One half of all college graduates are jobless. Less than ten percent of employers think colleges do an “excellent” job of preparing students for work. Given this, it makes perfect sense that nearly sixty percent of jobs currently require a college degree, just as it makes sense that Kristen Stewart should be known for her “dramatic” roles, and “range”. There is so much irony in that last sentence I may come down with a case of hemochromatosis.
Signaling with Employers
The irony is worth dwelling on, however: employers require a degree as a basis for employment that they overwhelmingly admit it as worthless as a Charlie Sheen celibacy pledge. This is a prime sign that the college degree has become a key fixture in a job market that values, knowingly or not, “signaling” over capability and potential. Signaling, or the “signaling model” as it’s known in economics, is when potential employees send a “signal” about their capability and potential to employers by acquiring certain credentials. In theory, the “better” the credential the more desirable a potential employee will be. This is no different than the “penis fencing” flatworms partake in during reproduction.
The mistake employers are making is confusing a “signal” like a degree as a sign of capability and potential. They can be mutually exclusive. Let’s look at some illuminating facts:
- After four years of higher education, 36% of students exhibited no demonstrable skill improvement.
- 50% of students graduating from college did not take a single course in which 20-pages were written over the course of the semester…in total.
- 32% of college students have never taken a course that required 40-pages of reading per week.
- Very few college students graduate with specific job-seeking skills, such as resume writing or interview skills.
So long as employers overvalue the college degree universities will as well, boosting borrowing rates and rendering many graduates as nothing more than indentured servants to Sallie Mae.
Signaling with Universities
To prove that universities are aware of signaling in the job market and are positioned to profit from it, we need look no further than the US News and World Report best college rankings. In particular, four inputs for the rankings are clear signs of signaling in the value of a college education because they bear no reflection of the actual quality of education:
- Student selectivity ranks the college based on the average GPA and SAT scores of incoming students.
- Acceptance rates of applicants, which like student selectivity says nothing of the graduating class.
- Alumni giving are an input in these rankings, apparently because there must be a correlation between the amounts alumni are able to give and how well they have done in life. If you can successfully argue the merit of this input your name must be Johnny Cochran.
- High school counselor undergraduate reputation ratings, because if there is any one group of professionals that are renown for keeping in touch with students after they graduate, its high school counselors.
Universities leverage these inputs to climb the rankings, which increases the perceived value of their diplomas. In essence however, they aren’t being measured on results, but rather many inane attributes unproven to correlate with the development of desirable job skills.
Signaling with Students
Students and their parents are aware of the signaling present in American higher education, just as they are aware of the philandering and alcoholism; they simply accept it as “the way things are”. In this they are blameless. As Tiger Woods can blame his sex addiction on a wider societal trend towards eroticism, so students can blame their degree addiction on a society that mistakes degrees for skills. The shame is that incoming students know their degrees are their ticket to employment, and so take the Doctor Nick (!) approach to education and cruise through at the minimum cognitive rate. Economically speaking, they are only robbing themselves as every fact not learned only decreases the value of the degree they are paying for, but still they cheer when class is canceled and prioritize Thirsty Thursday over Friday classes. Who can blame them? When given the choice, many will take the highway over the scenic route.
Until employers wise up and begin demanding actual job skills of college graduates, universities will continue to deemphasize student acquisition of them and instead focus on inane rankings that are non-associative. Students will generally always seek the shortest route to graduation, just as Chris Christie will always seek the shortest route to the buffet. Signaling is a major issue in today’s higher education, devaluing it and devolving it into a diploma industry rather than one based in education. Employers are most to blame however, as universities are largely responding to their perceived needs, which explains the overly-specified programs common today (actual learning not guaranteed). Until they change their ways, may the largest penis win.
 More footnotes!
 What do you call the guy who graduates last in his medical school class? Doctor. Want to make an appointment?