The college admissions scandal that is all over today’s news highlights the lengths that some are willing to go to in order to make sure that their child gets a bachelor’s degree from a desirable school. The importance of a bachelor’s degree has become so prevalent in today’s society that college prep can even be seen in elementary schools (Breheny Wallace, 2019). While these lengths may seem absurd (and unethical), a bachelor’s degree has become the new minimum job requirement for lower-level jobs (Lucas, 2013; Rampell, 2013). This phenomenon, which occurs across locations and industries, is known as “degree inflation,” or “up-credentialing” (Rampell, 2013).
The widespread practice of degree inflation is directly related to intelligence. Intelligence is an individual’s effectiveness in carrying out activities that are led by their own thoughts (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2015; PSU, 2019). It is important to note that these job postings do not seek out candidates with specific degrees (Lucas, 2013; Rampell, 2013). Rather, they simply require that a candidate has a degree in general, demonstrating that the role does not require domain-specific knowledge (PSU, 2019). In order to assess candidates’ intelligence potential, companies utilize their personal history biodata (PSU, 2019). Personal history biodata is the experiences that one shares on their job application that makes them different (PSU, 2019). In particular, organizations are focused on candidates’ educational history. This information, which may imply that one’s general intelligence has reached its maximum potential, often becomes the most relevant information to job hiring and promotion selection (Breheny Wallace, 2019; Lucas, 2013; Rampell, 2013; PSU, 2019).
Up-credentialing can be seen in a variety of roles, like receptionists, administration assistants, file clerks, and office couriers (Rampell, 2013). These roles, which historically required a high school diploma, now tend to require a college degree (Rampell, 2013). Data shows that today’s organizations feel that those with high school diplomas are not as educated, mature, capable, and career-driven as their college-educated counterparts (Lucas, 2013; Rampell, 2013). However, there is no indication that up-credentialing in these lower-level jobs truly helps with job performance (Lucas, 2013; Rampell, 2013). Therefore, is this job hiring practice truly ethical? Is it even beneficial to anyone?
Over the last 5 years, the unemployment rate for workers with a high school diploma has been approximately twice that of their bachelor’s degree counterparts (BLS, 2019; Rampell, 2013). This difference in rates demonstrates that this phenomenon of up-credentialing hurts less educated individuals (Rampell, 2013); however, this data does not reveal how up-credentialing also hurts other education levels. As individuals with bachelor’s degrees fill these lower-level jobs, the jobs that require a bachelor’s degree now require a master’s degree, and so on (Lucas, 2013). Job up-credentialing is also known to hurt retention rates because higher-educated employees tend to be motivated to leave their organization as soon as they are able to find a more suitable role for their educational background (PSU, 2019; Rampell, 2013).
In order to maintain the most ethically-sound hiring practices, organizations and hiring managers should consider if the individual difference of obtaining a college degree is necessary for the role that the organization is hiring for. If the degree is necessary, the organization must then consider if the additional skills gained in a bachelor’s or a master’s degree would truly help one to perform the duties of the job. As organizations review these questions, they should also think about the domain-specific educational background (like communications, biology, business, etc.) that would be the most helpful to carrying out the responsibilities of the role.
Hiring managers should be motivated to complete these analyses to reduce the number of resumes reviewed for each job ad, which will help to quickly identify the most appropriate candidates for their available positions (Rampbell, 2013). While motivations can be conflicting, accurate job qualification requirements will better fill the needs of the organization, and this behavior will be reinforced (and should be rewarded) as managers are able to better meet their hiring and retention goals (PSU, 2019).
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019, March 08). Table A-4. Employment status of the civilian population 25 years and over by educational attainment. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm
Breheny Wallace, J. (2019, March 17). Feel like the college application process is out of control? Here’s how to keep it ethical. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/03/18/feel-like-college-application-process-is-out-control-heres-how-keep-it-ethical/?utm_term=.3a656393b652
Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2015). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lucas, S. (2013, February 22). College degree required. But why? Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/college-degree-required-but-why.html
PSU. (2019). PSY 833: Ethics and leadership. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919
Rampell, C. (2013, February 19). It takes a B.A. to find a job as a file clerk. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/business/college-degree-required-by-increasing-number-of-companies.html?pagewanted=2&_r=3&hp&adxnnlx=1361365497-aWz0hS0WEabQsBzifK/6ZQ