I wanted to do (Some might find that shocking 🙂 That’s funny actually, since my major ended up being Computer Science, and I ended up looking at a computer screen anyway, but doing different things. Though don’t do that anymore either.. at least not for money.

  2. Having gone to school for four years on OPM (other people’s money), I now find myself in SIX FIGURES of debt (it was a good school) and in a job that has nothing to do with what I studied. Now, granted, because of a connection from my LIFE Leadership Community, the job I have is a good one, all things considered, and should pay me well enough to pay my student loans on a long enough timeline. But really, everyone, and especially young people with massive debt and no significant job prospects, needs an alternative. Thank God for LIFE and the Team! College is a ladder that for too many people is leaning on the wrong wall.

  3. Pingback: Educating the Populace | greg johnson leadership

  4. This is a fantastic blog. I’ve learned so much from your posts. The LIFE Business has granted me a new lease on life, thanks to your perseverance and dedication to family.

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