Have you noticed that nowadays, most entry-level jobs require, or at least prefer, a bachelor’s degree? And many times, job requisitions will state that the employer prefers a master’s degree, even for middle management roles. It’s a societal expectation that has grown and become unmanageable.

Infographic: Is your bachelor's degree worth it?

Is your bachelor’s degree worth it? This infographic explores the topic, looking at rising tuition costs and stagnant salaries.

But is going to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree–or any degree–a good idea? The bachelor’s degree, a minimum requirement for many jobs, has become a commodity. 50 years ago, the degree meant something: hard work, perseverance, dedication. A bachelor’s degree today doesn’t, in most cases, actually prepare someone for entry into the workforce.

The US economy has been in a severe slump since 2008, and many organizations have been forced to slash headcount. Employers are pressured to do more with less. On top of this, increases in productivity have reduced the number of available jobs. For every opening, there are multiple applicants, many of whom are highly qualified, even overqualified. Employers, naturally, want to get more bang for their buck; they’re going to choose the candidate with the highest level of experience and qualifications. The supply of applicants with bachelor’s degrees far outstrips the current demand; you can’t rely on earning a bachelor’s degree to land you a job. To be competitive and stand out in the talent pool, you need to have at least a master’s degree.

This phenomenon has also been called academic inflation, credential inflation, and educational devaluation. In a guest article on Mises Institute founder, author Gary North references the issue, calling it the “Ph.D. Glut.” There’s a surplus of graduates in the workforce, and it’s simple supply and demand at work in the marketplace.

Does it actually matter whether you have a college degree? Does a degree help you land a job? Often, HR personnel and recruiters don’t even ask about your education. As you gain professional experience, your formal college education will usually become even less important. In some cases, certain degrees may even hurt your chances to get a job if you’re trying to get a job.

When I’m hiring a candidate, I want to hire someone I know can produce. I want to know that they’ve got the chops. Many times, college graduates come into the workforce completely green. I would rather hire someone with four years’ relevant experience in the field than someone with a four-year degree. For example, when I hire a new designer, I am more concerned with his ability to design than whether he has a degree in design. His portfolio speaks much louder than his diploma. The diploma doesn’t hurt, but if he can’t design, he does me no good as an employer.

There is no doubt that there’s a shortage of jobs in the corporate environment, but there isn’t a shortage of work. The question is how to leverage your experience and skills to make yourself valuable in the marketplace, whether you are an employee or are working independently and selling your services to an organization. That’s what this blog is about: figuring out an unconventional way to earn income so that you can become less dependent on your paycheck from an employer.

Where does a college degree fit in? A college degree can be tremendously valuable, and in some fields, formal advanced education is a requirement. But if you’re thinking about spending a pile of money–and going into major debt–to obtain a bachelor’s degree, you need to ask yourself what you’re going to put into it, what you’re getting out of it, and evaluate your return on investment.

Please share with us your thoughts on education inflation. What has your experience with obtaining–or not obtaining–a bachelor’s degree been?

Image credit: Bashereyre