Credentialism and educational inflation
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 have been increasing requirements for formal qualifications or certification for jobs, a process called credentialism or 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. In countries in the Middle East, where the rulers have traditionally used public sector jobs as a form of political appeasement for the middle classes, this has resulted in many youth seeking university degrees that are only suited for work in public sector roles, making them unqualified for private sector roles.
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. As well, 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. Finally, some jobs that formerly required only a Ph.D, such as university professor positions, are increasingly requiring one or more postdoctoral fellowship appointments. Furthermore, the increasingly global nature of competitions for high-level positions is another cause of credential creep.
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 has also been defined as occurring 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 origin of this process is said to have been with guilds during the Middle Ages, when they fought for exclusive rights to practice their trades as journeymen, and to engage unpaid apprentices.
Over the past sixty years in the Western world, and more recently in developing countries, there has been significant growth in the number of people who have educational credentials, an increase in the number of credentialing bodies, and a growth in the use of educational credentials as a way of selecting people for employment.
Psychologist Tony Buon has stated that in demanding credentials for certain occupations, employers' reasons fall into two rather crude categories:
- The Investment Effect-credentials show that the applicant has undergone certain educational training that has made the applicant more productive.
- The Screening Effect-education, and hence credentials, indicate certain attributes in the applicant that the employer wants.
An employer may require a diploma, professional license or academic degree for a job which can be done by applying skills acquired through experience, informal study, or less extensive study. One example is the requirement by some investment banks that new hires have an M.Sc. in Economics. Jobs that, in the past, required a high school diploma (such as entry level policy analysts in the government) increasingly require a B.A. degree or even an M.A. during the screening process.
Credentialism can be lessened if certification accurately reflects actual skill competencies and expectations of those skill competencies. As Tony Buon & Bob Compton (1990) state, given that the entire recruitment process is aimed at predicting future success, it does not make a great deal of sense to rely on only one indicator (i.e. educational credentials). The results of at least one study support this view, and suggest that employers see experience as a better indication of potential work performance than educational credentials.
The term "credentialism" also refers to an over-emphasis on certificates and degrees as a way of determining social status. Credentialism can lead to credential inflation. Sociologist Randall Collins' 1979 book The Credential Society "examine[s] the connection between credentialism and stratification."
Credential creep 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-upsmanship" among candidates for a job, creating a kind of de facto increase in required credentials for a position.
In the early 1900s (decade), 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 U.S.A. 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 occurrence 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 current 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 occupational 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.
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 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, and cultural pushes for being educated.
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 unemployable. Many critics of higher education, in turn, complain that the "college completion" movement is what feeds credential inflation, with employers imposing a degree requirement for many jobs that never required one simply because they can.
Problems Associated With Credential Inflation
Credential inflation is a highly 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 by some, though the current data do not generally support this assertion
- Credential-driven students may be more disengaged than those who can afford to attend 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 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 an issue in Canada and many other nations, especially Australia and New Zealand.
Possible problems associated with grade inflation
- It reduces the incentive for students to excel, since such excellence is no longer reflected in their transcripts.
- It undermines the corrective feedback function of grading.
- It is not uniform between schools. This places students in more stringently graded schools and departments at an unfair disadvantage, unless employers take into account a school's ranking.
- It is not uniform among disciplines.
- It makes it more difficult to compare students who took their exams at different times.
- Prospective employers must rely on indicators other than grades, such as internships and work experience, in order to gauge a graduate's aptitude and attitude.
Princeton University took a rare stand against grade inflation in 2004, and publicly announced a policy designed to curb it. The policy states that "A" grades should account for less than 35% of the grades for undergraduate courses, and less than 55% of grades for junior and senior independent work. The standard by which the grading record of each department or program is evaluated is the percentage of "A" grades given over the previous three years.
Arguments against the existence of grade inflation
- In 1995, Clifford Adelman, a senior research analyst for the U.S. Department of Education, reviewed student transcripts from more than 3,000 universities and reported that student grades have actually declined slightly over the last 20 years.
- A report issued by the National Center for Education Statistics surveyed all 16.5 million undergraduate students in the USA in the year 1999–2000. The study concluded that 28.9% of graduates received mostly "C" grades or lower, while only 14.5% received mostly "A" grades. These results conform to grading based upon a normal distribution.
- Academic inflation
- Digital Taylorism
- Education economics
- Grade inflation
- Open admissions
- Widening participation
- Degree inflation
- Academic inflation
- Affirmative action
- Political correctness
- Dumbing down
- Flynn effect
- Latin honors
- Class rank
- Valedictorian, the highest ranking graduate
- Salutatorian, typically the second highest ranking graduate
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|Look up credentialism and educational inflation in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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- The Master's as the New Bachelor's
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- Grade Inflation Sources
- Grade Inflation, Ethics and Engineering Education
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- Nominal GPA and Real GPA: A Simple Adjustment that Compensates for Grade Inflation
- Real GPA and Real SET: Two Antidotes to Greed, Sloth, and Cowardice in the College Classroom