Credentialism and educational inflation
The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with Western culture and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (November 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Credentialism and educational inflation are any of a number of related processes involving increased demands for formal educational qualifications, and the devaluation of these qualifications. In Western society, there has been increasing reliance on formal qualifications or certification for jobs, a process called credentialism that is not easily differentiated from professionalization. This process has, in turn, led to credential inflation (also known as credential creep, academic inflation or degree inflation), the process of inflation of the minimum credentials required for a given job and the simultaneous devaluation of the value of diplomas and degrees. These trends are also associated with grade inflation, a tendency to award progressively higher academic grades for work that would have received lower grades in the past.
There are some occupations which used to require a high school diploma, such as construction supervisors, loans officers, insurance clerks and executive assistants, that are increasingly requiring a bachelor's degree. Some jobs that formerly required candidates to have a bachelor's degree, such as becoming a director in the federal government, tutoring students, or being a history tour guide in a historic site, now require a master's degree. Some jobs that used to require a master's degree, such as junior scientific researcher positions and sessional lecturer jobs, now require a Ph.D. Also, some jobs that formerly required only a Ph.D, such as university professor positions, are increasingly requiring one or more postdoctoral fellowship appointments. The increasingly global nature of competitions for high-level positions is another cause of credential creep.
- 1 Credentialism and professionalization
- 2 Credential inflation
- 3 Academic inflation
- 4 Credential inflation or degree inflation
- 5 Grade inflation
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Credentialism and professionalization
Credentialism is a reliance on formal qualifications or certifications to determine whether someone is permitted to undertake a task, speak as an expert or work in a certain field. It has also been defined as "excessive reliance on credentials, especially academic degrees, in determining hiring or promotion policies.". Credentialism occurs where the credentials for a job or a position are upgraded, even though there is no skill change that makes this increase necessary.
Professionalization is the social process by which any trade or occupation is transformed into a true "profession of the highest integrity and competence." This process tends to involve establishing acceptable qualifications, a professional body or association to oversee the conduct of members of the profession and some degree of demarcation of the qualified from unqualified amateurs. This creates "a hierarchical divide between the knowledge-authorities in the professions and a deferential citizenry." This demarcation is often termed "occupational closure", as it means that the profession then becomes closed to entry from outsiders, amateurs and the unqualified: a stratified occupation "defined by professional demarcation and grade."
The developed world has transitioned from an agricultural economy (pre-1760s) to an industrial economy (1760s - 1900s) to a knowledge economy (late 1900s - present) due to increases in innovation. This latest stage is marked by technological advancement and global competition to produce new products and research. The shift to a knowledge economy, a term coined by Peter Drucker, has led to a decrease in the demand for physical labor (such as that seen during the Industrial Age) and an increase in the demand for intellect. This has caused a multitude of problems to arise. Economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, who categorized jobs as being either routine cognitive, routine manual, nonroutine cognitive or nonroutine manual, have examined a 30 million increase in the number of nonroutine cognitive jobs over the past 30 years, making it the most common job type. These nonroutine cognitive jobs, according to researchers, require "high intellectual skill." This can be rather difficult to measure in potential employees.
Additionally, production outputs differ amongst labor types. The results of manual labor are tangible, whereas the results of knowledge labor are not. Management consultant Fred Nickols identifies an issue with this:
The working behaviors of the manual worker are public and those of the knowledge worker are private. From the perspective of a supervisor or an industrial engineer, this means the visibility of working is high for a manual worker and low for a knowledge worker.
Decreased visibility in the workplace correlates with a greater risk of employees underperforming in cognitive tasks. This, along with the previously mentioned issue of measuring cognitive skill, has resulted in employers requiring credentials, such as college degrees. Matt Sigelman, CEO of a labor market analysis firm, elaborates on why employers such as himself value degrees:
Many employers are using the bachelor’s degree as a proxy for quality employees—a rough, rule-of-thumb screening mechanism to sort through the resume pile. Employers believe in the college experience, not just as an incubator for job-specific skills but particularly for the so-called soft skills, such as writing, analytical thinking and even maturity.
Western culture, specifically that in the United States, has experienced a rise in the attractiveness of professions and a decline in the attractiveness of manufacturing and independent business. This shift could be attributed to the class stratification that occurred during the Gilded age.
The Gilded Age was period of time marked by a rise in big businesses and globalization, particularly within the construction and oil industries. The popularity of farming declined as individuals took jobs working on large projects such as the Transcontinental Railroad. Rapid advancements such as railroad developments and increased use of steamboats to import/export goods made cities such as New York and Chicago convenient places to operate a business, and therefore ideal places to find work. Local business owners had a difficult time competing with the large companies such as such as Standard Oil and Armour operating out of cities. The popularity of entrepreneurship declined, and people began taking underpaying jobs at these companies. This fueled a class divide between the working class and industrialists (also called "robber barons") such as Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller.
