Bachelor’s degree loses its luster
Published: Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 15:09
According to The New York Times, almost two out of every 25 people older than 25 have a master's degree. In 1960, the same proportion of people had a bachelor's degree or higher.
The master's is the most rapidly growing degree in the country with the number of such degrees awarded more than doubling since the 1980s: 657,000 as of 2009, according to the most recent statistics available.
The trend suggests the increasingly competitive job market is not able to accommodate the number of graduated students sent out by colleges each year armed with only their bachelor's degrees. Hence, the bachelor's degree becomes increasingly less valuable in the job market.
But is the master's degree really the new bachelor's, as the Times suggests?
Bradley Hobbs, a professor of finance and economics, believes the value of a bachelor's degree has diminished.
"I think it has changed a lot over the last 20 or 30 years. This is what economists call signaling problems," Hobbs said.
Hobbs describes "signaling" as one of the social values of education. Educational degrees sift people who are more prepared and able to perform certain jobs from those who are not, and degrees serve to signal that distinction.
"Someone who earned a degree can do certain things. The high school degree doesn't signal very much, as those are more social engineering institutions than focused on education. The same thing is happening to bachelor's degrees," Hobbs said.
Hobbs claims that there is an increasingly wide variation of signals coming out of universities as the focus shifts away from education, thus resulting in a false signal coming from a bachelor's degree.
"We have done a lot of damage by not sticking to our knitting, and our knitting is education. We have lots of things that this university focuses on besides education. There is a social component to college, but when we lose the view that education is the primary goal, there can be a lot of problems," Hobbs said.
According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, those with a master's degree can expect to earn $2.5 million throughout their adult working life. This figure is not significantly higher than the $2.1 million those with bachelor's degrees can expect. The gap, however, is quickly widening.
Additionally, both of the estimated earnings for master's and bachelor's holders are much higher than the figure for a person with only a high school degree, who can expect to earn $1.3 million over the course of his or her adult working life.
Hobbs said that there is a wide variation of value for bachelor's degrees in the job market. He also noted that it is not just the major, but the individual student.
"Education is not just vocational. It is also designed to expand your world and the way you think. Are our students getting that? I would venture to say that some of our philosophy students are and some of our finance students are," Hobbs said.
In light of the changing standards in the job market, how will FGCU's 10,000 undergraduate students react?
Many will shift their focus toward graduate school after earning bachelor's degrees.
"For a job, as in a career I plan on having forever, I need grad school," said Michael Monaldi, a junior biology major.
"Unless I plan on doing some random entrepreneurial nonsense," he added jokingly.
Monaldi then said that even if he were to seriously undertake an entrepreneurial venture, he feels that he would need to earn a graduate degree first.
"You know what they say: You need money to make money. So, to grad school I go."
Expected lifetime earnings:
with a master's
with a bachelor's
with a high school diploma
2 of every 25 people older than age 25 have a master's degree