Megan DaGata

SQS, Materials Management, Fluor Corporation

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Why is it all about the college degree?

We know that people are becoming more educated. Why is it that companies are still focusing on the college degree? More and more people have them but barely passed their classes. While there are lots of people like me who were smart enough not to get caught in the web of debt that do not have them.

I didn't want to get stuck $30,000 in debt because I got a degree in a subject that is no longer important. I made that choice, but the opportunities that were once available to someone in my shoes are no longer there. Now, all of those opportunities are going to someone with a degree.15 years of profession work experience or not.

What do you think the degree actually shows to the company?

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    Feb 14 2012: A college degree is a rubber stamp. It says to employers that you can show up somewhere - more or less - for four years, warm a chair and keep a desk from flying off into space.

    Especially in today's environment when there are dozens if not hundreds of candidates for every open position, companies need a way to 'cull the herd'. One way they do that is through degree requirements. Are people with a four year degree inherently more qualified for a position than someone who lacks a degree? Of course not. But it shaves a few hours of work off of the hiring manager's day simply to eliminate people without a degree.

    Hiring managers are not inherently evil people - they are simply trying to do their jobs in the most efficient manner possible. Using a degree as a filter is a shortcut.

    Unfortunately, I don't see this practice coming to an end any time soon. Nearly all jobs now are demanding higher education - regardless of whether or not the position really calls for it. I think that we can almost get used to continuously rising educational standards as part of the job market.
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    Feb 17 2012: It's not so much the degree itself as it shows that you can accomplish something. I know that might sound a bit harsh, and I don't mean it to be, but yes, while many many college degrees in certain specified fields lets those employers know that you have a basic knowledge and understanding of the business, any college degree basically illuatrates that you are willing to go into debt to prove that you can stick to a project and earn something, even if it's just an embossed piece of paper to hang on the wall.

    And in this day and age, most employers want people they know they can have for at least a couple of years. Like,say, four.
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      Feb 17 2012: I don't think the debt is the factor; I think it is about the time component. Else, great post.
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        Feb 17 2012: Thanks for the reply. Yes, I would agree that the time component bears much more weight in the perceived importance of thedegree.
  • Feb 16 2012: Anytime 'everyone is doing it', it is an economic bubble.

    Higher education is the current economic bubble.

    What causes economic bubbles? Ignorance.

    What causes ignorance? Lack of leadership.

    What leaders have failed? The public education system and parents.

    How? By failing to actually EDUCATE our children and by absolving that guilt by forking out tens of thousands of dollars to an institution of 'higher learning.' Parental responsibility is reduced to writing a check and sending Tim off for the 'college experience'. The higher education bubble is the newest symptom arising from the Baby Boomers's aversion to parenting.

    It then becomes a self-sustaining phenomena: Tim is sent to college and is told you can only be what you want if you get this degree. He gets a job and moves up and is now in charge of hiring. Who does Tim hire? The college grad, because, hey, you can't get where you want to go without a college degree and Tim can't continue to move up without ambitious young employees trying to go.

    I think you probably made a good choice in betting on your own abilities/ambition rather than overpaying for a degree.

    FYI: Peter Schiff told me that if he was young, he would take out every student loan imaginable at 1.5% and invest every dime in something OTHER THAN HIS EDUCATION. That should tell you something (other than Peter Schiff is a sneaky bastard).

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      Feb 16 2012: You blame ignorance on a lack of leadership? So people should have leaders to teach them how to do things? People have no responsibility to teach themselves? If you aren't educating yourself, you're screwed.

      I agree with your position on the bubble; education is one of many bubbles. Medical is another one.
      • Feb 16 2012: "You blame ignorance on a lack of leadership?"


        "So people should have leaders to teach them how to do things?"


        "People have no responsibility to teach themselves?"

        Of course people have a responsibility to teach themselves, and they often do. Unfortunately, knowledge requires either a. a teacher or b. experience. I am of the opinion that when it comes to making a decision such as investing in higher education, it is preferable to learn from a mentor (parent or teacher) rather than from experience (being saddled with enormous debt with or without the degree). I am not absolving the individual from his or her inherent responsibility to his or her self, just acknowledging that parents and teachers have neglected their responsibility to him or her.

        "Medical is another one."


