The FINANCIAL -- Kentucky’s teacher licensing board made a decision all too rare in these days' credential-happy labor market: Teachers in the Bluegrass State will no longer need to get an advanced degree in order to keep their jobs.
The board’s move is a rare example of “degree deflation.” Previously, Kentucky teachers were required to obtain a master’s degree or other advanced credential within ten years of first becoming licensed as an educator. The American economy has experienced degree inflation in recent years, as employers have attached new degree requirements to jobs that did not previously require such advanced education.
A Kentucky teachers’ union and Democrats in the state legislature opposed the board’s decision, claiming it would lower standards for educators. But research has found no difference in teaching quality between teachers with advanced degrees and those with only bachelor’s degrees. While standards are important, the advanced degree requirement makes little sense, and forces significant costs on both teachers and the public.
Usually, teachers must take on student debt in order to acquire an advanced degree. Borrowing for a master’s degree in education now leaves the average graduate with $40,000 in debt, up from $24,000 in 2000. Such heavy borrowing is bad for taxpayers as well as teachers. The federal government heavily subsidizes loans for graduate school—particularly for public school teachers, who can receive full forgiveness on their loans after just ten years of working in the field.
A master’s degree requirement for teachers forces both teachers and taxpayers to bear large costs. It also forces Kentucky teachers with only bachelor’s degrees to leave the profession, regardless of how good a job they’re doing teaching students.
While Kentucky has wisely sought to reverse degree inflation, that is not the norm across the economy. A 2014 Burning Glass report analyzed millions of job postings and found that employers are increasingly requiring that candidates have a college education, even though many workers currently doing those jobs do not have college degrees. In other words, employers often demand degrees even though they’re not needed to do the job.
Degree inflation holds few benefits for the economy. A Harvard Business School report found that job postings with heavy education requirements take longer for employers to fill, and candidates with the right credentials usually bring loftier salary demands and faster turnover. That might be worth it if college-educated candidates bring more valuable skills to the table, but that’s often not the case.
Hopefully, Kentucky’s decision will herald further reversals of degree inflation across the country. As the labor market strengthens and the pool of jobseekers shrinks, employers will have to become less choosy about whom they hire. That means stripping superfluous degree requirements from job postings, as Kentucky’s teacher licensing board has done. Other employers should follow its lead.