The New Credentials.

      “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in search of a good job, must be in want of a BA.”[1]  Partly this belief sprang from the rise of new industries after the Second World War, ones which assigned a premium to communication and analytical skills.  Partly this belief sprang from the propaganda of the too-many colleges left standing after the Baby Boom passed through.  Partly this belief sprang from the decision of many companies to enhance profits by spinning-off training to post-secondary education.[2] 

            Now the tide may be starting to run in the opposite direction.[3]  For one thing, most jobs never required a college degree and no one could pretend that they should.[4]  Two-thirds of American adults don’t have a BA.  For another thing, after state governments cut support for higher education during the “Great Recession,” colleges had to raise their tuition.  Students and their parents took on much more debt.[5]  Now that is being recognized as unsustainable, even if the Biden administration’s debt cancellation is problematic.  For yet another thing, the Covid pandemic triggered a labor shortage from which the country has not yet emerged.  For yet another other thing, we live an “era of racial reckoning,” even if it isn’t clear how long that era will last.  Requiring a BA for a job will tend to disproportionately exclude Black (76 percent) and Hispanic (83 percent) adults.[6] 

            What to put in place of the BA, both immediately and over the long-term?  One answer is a variant on the “accelerated degree completion” programs that flourished for a while among hard-pressed colleges.  Those programs started from the assumption that working adults had accumulated much applicable knowledge through experience.  All they really needed were some classes in what amounted to the theoretical constructs for making sense of that knowledge.  Now, a variety of organizations are pushing the idea of directly assessing the skills of workers without bothering about completing the BA.[7]  (Even this isn’t entirely new.  Look at the Army discharge papers of World War II GIs.[8])  Facilitative language is being coined: people are “skilled through alternative routes” and they have been held back by the “paper ceiling.” 

            So some businesses are starting to cut back on their previous requirement of the BA.[9]  This will likely create opportunities for some credentialing industry other than colleges. 

[1] Well, Jane Austen WOULD have said this if she had lived two hundred years later.  From 2010 to 2019, the percentage of people age 25 and older with a BA or higher rose from 29.9 to 36.0 percent (i.e. 20 percent). 

[2] Just my reading of developments.  I don’t have sources to cite.  Decide for yourself if it makes sense.  Still, how is it different from spinning-off pensions to 401(k)s? 

[3] Steve Lohr, “Seeing Promise, and a Model to Copy, in Job-Training Programs,” NYT, 3 October 2022.    

[4] Just try to say “Roofing 101” without laughing.  Although what I need right now is somebody who has passed “Roofing 501: Terracotta Tile Roofs.” 

[5] See: College costs: the old eat the young. | waroftheworldblog 

[6] In 2019, among those aged 25 and older, 58.1 percent of Asians; 40.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites; 26.1 percent of Blacks; and 18.8 percent of Hispanics had a bachelor’s degree or higher.  U.S. Census Bureau Releases New Educational Attainment Data

[7] According to one study, up to 30 million current workers have the skills needed to do higher level jobs than they presently hold.  Those jobs pay on average 70 percent more than their present job. 

[8] Still, see The Pacific part 10 Eugene Sledge – YouTube 

[9] Among them are reported to be Chevron, Google, IBM, Walmart, and LinkedIn. 


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