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          Feb 16 2012: And who teaches the leaders? Ignorance is perpetuated by ignorant leaders. Just look at Washington...

          But then those ignorant leaders are elected by an ignorant people...

          Now add the variable of education, we will soon have a highly educated group of ignorant people hiring/electing highly educated ignorant leaders.

          I don't think education is the answer to ignorance.
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          Feb 16 2012: In answer to your responses:


          It seems to me that blaming ignorance on leadership is a practice called scapegoating; it is a logical fallacy and an avoiding of personal responsibility.


          So, then, you want training and not education if you want some "leader" to show you the way. We are discussing two different processes and two different types of people: (1) the educator and (2) the propagandist. It seems to me that you are asking for a propagandist.

          Your final answer:

          I suggest you familiarize yourself with epistemology. Knowledge does not require a teacher; empiricism offers one example of how knowledge does not require a teacher as the knowledge manifests through observation. One can be taught to improve ones powers of observation, but this is not requisite to success in applying these powers.

          I agree that it is often preferable to learn from a mentor, but when you have a poor selection of people to choose from then you need to go on your own. In case you haven't noticed, we live in one of the worst educated nations in the developed world. How much longer do you want to remain in the clutches of the ignorati?

          In response to Linda Taylor:

          You make some good points. The idea is that by educating everyone we would not have enough ignorant people to elect ignorant leaders. But, I am worried that position is similar to the position of ever fanatical religious movement I've ever read about... So, we can take it too far.

          Bottom line: education affords socioeconomic status. If you want people to value you, then invest in yourself and show that you have value. If you don't, don't be surprised when nobody cares.
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        Feb 16 2012: @ Reilus
        Honestly, I think education affords socioeconomic status only if you leverage it to do so. For instance, the professoriate is one of the most underpaid, overeducated positions anyone can find themselves in. Most professors make way LESS than in the private sector. Why would anyone do this? They are opting for a lower socioeconomic status.

        Many people in the private sector live in a higher socioeconomic strata with less education (and in the case of people like Paris Hilton, none at all). The whole educational value - socioeconomic thing is tenuous at best. More likely it is a line we have been fed.

        And at the end of the day, people do not care anyway. I invest in education because I like it and I want it. My ego is not so fragile to worry if anybody values me or not.
      • Feb 19 2012: Oh Relius,

        "I suggest you familiarize yourself with epistemology... Empiricism offers one example of how knowledge does not require a teacher."

        Thank you for the good-natured suggestion, but I believe your entire paragraph can be summarized as 'experience' which I conveniently listed as the second way to knowledge. QUOTE: "a. a teacher or b. experience".

        Interestingly, the thesaurus lists 'experientialism' as a synonym for 'empiricism', and Merriam-Webster defines it as 'a theory that all knowledge originates in experience.' Perhaps it is not I that needs to familiarize myself with epistemology, but you that needs to read what it written rather than jumping to pat yourself on the back for knowing a tenth grade vocabulary word.

        As to your suggestion that parents and school teachers preparing kids for what is the first and one of the most important decisions of their adult lives constitutes 'propaganda' - I simply disagree, though I would classify the college recruiter as such.

        And in response to your charge of 'scapegoating' - personal responsibility extends to preparing your children for life. That is your responsibility as a parent.

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    Feb 15 2012: Hi Megan.

    You are quite right. The economy is like a pyramid. We need a few smart people at the top, then folks with imagination & practical dexterity to invent & innovate, then more practical folks to manufacture efficiently, & lastly folks to work in general with good dexterity & common sense.

    Everybody has dreams of being at the top, & bet their life's earnings on it. What we need is more folk for the middle. The old apprentice system was good at providing them, a degree isn't much help here. If we don't get manufacturing sorted then we are lost. Lawyers & Moneylenders are all very well, but if we don't sell produce we will eventually go under.

    Or maybe I'm just an old cynic .

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    Feb 15 2012: I read in a RAND study that corporations prefer college degrees because these indicate that a student passed through an experience that required much discipline and constant focus on a particular goal over many years. Corporations are contracts among people that work toward a goal, profit. Corporations have premises and principles that guide them toward their goals, these guides form protocols. Corporations implement these protocols over time. We may infer some similarity between that process and the four-year, university process.

