The November issue of The Atlantic contains an article by Clive Crook that is right on target, “A Matter of Degrees” (subscriber site).
Here are some key lines:
Totting up college matriculations as a way of measuring national success is doubly ill-conceived if the signaling function flips over, so that a college education becomes the norm, and college nonattendance is taken to mean ‘unfit for most jobs.’
Many occupations are suffering from chronic entry-requirement inflation.
Hotels, for instance, used to appoint junior managers from among the more able, energetic, and presentable people on their support or service staff, and give them job training. Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 800 community and junior colleges offer two-year associate degrees in hotel management. In hotel chains, the norm now is to require a four-year bachelor’s or master’s degree in the discipline.
Sounds funny to hear hotel management called a “discipline.”
Crook has hit upon an important truth here. The American higher education system has managed to persuade a lot of people that its job preparation programs — a mixture of some courses in a field like hotel management and enough other courses to constitute a degree — are so important and beneficial that they’re worth the investment of time and money. Even though these fields are easily learned by almost anyone who is “able, energetic, and presentable,” those without the paper credential won’t get any consideration. This is both wasteful (why go to college to learn things readily mastered on the job?) and unfair to people who can’t afford the credential.