In an Atlantic column, David Indiviglio argues that the “need” for college has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He understands that for many students, the value in the degree is only positional, indicating that they’re better than individuals without the credential. If we reach the point where almost everyone has a BA, then it will be necessary for those who want to set themselves apart to obtain a more advanced degree. Of course, there will be institutions eager to sell them the credentials.
In his book How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning, Prof. David Labaree nailed this point, writing, “As each level of education in turn gradually floods with a crowd of ambitious consumers, individuals have to keep seeking ever higher credentials in order to move a step ahead of the pack. In such a system, nobody wins. Consumers have to spend increasing amounts of time and money to gain additional credentials because the swelling number of credential holders keeps lowering the value of credentials at any given level. . . . Employers keep raising the entry-level education requirements for particular jobs, but they still find that they have to provide extensive training before employees can carry out their work productively. At all levels, this is an enormously wasteful system.”