    Also, when corporations get large, corporations become bureaucracies. Bureaucrats do not need to generate expert knowledge, they must only follow procedure. Someone who barely passes his classes can still follow procedure. As an aside, the debts would also encourage students to take lower paying jobs for longer periods. So, corporations have no interest in fostering colleges and universities that educate people. Corporations want efficient employees; if proper education helps the corporation then we'll probably see more of it. But, what happens when we reach diminishing returns?
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      Feb 14 2012: That's what I'm talking about! Why do you care if your childs babysitter has a college education if they are engaging the child in age appropriate activities. Not that I am looking for a babysitting job, but I do have a sitter. I personally like the lady who is watching my children now. She has the education and degrees to be a teacher, but no desire to be part of the educational system right now and my kids plus two others are enough to pay her more than she would make as a teacher with minimal outflow. We provide facilities, food, and entertainment. All she has to do is interact, make sure homework is done, and ensure their safety while I'm at work.

      I am a "fixer upper" as you put it. To be honest I am going to start my own business while here in the land of the underemployed. With the right mentorship I should have an excellent freelance/writing career by the end of the year. At least enough to supplement my current income to be able to provide for my family.

      I like what you say about the medical degree. As I worked in a community health center in the finance department creating the budget for the following year I learned something. Anyone with the goal of becoming a doctor right now should aim to be a family practice doc with an OB cert. There are fewer and fewer graduates with this specialty and they are in high demand. Just in case anyone that is reading is in med school and is looking for their focus.

      I still can't believe that employers would choose someone who has no experience in the real professional world over someone fresh out of the box with no ability to hit the ground running because they still need to be taught how to work. This isn't just for me, there are many in my area with degrees that are going unhired because they have real world experience and expect real world paychecks. (But that's another debate entirely.)
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        Feb 15 2012: If my baby sitter(s) had a college education, I would know they had to be responsible enough to get through four years of college and I would have some confidence they could get through a night with my kids. Otherwise, all I have to go on is the person's reputation -- if I trust his or her references, which I may not -- and personal judgement and observation. Of course, the person will make all sorts of statements and assurances about their capability, but I don't believe I would consider such statements.
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    Feb 14 2012: If the degree is from a college the employer has heard of, he knows the student has been exposed to a range of ideas across a variety of disciplines, has learned to write and support his claims with research and argument, has had sufficient discipline to meet course requirements, to submit assignments and to prepare for tests, had persevered when things were difficult or not his greatest interest in the moment... The student has experience listening to and interacting with others engaged in the process of learning, has probably learned to make sacrifices, perhaps to come from behind and recover from disappointment to come back and succeed, probably to get help when necessary, to find resources when he needs them...
    Those are some of the things a degree may convey to a potential employer
  • Feb 14 2012: The opportunities are there Megan, only you have to show your skills somehow. Start anywhere in a company that does what you want to do, then show what you know. Start at any level that will allow you to show something, work hard and smart so that you get noticed, and so on, and so forth.

    It is not about the college degree. Only other young people (and parents) have bought and promoted the idea that it is all about that. So today, companies have a huge problem distinguishing good people from the wrong people just based on titles. Now young people are buying into getting a masters to see if that works. So, now masters are getting devaluated. And it continues. It's up to all of you to stop the craziness. Start by working hard and smart. Then others might notice that it's not about degrees, but about knowing how to learn when and what's necessary, and be creative solving problems.

