Recently, I came across an article entitled “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk.” As a non-traditional student, I recognize the value in formal education especially if you want to transition into a career that requires specialized training. However, this article is suggesting that the Bachelor’s degree is becoming the minimum requirement for jobs that don’t necessarily require special skills such as file clerks, mailroom associates and in-office couriers. Not only are these jobs unskilled but also are low wage positions. This raised several questions for me. What would motivate an individual with $100, 000 in student loan debt to accept a position that doesn’t provide additional specialized skills and only pays slightly above minimum wage? What does a business gain by hiring overqualified workers to perform low-skill tasks? And moreover, how does an employer retain staff that is vastly overeducated for these low skill jobs?
Durkheim offers a possible explanation for this behavior, the concept of solidarity. Solidarity, as Durkheim suggests, is the “tie that binds” individuals to their society. Rooted in the division of labor, he suggests that as people perform fewer and more specialized tasks, they become more dependent on each other for fulfillment of their needs. This interdependency leads to solidarity within a group, community or society in general. Although he describes different types of solidarity, they seem to operate similarly.
Durkheim argues the type of solidarity that exists within a society is based on the strength of the collective consciousness. By collective consciousness, Durkheim means “ The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average members of the same society forms a particular system of a life of its own…”
Based on the U.S. Census in 2010, 19.4 percent of almost 200 million Americans have at least a Bachelor’s degree. That means that close to 40 million Americans has a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree and nearly 21 million have an advanced degree (U.S. Census, 2010). This article supposes that the new minimum requirement for even the most menial labor is at least a four-year degree. As greater numbers of the population possess this qualification, it is becoming integrated into the “collective consciousness” as a prerequisite for low-level jobs as well as entry into the social networks from which employers will promote.
The article presents discusses the policy of an Atlanta-based law firm that has instituted this minimum education requirement for all positions. The firm insists that this standard shows that the employees are “career-driven” and this contributes to the “social cohesion” of the office (Thompson, 32). Every member of the staff shares the common experience of completing a four-year degree and thus they are able to bond as a cohesive unit.
The belief that a Bachelor’s degree should be a minimum requirement even for low wage jobs has become increasingly integrated into American society. As greater numbers of people attain this standard of education, it seems likely that the effect would be a stronger “collective consciousness” with greater solidarity among its members. Although the effects of this "education inflation" can be seen positively, there are millions of Americans who do not share the college graduate experience.