Reflection, Not Rhetoric: Credential inflation?

Is the master's degree actually the new bachelor's?

WRITTEN BY: Janelle Vreeland
Image Source: Clipart

Is a bachelor's degree relevant in the job hunt?

We've all heard the (economic) benefits of getting a bachelor's degree, and there's a debate raging over whether graduate school is necessary or even worth it—now, the New York Times is reporting that so-called credential inflation is making the master's degree the new standard.

There are several factors that go into this credential inflation, including universities' desires to make ever-larger amounts of money, companies' need to filter through a growing applicant pool for fewer job openings, and students' requests for greater real-world applicability of their studies.

In response, the master's is growing, both in the number of students receiving them and in the number of types offered. More students are graduating with more master's degrees, with the article citing examples like master's in Jewish studies, skeletal and dental bioarchaeology, learning and thinking, or law enforcement administration.

As one economist in the article put it, “There is definitely some devaluing of the college degree going on."

Is some of this too much, too commercial, too driven by profit? Maybe, and the article cites the example of Walter Stroupe, chairman of the criminal justice department at West Virginia State University, who notes that while the new master's degree in law enforcement administration is unnecessary (in fact, a college degree is unnecessary as well), the degree does provide real benefits to students. In the case of the law enforcement administration degree, it might not be necessary to become a police officer, but the education offered might help someone become better able to handle complex situations and "elevate the professionalism."

So new master's degrees are being offered as a form of additional training, which isn't necessarily a new trend. Consider the M.B.A. Companies have long used the M.B.A. as a filter for job candidates, though it is not always a required credential, and many companies will pay for middle managers to obtain an M.B.A. because the benefits of that training and education come back to the company. So might this be a continuation of that same trend, in new areas?