Fewer high-wage jobs are available to those without a master's degree, leading to an arms race of hyper-credentialism — even though many students would be better served by vocational training.
Between 1980 and 2017, the share of adults with at least a four-year college degree doubled, from 17 percent to 34 percent. The Great Recession intensified the trend; from 2010 to 2019, the percentage of people 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 6 percentage points, to 36 percent, where it sits today.
At the same time, the college degree is declining in status. It’s not just metaphorical to say that a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree: about 13 percent of people aged 25 and older have a master’s, about the same proportion that had a bachelor’s in 1960.
A graduate degree is enticing for various reasons. Not only does it give the recipient bragging rights, it helps find stable employment, gives more of a boost into higher-level positions and, most decisively, leads to a fatter paycheck. While workers holding a bachelor’s degree can no longer expect higher earnings as much as they once did, master’s graduates have been happily watching their salaries rise. As a result, more graduates with a BA have crowded the high-end labor market, causing even more students to pursue a master’s or Ph.D.
Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. She is the author of several books, most recently The New Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here. Adapted from City Journal.
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