18 August 2015

That's progress for you.

My father was offered a job a few months before he finished High School. He was told that if he could hold the job for those months, he would be given his diploma. He got his diploma.

The diploma mattered back then, because it wasn't common to finish High School. Many people dropped out, so finishing the degree marked you as different, a worker, a learner. It was an accomplishment that set you apart. If you had a diploma, you had a job.

Time passed. By the time I was a kid, almost everyone was graduating from High School. The diploma no longer set you apart, but having a university degree did. It wasn't common. Businesses expected to be in a long term relationship with their employees. They didn't expect employees to know everything from day one. A degree- almost any degree- meant you were intelligent and were capable of being trained. If you had a degree, you had a job. If you didn't have a job, it was usually because you had taken a year off to travel.

To put it succinctly, a degree in the sixties and seventies put you in the same situation as a high school diploma in the thirties.

More time passed. By the time I graduated from High School, the situation had changed, though we didn't know it yet. Degrees were becoming more and more common. Having one no longer set you apart. Businesses now expected you to know everything from day one, and were unwilling to train you. If you did train yourself, there was a very real chance your training would be out of date by the time it was completed. Many new fields of learning exploded onto the university scene, but few, if any employers, cared.  A degree in the nineties no longer was the equivalent of a 1930's diploma.

Now it's even worse. Students are incurring huge amounts of debt to get a degree that merely makes them level with everyone else, and in no way helps or sets them apart from their fellows, and some are, quite frankly, a hindrance.

As a result, the university degree is paradoxically both more important than ever- because you need one just to be even with everyone else- and more useless- because it no longer sets you apart- than ever.All the time and debt invested in obtaining a degree puts todays graduates in the same situation as the High School dropouts of 80 years ago.

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