Is College in Danger of Becoming Expensive Job Training?

Just as some are beginning to ask if selecting a major in college that doesn't lead directly to a career post graduation might be considered a waste of time, Jeff Selingo, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, is asking the exact opposite question. Career-readiness seems to be a goal that is getting more and more attention, getting mentions from as diverse a group of political personages as President Barack Obama and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, but Selingo is wondering if it isn't a waste of the potential that is offered by a four-year degree to view it as simply a job training program.

Selingo points to the recent report published by The New York Times which shows that a college degree is quickly becoming the equivalent of a high school diploma of 50 years ago – a minimum requirement of almost any office job.

Consider the 45-person law firm of Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh here in Atlanta, a place that has seen tremendous growth in the college-educated population. Like other employers across the country, the firm hires only people with a bachelor's degree, even for jobs that do not require college-level skills.

Something is wrong, writes Selingo, when this is how a $100,000 college diploma is viewed. Nor is it likely to change anytime soon, since the country is disinclined to switch to something like an apprenticeship program to train its paralegals and file clerks.

Indeed, training students seems to keep some traditional colleges in business, as they turn the latest hot career fields into the newest college majors. Colleges, particularly four-year institutions, have marketed their practical academic programs in a way to raise demand for more of them. Since 2000, the overall number of academic programs at colleges and universities has grown by 21 percent, according to figures the U.S. Education Department tracks for various surveys.

The recent growth in the number of college majors mirrors that of the one in the 1990s when nearly 40% of the majors in existence by the end of the decade weren't listed in any college catalogs when the decade begun.

For better or for worse, students are now looking at college not as an opportunity to broaden their minds but as a stepping-stone to a more remunerative job. Experts – and Selingo – are calling this phenomenon "credential inflation" and it is a trend that is bound to become more expensive to America's students before it is reversed.

02 25, 2013
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