Attempting to increase the prestige of one's occupation became standard among working class individuals trying to recover from the financial hardships of this time. Unqualified individuals turned to professions such as medicine and law, which had low barriers to entry. Referring to this phenomena, historian Robert Huddleston Wiebe once commented:
The concept of a middle class crumbled to a touch. Small businesses appeared and disappeared at a frightening rate. The so-called professions meant little as long as anyone with a bag of pills and a bottle of syrup could pass for a doctor, a few books and a corrupt judge made a man a lawyer, and an unemployed literate qualified as a teacher. Nor did the growing number of clerks, salesman, and secretaries of the city share much more than a common sense of drift as they fell into jobs that attached them to nothing in particular, beyond a salary, a set of clean clothes, and a hope that they would somehow rise in the world.
The establishment of legitimized professional certifications began after the turn of the twentieth century when the Carnegie Foundation published reports on medical and law education. One example of such reports is the Flexner Report, written by educator Abraham Flexner. This research led to the closing of low-quality medical and law schools. The impact of the many unqualified workers of the Gilded age also increased motivation to weed out unqualified workers in other professions. Professionalization increased, and the number of professions and professionals multiplied. There were economic benefits to this because it lowered the competition for jobs by weeding out unqualified candidates, driving up salaries.
The alliance of employers with educational institutions progressed throughout the twentieth century as businesses and technological advancements progressed. Businessmen were unable to keep schedules or accounts in their heads like the small-town merchant had once done. New systems of accounting, organization, and business management were developed. In his book The Visible Hand, Alfred Chandler of Harvard Business School explained that the increase in large corporations with multiple divisions killed off the hybrid owner/managers of simpler times and created a demand for salaried, “scientific” management. The development of professional management societies, research groups, and university business programs began in the early 1900's. By 1910, Harvard and Dartmouth offered graduate business programs and NYU, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania offered undergraduate business programs. By the 1960's, nearly half of all managerial jobs formally required either an undergraduate or graduate degree.
Credential inflation is the process of inflation of the minimum job requirement. This may happen when a professional organization increases the entry to practice requirements for the profession, or it may be the result of "one-upmanship" among candidates for a job, creating a kind of de facto increase in required credentials for a position.
In the early 20th century, an individual with a high school diploma could essentially work as a banking professional and rise to the ranks of a branch manager or to even branch president. However, the quest for further education, the industrial revolution and the subsequent surge in national population in the US in the mid-20th century resulted in a professional transposition. In the process, the bachelor’s degree supplanted the standing of high-school training, and the credentials required for certain positions increased. This continued up to the end of the last century; as a furtherance of this trend based on the same conditions, the early years of the 21st century saw the master’s degree displacing the bachelor's degree in some job-entry positions.
For instance, in the late 1980s, a bachelor's degree was the standard ticket to enter the profession of physical therapy. By the 1990s, a master's degree was expected. Today, a doctorate is becoming the norm. This change was due to the explosion of bachelor's degrees spurred by the rise in knowledge exchange—hinged on population growth and technological innovation. With the advent of globalization, recent years see the Ph.D. taking over the role of the master's degree—especially professional degrees. Universities are currently reporting significant renewed interest in their graduate programs, with a particular focus on Ph.D. study, as candidates consider retraining or adding new skills to their resumes that will benefit them if the economic situation improves. What once was considered to be specific training for the academic profession and open to a minor assemblage of individuals absorbed in research has become a benchmark for some job-entry positions. This change is forcing individuals to push for more advanced degrees to be considered for some positions.
The creeping-credentials phenomenon has resulted in the growth in the higher-education industry, with institutions expanding their offerings beyond the traditional graduate degrees. Offerings now include increasingly narrow, job-specific training courses. Degrees aimed at working professionals often come with very high tuition pricing.
Another consequence of credential creep is the increased time spent in school, with the resulting deferment of career establishment.
"Academic inflation", or "education inflation," is the process of inflation of the minimum job requirement, and the simultaneous growing number of higher educated persons. This results in an excess of college-educated individuals with lower degrees (associate and bachelor's degrees), and even higher qualifications (master's or doctorate degrees), competing for too few jobs that require these degrees, and devaluation of educational degrees. This condition causes an intensified race for higher qualification and education in a society where a bachelor's degree today is no longer sufficient to gain employment in the same jobs that may have only required a two- or four-year degree in former years. Inflation has occurred in the minimum degree requirements for jobs, to the level of master's degrees, Ph.D.s, and post-doctoral, even where advanced degree knowledge is not absolutely necessary to perform the required job.
Academic inflation occurs when university graduates take up work that was not formerly done by graduates of a certain level, and higher-degree holders continue to migrate to this particular occupation until it eventually becomes a field known as a "graduate profession" and the minimum job requirements have been inflated academically for low-level job tasks. It is an effect of overeducation.
The institutionalizing of professional education has resulted in fewer and fewer opportunities for young people to work their way up from artisan to professional status (e.g., as an engineer) by "learning on the job". Academic inflation leads employers to put more and more faith into certificates and diplomas awarded on the basis of other people's assessments.
Academic inflation is similar to inflation of paper currencies where too much currency chases too few commodities.
