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May 17, 2024Original Analysis

Educational Explosion: The Damage of Unnecessary Advanced Degrees

The percentage of U.S. adults holding an advanced degree increased by over 3% from 2011-2021. This increase in education is assumed to have a crucial role in America’s increasing economic strength over that time period. The expertise gained from such degrees is supposed to be valuable enough to outweigh the time and money put into grad degrees, both from the student’s perspective and the perspective of the schools and institutions that so often fund graduate degrees. In developing countries, college graduation rates are positively correlated with economic success. This same effect is thought to translate to America’s current explosion of higher education. This belief is held so strongly that the federal government spent 311,000,000,000 dollars on higher education in 2021. However, a high advanced degree rate is much less strongly linked to national and individual success than universities would like you to think.

The first driving factor for graduate school is supposed to be self-interest. Graduate school is portrayed as a process that directly increases income and happiness. For some degrees, there is certainly a large associated increase in income, but for 40 percent of grad degrees, there is either negative or zero ROI. Most degrees in the arts and humanities fail to even pay themselves off. The time spent working would typically be far more beneficial to students than their choice of grad degree. While some may gain enough from those degrees in personal satisfaction to make up for their choices, taxpayers must feel comfortable knowing they are funding life expeditions that do not even increase the capability to care for oneself. Public education funding is promoted on the premise that the country will be both personally and collectively better off. With many degrees, neither is the case, yet more and more money is always being funneled towards public education.

While the negative ROI of some humanities degrees is expected, the corporate world has also created an inefficient monster through the promotion of MBA degrees. They are entry-level for many positions and they are recommended for workers who have stopped progressing and want promotions. Most MBA programs take 2-3 years to complete, so a significant break from working life is required. MBAs give very few specific skills and are more of a certifying apparatus that an employee is relatively intelligent and has enough resources to put some into an extra project. If they taught extremely useful skills their value would be obvious, but they appear to be more of a status symbol. Their relatively useless nature is evidenced by the fact that overall, MBAs have negative ROI. Most people who undertake MBAs are already high achievers, so the time spent getting an MBA could be used better by continuing the linear progress of their career.

The explosion of advanced degrees reflects a greater rejection of community and trust. Advanced degrees serve as a very expensive safety blanket for whichever line of work they are oriented toward. For people seeking work, they demonstrate their capability in a manner not dependent on any sort of relationship or past professional experience. Employers do not need to investigate as rigorously if they can examine a prospective employee’s course load and institution of choice. Demonstrations of actual capability through doing good work take a backseat to the prestige of the name on a diploma. Real-world experience is not quantifiable, and environments and individuals have a rich interplay that is impossible for any recruiter to fully decode. Graduate degrees remove this ambiguity and rubber stamp someone’s capability in a particular career. Trust and community could help assuage the current overinvestment in graduate school by letting capable workers be recognized for their work by people who know them as more than productivity units. If workers who feel they are ready for the next step must take a break from working to get an advanced degree unless that degree is far more than a certifying stamp, they are harming themselves, their company, and their country. The benefits of transparency created by advanced degrees are far outweighed by the damage done by workers slowing down their careers simply to gather institutional confirmation that they are indeed good workers.

Even if individuals or businesses were paying for their degrees, they would still be suspect, but government education makes it even clearer how detrimental they are. Government education spending is one of the largest contributors to the ever-growing national debt. There are some government expenditures that are generally deemed necessary, but the inefficiency of these degrees is so great that it can be seen across party lines. While they are necessary for some fields, the current ballooned state of advanced degrees is exceedingly harmful.

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