The Evolution of Degree Inflation

In a previouspost, we discussed degree inflation and how it often prevents employers from finding qualified applicants. In this post, we’ll delve deeper into the background and history of degree inflation.

degree inflation

Defining Degree Inflation

Degree inflation, at its core, is the escalating demand for formal educational qualifications for jobs that traditionally haven’t required them. Over the years, positions like teachers, production supervisors, and administrative assistants, which once welcomed candidates with high school diplomas or associate’s degrees, nowoften mandate bachelor’s degreesas a minimum requirement.

But what has driven this shift?


AVox articlehighlights the “paper ceiling” that many workers face—despite having the necessary skills and experience for a position, they’re barred from certain job opportunities because they lack a degree. This not only limits their career progression but also prevents employers from accessing a wider talent pool.

One of the driving forces behind degree inflation is the increasing emphasis on soft skills. Employers often equate a college degree with a certain set of soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving. However, these skills can be acquired outside of formal education settings, and many non-degree-holders possess them in abundance.

Impact and Consequences of Degree Inflation

Understanding the roots and drivers of degree inflation is critical. It’s a practice that affects workers who have the necessary skills but lack the formal degree. Employers also miss out on a broader talent pool because of overly stringent requirements. And, of course, the economy at large is also impacted.

Degree inflation can lead to underemployment, whereby individuals work in roles below their skill level, and can also contribute to student debt issues, as individuals feel pressured to pursue degrees for better job prospects.

In our next installment, we’ll explore proactive measures being taken by major employers and governments to counteract degree inflation. Recognizing the value of skills over mere qualifications, these entities are leading the charge in redefining hiring practices, ensuring a more inclusive and efficient labor market.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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