Credential inflation or degree inflation
Credential inflation refers to the devaluation of educational or academic credentials over time and a corresponding decrease in the expected advantage given a degree holder in the job market. Credential inflation is thus similar to price inflation, and describes the declining value of earned certificates and degrees. Credential inflation has been recognized as an enduring trend over the past century in Western higher education, and is also known to have occurred in ancient China and Japan, and at Spanish universities of the 17th century. 
A good example of credential inflation is the decline in the value of the US high school diploma since the beginning of the 20th century, when it was held by less than 10 percent of the population. At the time, high school diplomas attested to middle-class respectability, and for many years even provided access to managerial level jobs. More recently, however, the high school diploma barely qualifies the graduate for manual or menial service work.
One indicator of credential inflation is the relative decline in the wage differential between those with college degrees and those with only high school diplomas. An additional indicator is the gap between the credentials requested by employers in job postings and the qualifications of those already in those occupations. A 2014 study in the United States found, for example, that 65% of job postings for executive secretaries and executive assistants now call for a bachelor's degree, but only 19% of those currently employed in these roles have a degree. Jobs that were open to high school graduates decades ago now routinely require higher education as well—without an appreciable change in required skills. In some cases, such as IT help desk roles, a study found there was little difference in advertised skill requirements between jobs requiring a college degree and those that do not.
A predictable result of credential inflation is a glut of the credential markets and overschooling. It is estimated that 30 percent of the college graduates in 2005 will be forced into jobs that do not require a degree. M.B.A. or M.A. holders may end up working as store clerks or servers.
The causes of credential inflation are controversial, but it is generally thought to be the result of a strong push for education in the 1980s and 90's along with increased technological access to higher education. This has resulted in entry level jobs requesting a bachelor's (or higher) degree when they were once open to high school graduates. Potential sources of credential inflation include: degree requirements by employers, self-interest of individuals and families, increased standards of living which allow for additional years of education, high unemployment which spurs the need for competitive advantages in the job market, cultural pushes for being educated, and the availability of taxpayer-funded and guaranteed federal student loans which allow many more individuals to obtain degrees and/or credentials than could otherwise afford to do so.
In particular, the internal dynamics of credential inflation threaten higher education initiatives around the world because credential inflation appears to operate independently of market demand for credentials. Credential markets themselves, as described by signalling theory, use earned degrees as a measure of ability in screening potential employees. This is because employers take it for granted that degrees are positively correlated with greater ability. (See Michael Spence's job-market signalling model.)
Although credential inflation has been acknowledged for years by institutions of higher education, a clear solution or consensus on how to address the problem has not yet been found or agreed upon. Academic institutions are generally expected to provide education to qualified applicants who desire admission, and many economists and politicians find the idea of government regulations on private hiring practices to be a large overstep in combating the issue.
The push for more Americans to get a higher education rests on the idea that those without a college degree are less employable. Many critics of higher education, in turn, complain that a surplus of college graduates has produced an "employer's market". A wide range of occupations have seen their academic requirements raised to the next level, even if only to reduce the number of applications that personnel departments must consider.
Credential inflation is a controversial topic. There is very little consensus on how, or if, this type of inflation impacts higher education, the job market, and salaries. Some common concerns discussed in this topic are:
- College tuition and fee increases have been blamed on degree inflation, though the current data do not generally support this assertion 
- Credential-driven students may be less engaged than those who are attending college for personal enrichment
- Devaluation of high school diplomas 
- Opportunity costs of attending graduate school, which can include delayed savings, less years in work force (and less earnings), and postponement of starting families 
- Lack of adequately trained faculty and rises in the number of adjunct professors which can adversely impact quality of education
- Grade inflation has been correlated to degree inflation by some academics, though the causal direction is debated
- Some have accused degree inflation of devaluating job and employment experience, though most data show that degrees are not as highly sought after as relevant experience, which is the cited reason for student loan debt that cannot be paid back.
Grade inflation is the tendency to award progressively higher academic grades for work that would have received lower grades in the past. It is frequently discussed in relation to education in the United States, and to GCSEs and A levels in England and Wales. It is also discussed as an issue in Canada and many other nations, especially Australia and New Zealand.
- Academic inflation
- Degree inflation
- Academic inflation
- Affirmative action
- Class rank
- Dumbing down
- Flynn effect
- Latin honors
- Salutatorian, typically the second highest ranking graduate
- Valedictorian, the highest ranking graduate
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Many employers are seeking workers with B.A.s even for jobs that haven't historically required the degree. That may be good news for colleges -- but warning signs are on the horizon.
- Pappano, Laura (22 July 2011). "The Master's as the New Bachelor's". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
While jobs at Welch Allyn may not require a master's, the degree has been used as a sorting mechanism. After posting an opening for a technical writer, Mr. McGloon received "dozens and dozens" of résumés. Those in charge of hiring wondered where to start. "I said, 'Half of our applicants have master's. That’s our first cut.'"
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|Look up credentialism and educational inflation in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Noel Weyrich, Failing Grades, The Pennsylvania Gazette, March/April 2006 .
- Gary North, The Ph.D. Glut Revisited, 24 January 2006 
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- The Master's as the New Bachelor's
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