Magazine article University Business

No Competition: It Looks like the Value of a Bachelor's Degree Will Continue to Rise. but What If It Doesn't? (Viewpoint)

Magazine article University Business

No Competition: It Looks like the Value of a Bachelor's Degree Will Continue to Rise. but What If It Doesn't? (Viewpoint)

Article excerpt

Sometimes a school's most troublesome competitor is not another school, but no school at all. That's a lesson I learned a few years back teaching in a graduate journalism program. Certainly other schools wanted to recruit some of the same students my school did, but when we studied the prospects who got away, it usually turned out that they hadn't gone to another j-school. They'd taken jobs in the profession.

The process was surprisingly volatile. When jobs were scarce, the pile of applications on my desk was fat, and candidates professed their devotion to expensive professional training. When jobs were plentiful the apps vanished, and everyone suddenly rediscovered experience as the best teacher. Employers, for their part, may have liked what we taught but, when the employees were in short supply, quickly concluded that it wasn't essential.

In short, while I don't think anyone was plugging numbers into a spreadsheet, students and employers alike displayed a sophisticated sense of the competing values of training and experience, opportunity costs, and return on investment. Everyone was agreed that the degree was worth something. The question was how much--compared to what alternative?

I was reminded of my j-school experience as I read some recent figures on demand for college education. As you might expect, at first glance, the need for college grads seems to be rising. As Anthony Carnevale of the Educational Testing Service explained in a talk to the American Youth Policy Forum (summarized online at www.avpf.org/forumbriefs/2001/fb072701.htm), 46 million college-educated baby boomers will retire by 2020, and 12 million new skilled positions will be created, outstripping the estimated supply of new B.A:s by about nine million. There's a widening wage gap between workers possessing a college degree and those lacking one; and a recent Census Department report estimated that over the course of a 40-year career, a college-educated worker will make almost twice as much as a high school grad. And a wage premium indicates scarcity, right?

But consider this. For a report entitled What Jobs Require: Literacy, Education, and Training, 1940-2006, Paul Barton of the Educational Testing Service analyzed the basic skills required by jobs, going back to 1986 and projecting out to 2006. On average, there was no change--the fast-growing high-skill jobs were cancelled by low-skill jobs, which were also growing quickly in number. …

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