Degree Inflation


Oh, I’m about to graduate. Time to dust the cobwebs off of my resume and throw it at any employer that bats their eyelids at me. I’m easy, I know it. I’ll take an interview on the first date, I’m naughty like that. Strong knowledge of Microsoft office; check. Excited and ready to learn, check. Character flaws? I care too much. Perfect. I’m coming and I’m bringing my knowledge of powerpoint presentations and time management with me. Who wouldn’t hire me?

It has begun to dawn on me that my business degree is simply not going to get me a job at Google. Unfortunately for you, fair reader, it is likely your business degree won’t get you a penthouse and that fancy watch you like either. Want to get a job with above average wage? Go and get your master’s, son! Thirty years ago my parents earned their bachelor’s degrees and were subsequently employed as a result. A degree was sufficient for employment. Today, a degree is no longer sufficient for guaranteed work. It has, however; become necessary. It is necessary to have a degree in order to get a j*b, but not necessarily sufficient. Geddit?

Have you ever sat down and asked yourself; what have I really learnt during my degree? Yeh, you may think you know how to write a business plan or recite the core leadership values, but do you know how to start a business? What forms do you need to fill out? How do you place orders for new products? If you are feeling a little dejected that your degree has given you little useful knowledge, take solace in the fact that you’re in the same position as many other graduates.

After reading some of Sir Ken Robinson’s work and studying the success of many entrepreneurs around the world, I am ready to point the finger at the college education system and the institutions that ‘educate’ us. In the words of Sir Ken, “The whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors.” I can’t speak for other institutions, but I can certainly speak for Holy Names University. Every year, this school adds another two hundred business degrees to the already overloaded j*b market. There are 1.8 million new graduates every year in the United States. That is 1.8 million people who all all think the same conventional way. A business degree is limiting our ability to create new value and innovate ideas that change the world. We are taught to write business models and create marketing plans without any real encouragement for us to make mistakes. Our G.P.A is pivotal to our j*b prospects. “I can’t take risks! If I screw up, I’ll lose my 4.0 and I’ll never get to work on the moon.” Instead of being innovative and taking risks, we perfect the art of finals week to preserve this bloody grade point average. Without screwing up, no-one will ever create anything original. In reality, business is not about knowing, it is about doing. The education system in the U.S. focusses a helluva lot on knowing with very little focus on doing. Holy Names has taught me about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but I don’t have a bloody clue about how to take an idea and start a business.

Sir Ken Robinson’s amazing speech on education at a TED conference in 2006

In essence, a business degree doesn’t prepare you to follow your dreams and change the world. It prepares you for an entry-level position at a company doing shit work so that you can help someone else to follow their dreams and change the world. All for minimum wage, mind you. Who are these illustrious minds that we work for? They are generally the people who tried something special. Blasphemy, I say.

“Oh no, Tom. I have just read your blog and have realized that I don’t know how to do anything in business! What is my alternative?” Changing to the education system is wishful thinking, because change is scary and expensive. The way the college system works is based on a model of society that no longer applies today. In the past, when our Mums (Americans, see: Mom) and Dads went to college, their investment was worth it. They graduated and boom; sweet, sweet employment. Such was the nature of the rapidly expanding post-war economy. Today, it’s not so easy. We throw a huge chunk of change at a bachelor’s degree, then when we can’t find work, we go home and watch repeats of Scrubs until we cry. An average degree in the U.S. costs between $130k-140k. Try spend that money elsewhere. Yes, that figure is largely made up of student loans, but the point remains the same. Travel the world a hundred times for the same amount. Start a business that you are passionate about. If you screw up, so what? More than likely you will learn from your mistake and do it better next time. Thomas Edison once said, ‘I have never failed, I’ve just found 10,000 things that didn’t work.’ At the end of the day you might have spent the same amount of money, but you will surely know how to do a great deal more. Even if you don’t start a business, travelling the world or volunteering in Guatemala is the kind of experience that is priceless in the eyes of a potential employer.

Josh Kaufman, author of the Personal MBA, once described the three currencies of our world; money, time, and flexibility. Money let’s us buy things, time let’s us do things, and flexibility gives us the freedom to decide what to buy and what to do. A degree is starving us of all three. We spend a shitload of money so that we can spend four years of our time taking classes that inherently reduce our flexibility to do what we want. The world’s coolest person ever, Sir Richard Branson, started Virgin when he was only seventeen with no business knowledge whatsoever. He didn’t know the four criteria of being a leader, he just lead. He didn’t have to take a class in human resource, he was just nice to people. He may have screwed up a few times, but now he has a private island in the Caribbean and you don’t. Screw Maslow and his needs, everyone loves Richard Branson. There’s a bucket load of people just like Branson who recognized the best way to learn is to do. Let’s revolutionize our degree and get right amongst the meaty part that is necessary for when we graduate.

When translated into j*b readiness, a degree is probably a crock of shit. Good news is that after all is said and done, a college degree still offers plenty of value outside the classroom. Four years away from home is a great way to grow up and certainly teaches you a great deal about how you want to live your life. It gives you access to people from all over the world in your own backyard. Different people have different thoughts and opinions. Skip class once in awhile and get creative. Maslow will understand.

Don’t forget to leave a comment if you have anything to say. Disagree? Let me know in that little space below.

Til next week.

6 thoughts on “Degree Inflation

  1. Reblogged this on Yusra and commented:
    Great…This is just what I need to see the summer before signing my soul away to thh student loan company *cough* ahem *cough* I meant to say; embarking on an exciting educational pursuit!

  2. Rebecca

    You’ve got a point, but on the same token, no one would really argue that a college degree is useless (which of course you close with). I think we have to also think creatively about what ‘worth’ means. In the US we attach worth with paycheck – that’s easy, and realistic, of course. But, there are other worths. I have a graduate degree – it was expensive – I married soon after getting it and moved around quite a bit with my husband for his job (he’s older and his career was more established). Now, we have two boys and I homeschool (which comes as a shock to me)….we pay my loans each month and I could feel cruddy about my worth, but I choose to think differently. I think the higher education will catch up to what you are saying; but the shift will be slow. Basically, ‘worth’ is what you make of it and happiness can stem from that.


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