Bachelor's degree: Has it lost its edge and its value?
Undervalued and overpriced, the beleaguered bachelor's degree is losing its edge as the hallmark of an educated, readily employable American.
(Page 5 of 5)
From some college hallways comes a popular mantra that sounds like "Seize the degree," a "carpe diem" call to educational opportunity. But it is really "C's the degree," says Hughes, who has had multiple postsecondary false starts and is amused that anyone misunderstands.Skip to next paragraph
There is much talk among his classmates about grading curves and easy classes. Like Hughes with his lengthy degree odyssey, many have transferred one or more times, juggled work and classes, "stopped out," then re-enrolled. For them, there has been no idyllic campus life discussing heady ideas on the green: The prevailing attitude has become "just get the piece of paper."
More than eight years after his first freshman class, Hughes is now on track to graduate from New York City's Baruch College in December. And there is no doubt that the degree will place him in a new demographic. Even though more than half of this year's college graduates have received no job offers, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, and even though a report from the Project on Student Debt bemoaned that the class of 2010 faced record unemployment, college graduates are still faring much better than those without a bachelor's.
"If nothing else," says Mr. McKendry, the California recruiter, "a bachelor's shows that somebody has the mental capability and the initiative to complete something" that less than 30 percent of the US population has achieved. But McKendry and his counterpart in a Snellings Staffing Services in New Jersey, Koleen Singerline, have independently lost their faith in the bachelor's as a predictor, in and of itself, of workplace success.
They point primarily to what they judge as a lack of work ethic and an attitude of entitlement in the new generation. Still, they are forced by employers to use college degrees as a benchmark.
"There are really good people with a wonderful track record," says Ms. Singerline, "but I often cannot get a client to consider them because the company policy is that to become a manager you must have a degree."
This is where cultural factors come to bear. "People would feel that it's unfair to report to somebody who has a lesser degree of education than they have," Hagedorn explains. "That usually leads to an uncomfortable situation in the company."
A similar observation could be made for relationships. The industrious young Kusler, who completed a three-year doctorate in physical therapy at Columbia University in New York, now has her "dream job" as a pediatric physical therapist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
She has been both cheerleader and task-master for her boyfriend, Hughes. She has made it very clear, says Hughes, that if he doesn't get his degree, he risks losing her.
The crux is that "education is still respected," as Hagedorn points out, and there will probably always exist an economic and social divide between those who have it and those who don't.
But workplace and educational institutions are evolving, and attitudes toward the bachelor's are also showing signs of change. Some employers are more interested in experience, skills, and attitude than they are in degrees; others require higher levels of education from the start.
Then, as Jack Hollister, president of the Employers' Association serving Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, reports, there are employers who only "look at bachelor's from certain schools and certain areas of study and require a minimum GPA."
In other words, they no longer take a bachelor's at face value.