Education as a Signal of Employability

It is becoming apparent that people are beginning to value, and are subsequently willing to pay for, ‘incremental increases in quality.’ Not because of an increase in signalling value, but because of the perception that the decreasing rigor required to obtain a degree has flooded the market with fewer qualified individuals.1 In this instance, though, isn’t the signaling value still one of the primary motivating factors? You’re still after a degree from an institution that signals you’ve received a higher quality education.

What is apparent to me as an unimportant plebe is that employers do not have a reliable way to determine the value of an interested prospect, so they immediately rely on what they deem a dead simple way to evaluate people: degree ? interview : worthless.2 As more and more people became aware of this requirement, we saw an increasing demand for degrees from institutions that were unable to provide them.

Perhaps the desire to grant these degrees has decreased the instructional quality at universities in some circumstances? There are simply more students than resources to go around, thus a degree’s worth has plummeted.

I contend, however, that a degree in and of itself, right out of school, is valueless as anything other than a check mark on a candidate check list, whether you are qualified, skillful, or particularly intelligent or not. Employers simply do not care. They have no method of determining your value and have passed the buck on that task. They are simply unwilling to invest in their resources in this day and age. Additionally, you may be more experienced and qualified than another candidate, but have no graduate degree, and be passed over simply because of the misguided perception that something like a degree implies quality.

This is not a universal quibble I have; simply, it is one I have with the business world. From a purely anecdotal perspective, you can work in a position, perhaps by filling in for a recently departed employee, be quite good at it, and still be passed over for a candidate with a degree, simply to be put in a position to train that individual and continue to do their job for six months. Because they have a degree, that must mean they’re more qualified for a job you are performing competently.

A travesty it is. A travesty that has only driven up the costs of obtaining an education and employment.

  1. Postrel, Steve. Reproduced at Marginal Revolution. Accessed 6/21/2012.
  2. If then statement. If they have a degree, then they’re OK to interview, if not, toss them in the trash.