Post graduation and the real world value of degrees

The question of value is a hot one these days. Just how is the return on investment for students who, it is often argued, are paying far higher tuition costs than ever before? It used to be that we accepted the standard measures that show those who earn degrees earn more over their careers than those who do not, more than enough to justify the tuition costs. The general trend is upward for each level, topping out at the professional masters level, after which a Ph.D tends to add little more earning power and in some fields even less. This of course leaves out all the other important variables like the benefits of having some choice over career and work prospects, and the sheer joy of learning one can experience in a true college environment.

Weekly earnings and unemployment rate by education level

Weekly earnings and unemployment rate by education level

The situation is more complicated than this basic data set suggests, not least by the hidden quality differences between education providers. A masters degree from UT is not the same as one from a diploma mill. Sorry if the truth hurts. No university describes itself as a mill where degrees can be bought but most of us are savvy enough to know the difference. Those that aren’t pay the price in more ways than one. I am particularly reminded of the inflationary production of degrees when I read data such as those mentioned by Richard Vedder in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently who argued that there are now 115,000 janitors in the US with a four-year degree, and that 15% of all taxi drivers are now similarly credentialed. I am sure some follow their paths by choice, but I suspect that in those numbers are more than a few who imagined a career path that was a little different than janitor, and who were probably sold that dream by a diploma mill.

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