This Time article is worth repeating:
“Employers and career experts see a growing problem in American society — an abundance of college graduates, many burdened with tuition-loan debt, heading into the work world with a degree that doesn't mean much anymore.
“The problem isn't just a soft job market — it's an oversupply of graduates. In 1973, a bachelor's degree was more of a rarity, since just 47% of high school graduates went on to college. By October 2008, that number had risen to nearly 70%. For many Americans today, a trip through college is considered as much of a birthright as a driver's license.
“Marty Nemko, a career and education expert who has taught at U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Education, contends that the overflow in degree holders is the result of many weaker students attending colleges when other options may have served them better. "There is tremendous pressure to push kids through," he says, adding that as a result, too many students who aren't skilled become degree holders, promoting a perception among employers that higher education doesn't work. "That piece of paper no longer means very much, and employers know that," says Nemko. "Everybody's got it, so it's watered down."
“What's not watered down is the tab. The cost of average tuition rose 6.5% this fall, and a report released on Dec. 1 by the Project on Student Debt showed that the IOU is getting bigger. Two-thirds of all students now leave college with outstanding loans; the average amount of debt rose to $23,200 in 2008. In the last academic year, the total amount loaned to students increased about 18% from the previous year, to $81 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for recent grads rose as well. It is now 10.6%, a record high.
“The devaluation of a college degree is no secret on campus. An annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute has long asked freshmen what they think their highest academic degree will be. In 1972, 38% of respondents said a bachelor's degree, but in 2008 only 22% answered the same. The number of freshmen planning to get a master's degree rose from 31% in 1972 to 42% in 2008. Says John Pryor, the institute's director: "Years ago, the bachelor's degree was the key to getting better jobs. Now you really need more than that."”
Read the rest here.