The undergraduate degree has been under much scrutiny regarding its current value and status. Even more recently, websites and publications such as New York Times, Inc, and Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network have tackled and debated the idea of a Bachelor’s degree becoming “the new high school diploma” and the new bare minimum requirement for jobs being posted by employers. What’s wrong with this? These jobs pay minimum wage, and consist of responsibilities that would not otherwise require a candidate with any sort of degree whatsoever. The base education requirement is rising, but the pay is remaining the same.
The result is illustrated in an article by New York Times, reporting a graduate, with over $100,000 in debt, working as an administrative assistant making just over $30,000 per year. Even worse, New York Times mentions another graduate who majored in history throughout his undergraduate studies has graduated to nothing more than living in his parents’ Buffalo home, working the same $7.25-an-hour waiter job he had in high school. The standard requirement for low paying jobs is becoming ever more expensive to attain.
If you browse many job postings yourself you will see “bachelor degree preferred”, or even “bachelor degree required, masters preferred”. Unfortunately, you will notice that the skills required to completed the responsibilities and tasks listed in the jobs description do not justify their mandatory request for an undergraduate degree. Even more saddening, the pay is reminiscent of a summer job you would have taken while you were in high school. It is discoveries like this that are provoking anxiety and concern amongst students, causing them to doubt the value and meaning of their current studies.
Regardless of if this is beneficial to the employer, to the productivity of the role, or if it makes any sense at all (which I don’t think one small bit), it is detrimental to the value and prospective careers of hundreds of thousands graduates around North America.Why is this happening? There is an ever-growing inflation of credentials, decreasing the perceived value of each respective degree. Notice I said, “perceived value”, and not simply, “value”.
A university degree is valuable. However, that value is dependent on two main factors. The first is how students want to use it. I’ve learned from my own personal experience, the meaning and relevance you are able to find within your own studies, will naturally help you understand and find its applicability in a professional career. Students should always go to university with a goal, and never attempt it without one. This is extremely important. It is not just a piece of paper (which we will get to), but its an experience, a journey, and is supposed to be a path towards something you have set for yourself to go to. If you go to university to make your parents happy, or because “thats just what people do”, we end up with a large inflation of “passing graduates”. These are students who simply go through the notion of attending university, getting their degree, and then looking for a job. There is no passion, goal orientation, or drive attached to the experience that should have been for these students. This is where the vicious cycle of undergraduate degrees becoming the standard for irrelevant jobs begins. The misconception that majority equals standard develops and employers follow.
This leads us to the second factor altering the value of a university; how employers perceive and want to use the undergraduate degree. Due to the increasing number of students graduating from university, overqualified candidates or candidates with irrelevant majors are applying to simply any job in increasing numbers. The perception that a university degree is the encompassment of specific understanding and specialized knowledge is becoming vague and generalized. Consequently, the undergraduate degree is becoming a standard as a result of its sheer quantity rather than its value. This is what employers are doing now. The idea is: because more people have it, more people should have it before being hired. The perception that was first held by the employer has diminished and now even the public eye is doubting the value of a degree that is becoming increasingly more expensive.
The good news here (not really) is that the undergraduate degree is potentially becoming more in demand. The bad news: its demand for the wrong reason. Ultimately, people end up paying more money for a degree in hopes of getting a job that will pay less money in return. The only difference between an undergraduate degree and high school diploma here is that the high school diploma is at least free.
It is up to the students to prevent this vicious cycle from pushing into full motion. Find meaning in your degree, and go to university with a plan, with a goal in mind. The idea of going to university simply because “thats the next step” is false and hurts yourself, the value of the degree, as well as the potential professional careers of those around you. Its not just a piece of paper, nor a minimum requirement. It is not a high school diploma. It is a specialized choice. If you’re not sure, save yourself the time and money, gain experience, and do a better job at being a file clerk than any other BA graduate ever could (seriously). Make employers realize that BA doesn’t simply stand for “Better At…”. Instead, it is an accomplishment pertaining to a specific field, at least that’s what it should be. Employers should hire based on skill, not alphabet letters. Students should enrol because of a goal and determination, not “just cause”. There are other ways to spend your time and money more effectively; you just need to figure that out.