Education Opinion

College Degree Obeys Economics Law

By Walt Gardner — July 20, 2015 1 min read

The wage premium attached to the possession of a college degree has been repeated so often that it is now accepted as an article of faith. But the reality is more nuanced (“Training More Ph.D. Baristas at High Cost,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 11). With the fall semester around the corner, it’s a propitious time for high-school seniors and their parents to take a closer look at their assumptions about the investment in time, energy and dollars that awaits them.

There was a time in this country when those with a bachelor’s degree constituted a small minority of the population. As a result, they were a special class that could command higher salaries than their non-degreed peers. But the obsession with college for all has changed matters. Despite what many people believe, the level of education is very much sensitive to the law of supply and demand. That means when a surfeit of people with a certain level or type of education exists, the job market will drive down salaries.

The only way college graduates can protect themselves is by majoring in high-demand subjects and/or by attending marquee-name schools. For example, anyone with a bachelor’s degree in science, engineering or math from, say, M.I.T will be in a far better position to land and hold a well-paying job than a history major from, say, Southeast Missouri State University. In other words, the key is to try to distinguish oneself from the masses. It’s not that the education one derives from a third-tier school is worthless. It’s just that the law of supply and demand will always prevail.

The same thing applies to advanced degrees, particularly in the humanities. Many undergraduates persist in the fiction that their prospects for a well-paying job will be enhanced if they go on for a master’s or doctorate. But unless the job market has dramatically improved since 2011 when 43 percent of doctorate recipients in the humanities had no commitment at graduation, this is a bad decision. Which is why economics should be a graduation requirement for everyone.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read