Texas State officials must ensure the value of a bachelor’s degree remains relevant even as a record-high amount of students are heading out into the workforce with higher education experience.
The economic recession that took place from 2007-2009 pushed student enrollment to new highs at colleges across the nation. This is beneficial for the local economy and social environment. However, with more people attending college, questions are raised about the value of a degree. In the long-term, a bachelor’s degree could be devalued because of the high numbers of college graduates.
Two-year college enrollment rates increased 12.7 percent in 2010. This occurred because of predicted results based on unemployment percentages from 2007, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. At four-year public schools in 2010, enrollment was about 5 percent higher than previous projected models from 2007, according to the same study.
The increasing trend of nontraditional students returning to college has been noticeable in the last decade and complements growth in enrollment overall amid the recent recession. The enrollment of students more than 25 years of age has increased 43 percent nationally between 2000 and 2009, according to a Jan. 27, 2012 USA Today article.
This trend is noticeable at Texas State as well. There were 2,033 students older than 30 enrolled at Texas State last fall. The most growth was recorded between 2007 and 2010, and the number of nontraditional students increased by about 500 students during that three-year span. Since 2010, the enrollment has stabilized at around 2,000 students.
In addition, there is an observed increase in college enrollment, partially due to a hope for financial prosperity with a college degree. The American unemployment rate is high, albeit skewed, especially coming out of the recent recession. In a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics January report measuring ages 25 and over, the unemployment rate for high school graduates and those with bachelor’s degrees is 8.1 percent and 3.7 percent respectively.
At the face value, these figures are good. More people are getting educated, creating more knowledgeable residents and a better-prepared workforce. The downside is inflation of the number of people receiving bachelor’s degrees. Take Atlanta for example. About 46 percent of the city’s population over 25 years old holds a bachelor’s degree, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.
In Atlanta law firms require at least a bachelor’s degree for the lowest level positions, like a receptionist job, according to a Feb. 19 article in The New York Times. And yes, the position only pays $10 an hour. This happens because of the makeup of job seekers in Atlanta. Companies have the option between multiple college graduates, creating the standard of having a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite.
When looking at the numbers, Austin is comparable to Atlanta in some aspects. About 44 percent of the population in Austin more than 25 years old holds a bachelor’s degree. While its economy pales in comparison to Atlanta, the Austin metropolitan area is considered to be the best place for jobs, according to a May 1, 2012 article in Forbes Magazine.
Employers in the Austin metropolitan area might create the bachelor’s degree standard across the board—like Atlanta. Basic low-level jobs that previously needed a high school diploma could require a bachelor’s degree because of a saturation of applicants with higher education experience.
The bar for basic jobs will be raised because of a variety of people attending college. Future plans the state has for attempting to make a bachelor’s degree more accessible and the streamlining of degree paths will factor into potential devaluing of degrees over time.