    Anyway, not easy to answer. But the way things are going, we are bound to have tons of frustrated masters/PhDs good-for-nothings, mixed with lots of frustrated young people without degrees. At least the latter will have no educational debt to worry about.
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    Feb 26 2012: The current problem is that soooo many people are unemployed so you will find over qualified people applying for jobs. In the late 90s and early 2000s there was a shortage of workers so I noticed companies promoting their underqualified workers are maybe hiring thosenot quite qualified.
    A degree was like having insurance for when the economy gets bad.
    • Feb 26 2012: Unfortunately degree-holder does not equate qualified. The degrees are getting cheaper and cheaper, thus I would not use the word "overqualified" but rather "overdiplomed."
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    Feb 16 2012: Great question :) Im currently a junior at high school and all i seem to hear is exams,studying,more exams,colleges....which im sure many people my age are also hearing all the time.But this just leaves me with a question in mind,do i need a college degree in order to be 'someone'?...and i think the answer is no.What causes us into thinking that having college degree is the only way to be someone is the constant pressure put on us by our society.We all want to play a part in the community ,we all want to say im....,we all want respect,we want to 'create' ourselves and most of us are conditioned to believe that this is only achieved by having a college degree.However,how can we say I am...,without knowing who the ' I 'is?I think if we want to 'create' our role in the society we firstly need to find our initial role which is being who we are,instead of thinking where we stand in the society,we need to question where we stand in our own minds.Having a college degree will only give us the script,not the ability to know how to act.
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    Feb 15 2012: A college degree means little in my opinion. The larger portion, is the likely debt attached to it. Businesses want employees who will stay with the company, and not jump ship if there are signs of trouble. A large debt indicates that the person can not go without a paycheck, and therefore is less likely to quit.
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    Feb 15 2012: College teaches full grown adults in their prime to sit down, shut up, and do what they're told... Is there anything better for the status quo or the bottom line?
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    Feb 14 2012: Its actually quite the opposite in this part of England.
    The last thing an employer wants is someone with the ambition/education/intellect/skills that could allow them to move onto something better. (I believe one of the reasons is because English employers create some of the most absurd, illogical and time consuming ways of finding new employees and having to do it again is something they wish to avoid).

    Even in experience:education cases, experience trumps education in almost every case I've seen so far, but then again, graduate work tends to have its own sector for employment which is interestingly no better.

    I actually brought this up to the government in a string of letters, stating that if those of us with skills, ambition, intelligence and education are receiving no better treatment or opportunity as opposed to someone who has none of the above, then they're simply forming a consensus in society that there is simply no legitimate reason to try in life.
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      Feb 14 2012: For millenia England has worked to maintain the status quo and it is unfortunate. I am sure that those with money and influence wish you still lived under the serf system. However to be fair, it is really that way everywhere. This is a big part of the occupy movement. That the rich want to stay or become richer and they want everyone else to fall into the pit of debt from requiring more and more education and the average citizen falling for it. While I do enjoy the idea of attending college for free, I know that will never happen here. I think that what should be done is to decrease the tuition costs of state sponsored universities so that more people are able to try in life and pass through the glass ceiling as someone said earlier.
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    Feb 14 2012: I learned long ago that without the correct degree you will eventually hit a glass ceiling. You can make lateral moves in position and pay, but you will not advance without the degree.

    This is more pronounced in the professions. Even as we speak, many police departments will not look at candidates who have not been through higher education. It used to be that a 'college boy' was frowned upon but not any more. The computer and reporting skills necessarily for legal reasons require more than on the job training.

    For another example, in quality assurance. You can be the person who takes the product off the line and does the measurements necessary for quality control purposes. But to be able to determine adequate sampling necessary to supervise the line worker requires a statistical background. As the supervisory ladder climbs, more statical understanding is needed. So if you want to progress above the line worker, you will need college.

    It's a different world than it was 20 years ago. Those entry-level ojt opportunities are not there anymore.
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    Feb 14 2012: The short answer is the business world's dependence on metrics. There's a small sliver of the American society that establishes business "best practices" and that sliver of our society is always looking over its shoulder to see who is gaining on them, as opposed to looking forward to where they should be leading the herd. The net impact of this is that if someone has established a "best practices" metric, then all business sectors that being led by these back-over-the-shoulder visionaries will rely on this metric as a means of eliminating the inefficiencies of informed judgment. And since business is a top-down authoritative culture, no questions will ever be raised if periodically - or even generally - the metric in question proves to be inadequate - until a new "best practices" metric emerges to replace that "best practices" metric.

    The sheepskin requirement is an obvious (and lazy) way of presenting a bar that - if not cleared - cleans the desk of the hiring officer of a certain % of follow-up effort. They know that any one of at least 60% of the applicants can do the job well enough to not cripple the company anyway, and now they have one less criterion to deal with. No one's looking for a soul mate here. They're just looking to get the vacancy filled and back to playing Angry Birds again.
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    Feb 14 2012: the western school is a long exam. not what you learn there counts. but the fact you could finish it. it proves for the employer that you are smart and enduring enough. sad, isn't it?