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Friday, January 11, 2008

Educational Inflation

Most Taiwanese students are perfectly familiar with the problem of overeducation. Some even realize that this problem is not limited to Taiwan but also exists in the US. But most (including myself before reading Collins' book) probably aren't aware that this is a worldwide phenomenon.

FROM The Sociology of Philosophies by Randall Collins , p. 522
An enormous expansion and decentralization of the academic world has taken place since 1950. The United States, which began this process somewhat earlier than other wealthy societies, has more than 3000 colleges and universities, and scores of them are in the running to claim intellectual attention. Similar expansion took place in the decades after 1950 in France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Japan, and subsequently throughout the world, with similar decentralizing effects. Education has become a currency controlling opportunities for employment; it now expands autonomously through the interplay between credential inflation, driven by the competition for more schooling, and the resulting rise in the credential requirements of jobs. As each level of education becomes saturated and deflated in value, superordinate markets for cultural credentials are added beyond them. The relations between supply of and demand for education are circular and self-reinforcing; the spiral is pointed upward with no end in sight [original note omitted].

The production of academic intellectuals rides on this wave of credential inflation. As demand expands for educational certificates, there comes an increase in the numbers of higher degree holders to train those of the next rank down, an explosion of Ph.D.'s. And since these scholars struggle for positions by means of their publishing reputations, the output of scholarship follows the same inflationary path as the competition for lower academic degrees, a meta-market driven upward uopn the expansion of higher education.

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